Services at the Church of the Big Empty

It’s been a while since Bear and I have attended services at the Church of the Big Empty, not because we haven’t gone out there, but it just doesn’t always happen. I don’t know what factors conspire to make it happen, but I’m happy when they do. It seems to be most often a winter thing, so I’m thinking that possibly solitude and silence enter into it, and then there is the amazing sky, the clouds that behave unpredictably, giving warnings and telling the news. The clouds are the only messengers I know that accurately foretell the future. Today they were offering mixed signals — which is pretty much what the weather forecasters are offering, too.

Teddy has learned what it means “Not today, little guy. I just want to go out with Bear. You have to stay home.” He sits in front of the sofa in complete understanding. One thing about having two dogs — one of which was here first — it matters that once in a while the first dogs gets to be the ONLY dog, especially when the two dogs are such incredibly good friends as Bear and Teddy are.

And so… We strolled along, covering 1.08 miles in a little under an hour. Bear got to smell EVERYTHING her heart desired and I got to stare off into space as much as MY heart desired.

At one point I could almost see a little boy in a loin cloth, the clear water of the ancient lake just below his knees. He was looking intently into the water. He held a pointed stick raised and ready. I felt as if I knew him. Was him? This place has some kind of mysterious fascination for me. Sometimes — not always — when I’m out there, I feel it. I painted it long before I saw it in a painting titled, “Ancestral Memory.” What if?

Bear and I walked on until she stopped in front of me to lean for a while. It’s her thing. We resumed our walk, Bear next to me, curling her head around my left left. I rested my hand on her back and we went on like that for a while, until a smell captured her attention again.

Bear leaning…and walking

I love these walks. I love it when the magic happens, and I love that I can’t MAKE it happen. In these times I feel that every other thing in my world is completely irrelevant, “Passatempo“.

When we reached the car, I looked up to see a very large raptor — the Golden Eagle from last week? — cruising low over the grasslands. He didn’t come nearer, and above him I noticed a very interesting cloud — a cloud that had been turning lenticular, but was hit on the face by some air currents that made it resemble 1930s permanent waves. You can kind of see it in the photo below. The snowy mountain farthest left facing is Mt. Herard and at the base are the Great Sand Dunes.

The sky out there has so much going on in any single moment (unless there are no clouds). The sun breaking through here and there and there, and here lit the distant Sangres like spotlights in a Broadway show. Now this, now the Sand Dunes, now the Crestones. Now colors on Mt. Blanca. In another direction was this — lines as if the the wind were a comb. A little hard to see…

Most people drive that loop road at 30 mph. The speed limit is 15. I drive between 10 and 15 because there are things to see along the way. I thought about that as I drove, watching the sky and the space between earth and sky for raptors. It’s all there.

I thought again of how grateful I am to Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego, though the “empty” season there is summer. One December afternoon I stood on a ridge looking toward the north and winter’s lush green chaparral. I spoke to it, “God, why are you so beautiful?”

God in this case was just a word, but I got an answer. “So you would love me.”

I answered, “I do love you.”

IT answered, “No you don’t. You don’t come when it’s hot, my snakes are out, and nothing is green. You only come when everything is like this.”

Talk about the smack down. After that? I got the best lesson of my whole life; how to see a place that might, to superficial outward appearance be “nothing,” but which is, in fact, everything. In 1988, with my first real dog, Truffle, I began my apprenticeship in “How to take a walk.” No, it wasn’t my first walk or hike by any means, but it was the beginning of walking knowing I was not just on a trail going somewhere. I already WAS somewhere. My job was learning to BE there. Emerson wrote it in Nature:

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,)  which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,  — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

Featured photo: the only snow Bear could reach — she said it was better than nothing, but it’s pretty hard. And I found on the gravel road a beautiful green stone, that made me think of Zorba the Greek. I picked it up and put it with the feathers in my car.

Services in the Church of the Big Empty

It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the spiritual services in the Big Empty. It’s not an automatic thing, but this morning Bear let me know in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that she wanted to go. OK. Face not washed (mine), teeth not brushed (again, mine), dishes not done (obviously, mine) we headed out in the crisp autumn air.

There are hundreds of cranes here now. I have heard them for about a month but not seen many. That is, in my opinion, totally up to them. I have that luxury which people who travel thousands of miles to see these birds do not have. It was crisp — 9C about 45 F — a beautiful moment for a walk with my dogs. Teddy was busy checking the boundaries for nocturnal intruders and grasshoppers, but Bear was hanging close as she does, so I rested my hand on her back as we walked, something she loves (and I love). The morning was completely silent except for the purring and chortling of the cranes. I stopped for a moment, hearing them approaching, watched four land about 50 feet from us, in brush near a road that’s closed to the public.

A little later, captured by the beauty of some golden trees, I stopped again to listen to the cranes and the ambient silence. That’s what happens in the Church of the Big Empty. Bear lifted her head; her ears perked up. I turned to see where her eyes were looking. Four cranes were coming toward us about 15 feet above the ground. They flew in front of us, about 10 feet away. I felt for all the world (and it’s unlikely) as if they were saying “Hello!” to us. “How was your summer? Nice to see you again!” My eyes filled with tears, I was so happy to be so close to them again.

Cranes have a very unusual effect on people. I’ve tried to figure that out, but no luck. I’m one of the people who is deeply moved by them. Cultures all over the world — diverse and ancient cultures — regard them very highly and some see them as a model for human behavior. I have sure learned some good lessons from them over the years such as “Keep yourself alive.”

I don’t have photos of that moment. I’m at the point now with so many crane photos that I just want to watch, so you’ll have to take my word that it was beautiful. I do have THESE though…