THE POOL: WHERE PAIN IS TRANSFORMED – The DreamLand Series

There is a place where dreams are born and return to die. Puffy clouds caress its snowcapped peaks. Stars dance across its night sky. Each day has a spectacular sunrise and sunset. Here in DreamLand—amidst rocks, icy streams, stately pine trees, and noble wildlife—people like us connect with the source. Come there with me now. A story wants to be heard.


In the Rocky Mountain National Park, at a place called the Pool. Atop a bridge made of rough-hewn logs. I watch the Big Thompson River find its way along the steep rock walls that define this place.

I think about the river’s origin. High up on the western side of the park, east of the continental divide. Where Terra Tomah and Sundance mountains intersect and the headwaters of the river reside. There, fed by snowmelt and overflow from nearby lakes, the river goes forth. Rushing downward along sculpted mountainsides, hurrying through carved-out canyons.

Downstream, five miles or so, the river encounters the Pool. There, it begins slowly encircling itself. With each loop, the rush and hurry of the river give way to depth and reflectivity. Every lap becomes a silent tribute to the Pool’s transformative power.

While the Pool has its way with the river, my thoughts turn to the Heartland, home of my headwaters. Where backyards are ball fields, trees wait climbing, doors have no locks, and cornrows go on forever. How from there, my loving parents, and the good people of Corydon, Iowa sent me forth with aspirations born of blanket forts, campouts, and vacation bible school. Filled with dreams. Fueled by hope. Seeking a future jam-packed with service and accomplishment.

Now, here at the Pool my mind begins circling itself. Ever-tightening laps give rise to thoughts about how, between the then of my headwaters and the now of the Pool, disappointment dampened my aspirations. Despair displaced my hope. Realities of the present burst apart my dreams of the there and then.

The loops of my mind join those of the river in the Pool. Creating a reflection of my face on its glassy surface. As I look at my mirrored image, tears moisten my eyes. Squinting, I see wrinkles of despair. Mouth edges pulled downward by long-since-passed realities. Neck and shoulders stooped from the weight of disappointment, frustration, and regret.

I think about how, battered, disfigured, and disenchanted from the trail-of-my-life, I retired here to the Colorado Mountains. Wanting to be alone. Trying to forget the past. Seeking to find solace in solitude of the tundra. Communing with trees and wildlife. My once busy days now filled with meandering hikes along rock-strewn trails to remote destinations, such as the Pool.

I look at the reflection. It looks at me. In an instant we both realize that despite the affordances of the mountains, the pain of the past still haunts me. At this insight, a Breeze ruffles across the Pool. Erasing the reflection, she whispers, “Deeper Mark Edward, look deeper. Seek the source of your pain.”

Heeding the Breeze’s admonishment, I peer into pool. There I see images of every person who ever hurt or wronged me. To them, I say, “Why me? Didn’t I deserve better?”

Words barely away from my lips, the Breeze again ruffles across the Pool. Her ruffling is more forceful than the last time. She says, “Deeper, Mark Edward. You must go deeper.”

At that, shapes swirling beneath the pool’s surface become visible. I see them for what they are, the shadows of my life. Indignities I felt. Wrongs I received. Sorrow from opportunities pursued but not realized. Regrets about offices not sought, work not finished, and friendships offered but rejected. The words of love, acceptance, and appreciation that I so longed to hear, but never did. The son I wanted, who never came.

The shadows—so raw and unresolved—bring me low. I feel mortal, as though my time has run out. Is this my last stand? What comes next—Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or diabetes?

Tears flow freely for dreams unrealized and aspirations thwarted. Their saltiness burns my eyes and stings my cheeks. I say, “Oh merciful and compassionate God—end my suffering.” My plea gets no response. Again, I cry out, “Do not forsake me. God take away my suffering.” Granted no reprieve, spent and hopeless I collapse on the bridge. In my blob-like-emotional state, I hear the Breeze say, “Look inside, Mark Edward. Your pain comes from within.”

With that, my insides start churning. Thoughts arise of all the people I hurt in pursuit of the dreams born in my heartland. Memories of times, when in the zeal of aspiration, I was jealous, envious, or petty. The ways I ruthlessly betrayed, mistreated, or neglected colleagues, friends, family-members, and bystanders. Their screams, moans, and cries now reverberate in my head. Guilt overcomes me. Things go blank.

I have no idea how much time passes, but some time later, the shaking of my body wakens me. Weak and confused, I look around. Noticing that the bridge on which I stand is dry. However, my clothes, skin, and hair are wet. My body shivers to stave off hypothermia.

The river and pool are mostly dark. Lit only by a star reflecting on their waters. Looking up, I see the star is Polaris, the North Star. In her light, I get some food and dry clothes from my backpack. I replace wet clothes with dry ones. Eat two Odwalla bars. Sip some Gatorade. Then, warmed and fed, I place my wet clothes on the handrails of the bridge.

As my energy returns, I think about this day. How, I, like the river, was sent forth into the world from a headwater. To hike a path that is sometimes perilous. Unaware that my response to perils, not the perils, will define me, determine what I accomplish, and where I end up. I think about how I wish I had known, when I left the headwaters of the Heartland, that dreams and aspirations are not free. They have costs. That actions taken along the way, incur tolls. The pain I distribute in a dream’s pursuit, eventually pursues the distributor.

Looking around, I understand that this is the lesson the Breeze has been trying to teach me. That being here—in the mountains, at the Pool, with the river—came at tremendous cost to me, people who love me, and countless others. How, I would not be here had I had no pain and suffering, only success. That teachers and guides, such as the Breeze, help me withstand the pain and realize that suffering shapes my character, gives me depth.

With this a feeling of lightness washes over me. I grab a piece of my wet clothing. Holding it over the Pool, I wring it with both hands. Murky droplets fall toward the Pool. Each droplet accepted by the Pool releases a putrid smell of pain, disappointment, and despair.

Transformation complete, pain gone, I recalibrate my internal compass against the constancy of the North Star. With a sense of purpose renewed by her assurances of love and value, I don my backpack. Then, step on the trail. Humbled from facing my pain. Liberated from understanding its source. Compassionate from knowing the pain of living connects all things. A promise in my heart to aid all travellers I encounter. Guided by a moonbeam, I step lively along the trail of life.

Mark Edward

This post is in remembrance of my mother, Murrell Virginia Weston. To whom I am eternally grateful for instilling within me a deep appreciation of the subtleties of life.


Note: This is the first post in the DreamLand series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts in this and other series.

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TESTED AT THE SPEED OF LIFE – The Learning Lesson Series


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Life is a series of tests that take various shapes and forms. Some tests involve people. Others are about places or situations. Many of them are complex, have numerous dimensions, and seem to never end. The short ones demand quick responses.

Some of life’s tests that come my way, I pass. Many of them I do not. Those I fail, life makes me retake until I pass them. The events of this day test me. Read on to see whether I pass or fail?

Temperatures are in the high sixties. The sun is bright. Puffy-clouds lazily float above the mountains. A perfect day for Elk Fest, the annual transition to fall and celebration of Estes Park’s signature wildlife and natural beauty.

Bond Park, the epicenter of Elk Fest, has 43 booths, hundreds of people and, ironically, no elk. There is barely room for any of us people to walk, let alone park cars and find food to eat. Proof that the thousands of elk who populate the Rocky Mountain region are more intelligent than those of us who are attending the fest in their honor.

Bzzt Bzzzt! Bzzt Bzzzt! I look at my iPhone. Caller-ID shows a call from Fran, my friend. The commotion of the fest makes answering her call impossible. Since she seldom calls me, it must be important. Feeling an urgency to call Fran, I wiggle myself through the crowd, going past one booth then another and another, until I reach the west side of the Town Hall. There, in an oasis of quiet, I press re-call. Fran answers. She starts talking. I was correct, the call is important—health issues.

While listening to Fran describe her impending surgery, I notice a steady stream of people coming in and out of the Town Hall building. It soon becomes apparent that they are not going into the building to do business with the town. Rather they are going in to do their business. As some pass by me, a few nod at me. The looks of relief on their faces confirm—business done.

As Fran and I continue talking, a woman leaves the building. I nod at her. She politely nods back. As she passes, my eyes follow. I notice that the back of her skirt is tucked into her navy blue tights. Her hind-side, though covered by the tights, is more visible to the world than she would want.

My mind is in overdrive. I think about asking Fran how to handle the situation. But there is no time. Why should I care? I consider letting the woman go on, back to the fest, where surely someone will inform her. Suddenly, the woman stops to comb her hair. She looks at me, our eyes connect. Oh my, what do I do?

Without thinking, I point to my hip. She looks down, at her hip. Mortified, she lets the comb drop to the sidewalk. Her face reddens, as her hands pull the tucked-in portion of the skirt from her tights. It falls in place.

The woman looks around. No one, except me, saw her hind-side. Her dignity preserved, she looks at me. Her lips mouth the words T H A N K – Y O U. I nod. No smile, laugh or smart remark, just a nod. Knowing that this test need never be taken again.

Later, heading home, walking along MacGregor Avenue, on the outskirts of Estes, I watch a herd of elk in a field. Munching grass—nothing more, nothing less—they are living in the moment. What comes their way, they take in stride. Each moment is their festival.

Nearing home, with night settling in, I think about the speed of life. How choosing to go to the park, the commotion there, and an unscheduled phone call brought me together with a woman, whose skirt is in her tights. The way her moment of need bound us together. How in an instant her drama became my test. How an instant later, her drama, and my test are over. The way each of us goes on with our respective lives.

Walking up the driveway, the North Star captures my attention. She reminds me that the tests of life make us better people. How true, false, or multiple-choice answers are insufficient. Only answers of the heart—manifest through thoughts, actions, and deeds—will suffice.

Unlocking the front door, I pause. In that moment, I realize the tests are part of the festival of our lives. The foibles that the tests force us to experience, add color and meaning to the events and traditions in which we partake. The connections they forge enrich us. Through them we celebrate our commonality and honor our diversity.

Entering my house, I say a prayer of thanks for the tests of this day. And ask that more tests come my way tomorrow. Then I say the same prayer for you. As I do, a nearby elk bugles…Amen.

Mark 


Note: This is the 18th post in the Learning Lessons series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

TO STOP STRUGGLING, PAY IT FORWARD – The Learning Lessons Series

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My energy is high, as I leave the Bear Lake parking lot, heading to the Fern Lake trailhead, 9 miles away. Walking along the eastern portion of the lake, I feel relieved to get away from the people who are milling around the trailhead. Wanting to be alone, I energetically, and often rudely pass by less-adept hikers.

An ever–so-gentle breeze caresses my hair, forcing me to look up. There, hands cupped over my eyes to protect them from the morning sun, I see three popped-corn shaped clouds floating lazily above Flattop Mountain. I am grateful for this moment, and look forward to many more of them today. If only people would leave me alone.

Sounds of my size-15 hiking boots crunching the small rocks on trail interrupt the moment. Each crunch awakens my muscles. Every step activates my lungs. The fanny pack—containing a jacket, windbreaker, lunch, and water—settles on my hips. I am energized, and eager to hike. At a fork in the trail, I head eastward to Fern Lake. I am alone, finally.

The trail steepens. As it does, my cadence slows, breathing intensifies, and leg muscles burn. One switchback follows another, each steeper than the last. My shirt becomes wet from exertion. Sweat stains the brim of my hat. It runs down my forehead, mixes with the sunscreen on my face, and drips into my eyes. Making them burn like hell.

I pause to tend my eyes, breathe deeply, and drink water. Looking down, over the edge of the trail, I know I should appreciate the majestic view below of Bear Lake, but do not care. Miles to go, I forge on…alone.

Up another switchback, then another, alone, I trudge on ever so slowly. My head throbs, back hurts, and legs ache. Doubt joins me. Why am I hiking this trail? What am I trying to prove? Can I even make it to the Fern Lake Trailhead? What if I do not?

I am pondering these questions when the trail narrows as it crosses a field of boulders. They are still with me when the trail takes a sharp rightward turn. On one side is a massive granite wall, the other, a precipitous drop. The footing is treacherous. Mind numb, I slip, but catch myself. Damn, that was close.

Scared, depleted, no energy to spare, little hope, I seek comfort on a rock. Sitting there, I drink water. Eat four fig bars. Rub my forehead. As I do, doubt keeps me company.

What to do? Should I turn around? Thump, thump, thump beats my heart. Every breath is like sandpaper on my parched lips.

pay-it-forward-images-002Crunch, crunch, crunch… the sound of boots on the narrow trail. I look up just as a man and woman come around the granite wall. They are from where I am going. As he squeezes by me, he smiles then nods. Following closely behind him, she proffers a “nice day to hike”. As quickly as they showed up, crunch, crunch, crunch, they are gone. Reflecting on what just happened, I think, “If they can do it, so can I.”

Standing up, I feel a twinge of energy. My steps seem lighter. Breathing is less strained. As I forge on, hope joins doubt and me.

Further ahead, I see a large olive-colored snake winding along the trail. As the snake gets closer, I am relieved to realize that it is seven girl scouts, each in an olive-green scout uniform, each wearing a large, same colored backpack. All are whistling, a happy tune. Stepping in perfect cadence.

As I pass the first girl, the tune jumps into my head. When I pass the second, the tune goes from my head to my lips. By the time I pass the seventh girl, I too, am whistling a happy tune. I notice that hope is also whistling, and doubt is lagging behind. They, like the other people I encounter on the trail, come from where I now go. Their tune and lively steps lift my spirit.

Whistling, with renewed energy and a lively cadence to my step, I come upon a young man resting against a rock. I can tell from his countenance that doubt has found him, his energy is spent, and he is confused about what to do next. Whistling the happy tune, I walk by him. Our eyes meet. I give him a big wink, nodding my head in his direction as I do. He nods back. Then sits up. In this moment, I feel the commonality of our respective journeys. Understand that he is me. Our struggles are the same.

pay-it-forward-images-003Walking on, I look at the majestic mountains. Catch a glimpse of Lake Odessa, far below the trail, in amongst the trees. Listen to the roar of a nearby stream. Let the shimmering leaves of the aspens mesmerize me.

A strange, warm feeling—unlike anything I have ever felt before—arises from deep within me. It permeates my being, rejuvenates my legs, relaxes my mind, soothes my lips and eyes, and helps me see clearly. I look around. Doubt is gone. And hope is heading back up the trail toward the young man whom I just left.

From this point on, every hiker I encounter along the final stretch of the trail gets a smile, nod, or kind word—sometimes, all three—from me. I have learned the lesson of this trail. I now see that each gesture, however small, is a conveyance of hope, an antidote to doubt, a soulful balm. Each encounter is part of an intricate, yet ever-expanding web of positive energy. All fuel the warm feeling within me.

I understand that a nod received leads to a nod given. A smile begets other smiles. On it goes, endlessly, hopefully. What you need, give. What you get, pay forward.

Driving away from the trailhead, I look at Flattop Mountain in the rearview mirror. I think about the mountains I am meant to climb. That many of them are within me. The trails to their peaks often wind through valleys of despair, across streams of struggle, and have dark clouds of doubt. Having learned the lesson of the trail, I now understand that while my mountains are unique, my struggles are not. Struggle is common. It is, when we connect others, where we find hope. Let’s pay that forward.

Mark 


Note: This is the 15th post in the Learning Lessons series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

BOY MEETS DREAM – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.


Dream.001It is 4:30 AM Mountain Daylight Time on August 7, 1962, the fifth day of our 10-day family vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. The tiny camper trailer in which Dad, Mom, Pamela, my mastiff sidekick Major, and I are sleeping rests in the park’s Moraine campground, 785-miles from my hometown, Corydon, Iowa. The campsite, shrouded in silence, alit by a big moon and star-filled sky, is the perfect place for a boy like me to dream about the day ahead.

A beam of moonlight, slipping through the front window of the trailer, interrupts my dream. It pushes me out of bed. Prods me to grab warm clothes. Tells me to be quiet as I do. Then pulls Major and me out the trailer door into the chilly night. There, standing on rock-strewn ground, I shiver while pulling on my jeans, putting on socks, lacing up boots, sliding into a thick warm sweater, and giving Major a good morning pat on his massive head.

Dressed, but still cold, I head to Beaver Meadows, a mile away, with Major by my side. Trying to shake off the cold, I walk fast. The big moon and bright stars help me navigate the rocky trail. As I walk, the dream that the moonbeam interrupted, returns. In it, I am hiking a section of the park’s 355 miles of trails, following a stream to its source. I am wildly alive. Like the animals—moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, bear, fox, bobcat, marmot, beaver, trout, and hundreds of birds—harmoniously living here in this 265,769-acre wilderness.

Reaching Beaver Meadows, I climb atop a big, windswept rock. Here, alone in the silence, breathing the fresh, crisp, pine-scented mountain air, I think about the dream I did not get to finish. I think about the way I am in the dream and how I am back home. That here, in the vast, broad, expansiveness of the park I am a solitary figure, a speck of dust in the Universe. I have no hometown expectations. I am not the minister’s son. The unspoken pain from Pamela’s terminal illness that permeates my family subsides here. In this sanctuary, alone in myself, for the first time I think about myself and who I am becoming.dream 1 .001Sitting in Beaver Meadow, under the stars and moon, Major by my side, I think about the soulfulness I feel here in the park. How four days ago, a ranger who was staffing the fire tower on top of Twin Sisters Mountain helped me understand the cycle of life at play here.

How three days ago, during an 11-mile drive up the narrow and curvy Old Fall River Road I saw things in Dad, Mom, Pamela, Major, and myself that I had never seen before. That Dad focuses on the road ahead. Pamela relishes the few thrills that enter her fragile life. And Major just does what he does best—drool and sleep. Mom, well, as the station wagon struggles up Fall River Road, I see that she worries about it overheating, Dad’s driving, and our safety. I notice that she gives her worries to prayer. In this case, while peering past the edge of the road at the raging river far below. Me? While I respect Dad’s driving, Pamela’s thrill seeking, and Major being Major, the credit for us, and the car, getting up the rugged road to Fall River Pass, I give that to Mom and the power of prayer.

Two days ago, at Mills Lake—surrounded by the Keyboard of the Winds, 13,497-foot Pagoda Mountain, 13,579-foot Chiefs Head Peak, and 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain—I was a small boy in a big place. Yesterday, while hiking to Fern Lake, surrounded by pine trees and beautiful vistas, thinking about the previous days, I concluded that only a loving God could create this place, a sanctuary full of grace and beauty for everyone and everything that calls it home. In this place I can hear my heart speak to me. I feel at home.dream 1 .002The sun peaking over the mountains interrupts my reverie. Off in the distance, an elk bugles. A nearby owl contributes a deep, melodic who, who, hoot, then another, and another. The elk bugles, again, and again. The Owl hoots. Major pulls up close to me. Looking skyward he releases a slow soulful howl. After a bit, my own heartbeat keeping rhythm, the bugles, hoots, and howls of the unlikely trio form a tune that only I can recognize.dream 1 .003A meteor streaking across the sky brings the much-appreciated and heartfelt serenade to a stop. As the meteor reaches its apogee, the North Star, catches my eye. Reminding me to launch a birthday dream. Without hesitation, with my eyes tightly closed, digging deeply into my soul, bringing forth every ounce of power within me, I offer my birthday dream to the universe. In the quietness of the park, on the rock, Major by my side, I vow to hold fast to my dream.

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of a long ago family vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park reminds me about the power of place. How, in the park a ranger, a car ride up a steep mountain road, an afternoon at a mountain-circled lake, and a hike to Fern Lake help me feel and understand things that I never would have felt or understood back home in Iowa. Moreover, that where a person is indelibly effects who he becomes.

On a deeper level, the memory that greets me in Heartland is about me being a dreamer who works to bring dreams to life by carrying them in my heart. About learning that dreams make my heart beat stronger. Now, with the perspective of time I see that the dream I met that birthday morning, atop the rock, was no ordinary dream. Fifty four years later, I am still working to bring it to life.

My dreamwork is a soulful path. Most often I walk the path alone. Sometimes, as with Major, a companion walks the path with me. When that happens I do my best to cherish and honor my dream-companion. On rare occasions a star, or moonbeam, shows me the way. Alone or with others, remembrances of where and how I met my dream give me strength to stay the course and dream other dreams.

* Dreams by Langston Hughes


Note: This is the 24nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

SKY POND – The Sacred Places Series

Since the earliest times, people have ascribed sacred significance to certain places. Such places—whether human made or naturally occurring—typically inspire awe, and often invoke devotion and respect. Not surprisingly many of these places are revered and well known. There are some places, however, that are less known, even hidden. They await discovery. Here I pay homage to a place that has sacred meaning for me.

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In Rocky Mountain National Park, eight miles from the turn-off at Colorado Highway 36, Glacier Gorge Trailhead sits by Bear Lake Road, 9240 feet above sea level. As far as trailheads go, this one is quite spiffy. Its paved parking lot, four solar toilets, and double water fountains welcome our arrival. At the lot’s highest end, near the toilets, is big topographical map with a bright yellow you-are-here-arrow. In the shadow of the map stand, we lace up our boots, smear sunblock on nose, face, and neck, and don our daypacks. Sacred place here we come.

The first section of the trail is down hill. This deception of ease deludes me not. I know that our destination lies amidst the ragged peaks that loom in the distance. So every downward step taken now will later require me taking ten or more steps up. I let worries about the path ahead, and the everyday troubles that came with me subside accepting the beams of the warm sunlight and caresses of the gentle breeze. Each step and every breath the trees and trail, rocks and birds offer their hospitality. A cotton-ball cloud punctuates my every glance at the blue sky above.

Soon, where the nearby stream rushes downward, the trail turns upward. My pace slows and breathing deepens. Sweat and sore muscles push concerns about work and family out of mind. Step by step, breath after breath I slowly ascend the trail. Chipmunks crossing the path mock my sweat-soaked ascent with their sprightliness. Climbing—step, breath, another step, and another breath—the z-shaped trail pulls me up the mountainside.

A mile in, a thunderous roar ahead wakes me from my step-breath drudgery. The wondrous sound pulls me to the cool spray of Alberta Falls. Crashing 30-feet down a small gorge, the falls energizes Glacier Creek and provides me brief comfort.

Onward—step, breath, the trails pulls me upward. On my one side, rocks and pine trees, on my other, a breathtakingly beautiful panorama. It is 50-miles deep and at least that wide, glorious evidence of our magnanimous creator. As the sky gets nearer, trees become sparse, and air gets scarce, in the distance, Loch Vale rests at the base of 13,153-foot Taylor Peak, its glacier kissing the Loch’s shoreline. To the south stands 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain accompanied by 12,829-foot Sharkstooth on the southwest. The trail pulls me along is the Loch’s lengthy shoreline. A trout darts to and fro in the crystal clear water, searching for its next meal. As I come around to the north side of the lake, 13,208-foot Powell Peak reveals itself towards the south.

At the far end of the Loch, a fallen tree marks the end of the trail. Here by the water, where mountain meets reflection, is the perfect place for a much-needed lunch break. As I chew on some trail mix, two chipmunks, a marmot, and a camp-jay-robber lustily look at my bag of nuts, chocolates, and raisins. Apparently this is their perfect lunch spot too.

Leaving the Loch, path replaces trail. It leads up a solid granite base with a steep grade that severely tests my balance and strength. A bit later, a stretch—213 feet gain in 0.15 miles—makes me beg God for air. Around Timberline Falls, I ascend beastlike on all fours. The reward for my efforts is the incredibly beautiful Lake of Glass, with its spectacular views of the Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell Peak.

Skirting around the west side of the lake, the path becomes more rugged. The final leg of my journey will be the toughest so far. I am tired, hungry, yet strangely elated. My destination awaits—Sky Pond. At 10,900 above sea level, Sky Pond occupies a cirque basin with sheer cliff walls on three sides. Its fourth side offers a spectacular view of the Loch and beyond.

skypond.001I do not come here often. But when I do, I do not come alone. A question comes with me. Here, at Sky Pond, I explore the inner contours of my soul. Answers to my most difficult questions live here. This is a sacred space for me.

As I settle in, near the water, facing the cliff walls, the gentle Breeze sweeps refreshingly over me. Its second sweep drawing forth these questions—What am I to do with my life? Have I completed what I’m supposed to accomplish? Can I retire now?

The Moon, faintly visible above the cliff wall, hears the questions then grins at me. I know that grin. It sent me on many a boyhood adventure, spurred me on to athletic glory, and taught me to serve the troubled and disaffected. The message of the Moon’s grin, “Mark E. you are not done.” The Breeze, with another sweep, messages, “No, not yet Mark Edward. Many need what only you can bring.” The Moon and Breeze, as if family members say, “Be not afraid…we are with you.” Directly above Sky Pond, the North Star who has been watching the exchange winks at me. A wink that I know to mean, “My dear Mark, you have many more mountains yet to climb. See with your heart and not with your eyes.”

Grateful for the teaching provided me, I pay heartfelt homage to Sky Pond and its occupants. As I stand to leave, looking around at the cliffs and Loch, feeling the Breeze, seeing the Grin, and being kicked by the Wink, I understand that while this place is sacred, an equally sacred place is within me.

Mark


Note: This is the first post in the Sacred Places series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

OUR LIFE, A MASTERPIECE – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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Northwest of the town square, past the bank, water tower, and United Methodist Church a modest, two story white house rests on a corner lot. My friend John’s aunt lives here. On the west side of the house, an enclosed stairway leads to a second floor apartment. With eager anticipation, John and I climb the steep stair steps.

At the precise moment our feet touch the top step, a “C’mon in boys, there’s work to do” greets us.

Waving us in, fussing with his wavy white hair, cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, a leprechaun-like man scurries about the room. On its far side sits an easel. Near it, stretched canvases sit blank and ready to go. Further away stacks of paintings—trees, rocks, stately elk, and snow capped mountains—await completion. Scattered about, on wooden crates, are several half empty coffee mugs. An unhealthy amount of milky tan-colored scum floats in each. By the easel bunches of tubes of paint, brushes of every possible size, and three paint-pocked palettes of differing hues are ready to go. A not quite vacant bottle of amber liquid completes the bohemian décor of the apartment turned makeshift, winter studio of Dave Stirling, Corydon’s finest artist.

Even though Mr. Stirling grew up here, Bugscuffle Ranch Studio on the Horseshoe Park side of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado has been his home since 1915. He is the park’s one and only artist in residence. At the ranch, most days (and many evenings), he holds court, often playing the piano as he spins tales and charms potential patrons. Holding court leaves Mr. Stirling little time to paint. So most of the paintings he sells there, he paints here, sometimes with our help.

Perched on wooden crates, John and I are ready to go. Mr. Stirling tucks a fresh-lit cigarette between his lips, grabs a brush, mushes it into some purple paint, points to the canvas on the easel, hands me the brush, and says, “Mark, paint a letter…any letter.” Leaping off the crate, to the canvas I go. With a bold stroke, S is the letter I paint.

“Now John, you paint a letter, any letter,” says Mr. Stirling. John puts a precise P on the canvas. While we return to our perches, proud of our contributions to the effort, the maestro adds his strokes to ours. A horizon appears. Stepping back, he asks for our guidance. We offer critique, he considers, then adds more strokes—brown ones, ochre too—a tree springs to life in the foreground. Splotches of blue, dabs of white become a blue sky with billowy clouds in the background. After more strokes, and an extra bit of critique, we stop. Twisted, leafless trees on a mountainside under a blue cloud-filled sky. A signature—Stirling—in the lower left corner completes the painting.

As we bask in the glory of our masterpiece, Mr. Stirling regales us with stories of his childhood in Corydon, the circuitous journey that took him to Bugscuffle Ranch, people he met along the way, and his life as an artist (and tourist attraction). His words become brush strokes, his life a canvas, experiences a palette. The stories he tells and pictures he paints depict the joys and sorrows of a man living the life he wants to live within the boundaries of our hometown and the national park but outside norms and mores of each.

We are born a blank canvas that is ours to paint. Using a full palette we paint our lives with the colors and hues we select and the textures, contrasts, and shades we experience. The combination of paints and brush strokes create different effects on our canvases. For instance, bold brush strokes and bright colors bring passion and drama. Broad strokes and earth tones portray purpose, steadfastness—one’s lifework. Not surprisingly the wide range of colors and brush strokes—including John’s P and my S—Mr. Stirling uses are wholly consistent with the unrestrained way he lives.

In my Heartland there are many characters, some bolder and more colorful than others. Their artistry is evident in the beauty they extract from the ordinariness of everyday life. The way they live inspires and guides the strokes, texturing, and shading of my life. On my life’s canvas there is a bold S stroke honoring Mr. Stirling, a reminder that talent can fill a canvas with beautiful images, but it takes a little flare and a dash of audacity to bring the images to life.

Mark


Note: This is the sixth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.