July 20, 2017

July 20, 2017
Mary and Dosey

Monday, April 12, 2010

DAR #28: Simply Extraordinary

DAR #28

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
--William Wordsworth

I have never been hit by a car, but I have been hit by a squirrel. My college friend Laura and I were circumnavigating the tree lined path around our college campus, when I saw something out of my right eye just before a mass hit me square in the head. “What was that?” Both Laura and I looked left to see a squirrel poking its head out from the base of a tree to the left, several feet lower than he had intended to land, looking up at us with wide eyes that asked the same question: “What was that?”

I have neither climbed K2 (or any snow capped mountain) nor gone scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef (or anywhere actually), but I have witnessed simpler extraordinary gifts of nature. I swam in Costa Rica’s turquoise waters and watched the monkeys play leapfrog (I don’t know if they call it that) through the trees as Macaws swooped by. I climbed to the “roof of the world,” a mountain overlooking Lalibela, Ethiopia, and listened to the monks’ chanting and drumming bounce off the mountain walls. I have witnessed avalanche lilies bloom from under their snowy blanket and the pink sunset glow on Mount Rainier. I watched giraffes gallop across the Serengeti and Masai men leap from standing still as high as NBA players running to dunk. With a Mayan family, I climbed the pyramids of Tikal and with a Salvadoran family I ate New Year’s tamales. I have witnessed teenagers move from apparent apathy to engagement, from preparing for gang life to readying themselves for college life.

Once when I was waterskiing in the NC Waterway (proving to myself that I could still ski at 40), I noticed a dolphin in the waters ahead and dropped the ski rope so that no dolphin would die in the motor’s blades for me. I slowly sank into the water and the dolphin came to me, lifted itself by its tail from the water, and smiled for a long moment before disappearing from me forever. The boat was turning around so no one else saw it. Just my moment with a dolphin.

When my friends Jack and Sandy visited decades ago, we went to Orcas Island for the weekend and were sitting on a bench watching stars from a meteor shower fall when I noticed the green and magenta glow of the Northern Lights on the horizon. Either that or Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

When I was 15 years old, my parents took me on a tour of “the west.” We took what looked like a shortcut on the map into Yellowstone National Park. The reason it looked like a short cut on the map, and the reason this route had not been recommended, was that we drove straight up and down a snowy mountain. Probably because I am my parents’ favorite child, I was sitting in the middle up front while my younger siblings squabbled in the back seat. I still remember coming around a bend and seeing the awesome landscape of mountains, rocks and snow below us. I gasped. It’s the first time I remember beauty taking my breath away.

More recently, my partner Ann and I were hiking early one spring morning at Crystal Mountain because we’d heard that elk gathered at the ridge of this trail in the mornings. I heard a rustle on the trail’s high side and paused so as not to frighten the elk. An adolescent grizzly stepped into the path just in front of me. I gasped, from fear and from the stunning closeness of such wildness, and the two of us stared at one another for a split second before he continued his tumble down the mountainside. Because I’m chicken, Ann led the rest of the way.

One winter, cross country skiing in the North Cascades, I took a quiet trail called “Red Fox Run.” I was alone. A black fox joined me just off the trail and ran along beside me for a quarter mile or so. That is the grace of the world.

I have rafted the Colorado River rapids and joined the Grand Canyon swim team. Ann and I watched a lightning storm dance above us as we sat on a rock by the river, the show as compelling as any 3D movie. In Alaska, we watched grizzlies fishing at the top of a small waterfall, trying not to cheer when they caught a salmon. In our own yard, spring brings crocus, then daffodils, now tulips and later roses to bloom.

Since it’s not so easy for me to get to out of the way places anymore, I feared that my days of such extraordinary visions were over. Then last summer Ann and I went to Paradise at Mount Rainier and left the inn early for a morning hike because the afternoon heat was too much. As we started up the paved trail, we gasped. A black fox was hunting for its morning snack just ahead of us. Pacing, looking into the blooming heather, staring and then pouncing: straight up and straight down. No catch. The world’s grace is, of course, still with me.

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