Out of the ashes we will rise; with beauty, grace, and life.
It is the summer of adventure! Every year we dub the summer with that title as if it was a new thought, but as each summer rolls around we valiantly raise our declarative hands into the air and shout with just as much vigor as before, “It is the summer of adventure!”
…And we go. We slim down our schedules, we prioritize our lives, we protect our weekends like vultures and politely ask the rest of the world’s expectations to back off…and we head out to where the wild leads our spirits to a place where we find rest and renewal; a healing realm which brings oil to our tired gears.
It was a Sunday morning and I turned to my husband in bed and asked him, “What do you have in mind for today?” That question is always the beginning of many adventures in our family. An open ended, “Let’s get outta here!”
Thus a hiking day began to brew. We blasted the morning music, usually Buena Vista Social Club or Karsh Kale on our weekend mornings… I simultaneously shoveled down some breakfast while gathering what we needed and my husband Josh prepared a pack lunch. The house can be left a mess, the dust can mingle, when there are adventures to be had we must go.
When I look back on my life lived, I want to see all of the great things we did, all of the moments we enjoyed, I don’t want to wonder where the time went as I worried about the house…let the dust sit. There is always another day to take care of that and it will always come back.
Off we went to the mountains, to the fresh air, to the pine trees, to the freedom!
It is the exiting of our vehicle and the first glimpse of a trail; the sounds of the birds and the way the sun feels in the great forest that makes me feel like I am home.
This trail was new to us; we began with a walk through a thin spindly forest at the Blue Lake trail head. I looked around and where were my beloved green ferns? My giant trees? My soft earthen moss patches? A desolation of ash still remained in this area so close to the mountain, overpowering the soil, creating silt and fluffy grey ground cover. Porous rocks were everywhere, winter carved waterways, now mostly empty and dry with small creeping springs still seeping through.
Mt. St. Helen’s stood tall above the scene; strong and mighty forced to look down, in his solitary position on the mess that he had made.
Mt. St. Helen’s was named after a British ambassador called Alleyne Fitzherbert, whom was also dubbed “Baron St. Helens”. However, the mountain was already given a name by the pacific-northwest Native Americans who were living in that area. They referred to the beast as “Louwala-Clough,” or “smoking mountain.”
In 1980, it blew its roof top and covered the age old land with the boiling contents stewing within its cauldron. The land was scarred and life turned into death in an instant.
We hiked through this dusty mire, oddly admiring the striking contrast of beauty in this barren land; the monochromatic relics with lackluster trees against the blue sky.
Glory is everywhere that we look, if we CHOOSE to have eyes to see it.
We continued forward and I expected this trail of ruins to lead me to the beckoning forest which oddly stood side by side next to the wasteland. Heading north on this trail, when I turned my eyes towards the east I saw nothing but grey, then looking westward there was only a stream that separated the dessert of dull-tones from the live presentation of forest land, thick and old and vibrant.
How is this possible? I was stunned by the placement of everything. How did the roar of St. Helen’s cover the land for miles with the bursting of the belly of the smoking mountain?… Yet, somehow this old growth wild-wood thriving across the stream was untouched.
Side by side there stood a tangible, visual, distinct example of death and life in a panoramic view unfolding right before our eyes.
We gravitated to the stream, to the life-side of the forest. We drew ourselves nearer to the cord-veins of the water and there we discovered heaps and heaps of huckleberries ripe and sweet, all along the water-line.
Huckleberries love to be near the water, their taste is sweeter and the berries are filled with juice when they are next to it.
“Isn’t this early for huckleberries, this high up in the mountains?” I asked Josh. “That is what I was thinking!” He replied. We have always picked them in August and September, so it seemed odd to have such a plentiful display of fresh berries already ripe for the taking.
Our hiking came to a halt, a long halt, as we picked and filled our bellies with the first wild berries of the season. After a while though I began to feel anxious, I wanted so badly to get into the thick of the woods.
Onward we traveled…until we came to a beautiful lake. Purely haunting, it gave off a sense of mystical mystery. It symbolized to me a sector of hallowed ground between the two visual worlds of death and life.
If I kept my eyes steady on the lake and the mirror images of trees reflecting on the water I felt the kind of magic that I feel when I get out into the wilderness…but whenever I would gaze back into the barren mess, I began to grow tired of it and I wanted to travel away from it all together.
I suddenly remembered that I forgot to put our forest pass on the rear view mirror, panicking because I did not want to pay a fine for parking there without it, I told Josh that I HAD to run back to the car or we might have a hefty fee to pay.
So I ran, I ran 1.5 miles down the path of sooty nothingness, dust rising all around me, Moonshine the dog leaping with me. I got to the car, gulped down some water, shared some with Moonie, and rectified the situation. Then with a breath in and back out again, I jogged the 1.5 miles through and through until I reached the lake. The serene silence was so loud, my kids and my husband were gone! The quietness was eerie, the volcanic wasteland hovering behind me, the tranquility of the lake before me… I was alone, I wanted my family. I wanted to find my forest thick and free…
I hollered for their names… no answer. Again and again and again…still no answer. I sat down on a rock and figured they would return.
After a while I heard the giggles of children and the clacking of rocks as they climbed up into view; they waved at me to come.
They had found a stream full of clay and were building a dam to create a pool. I sat down and ate lunch on a rock, reviving myself from all the running.
I finished eating. They began eating. We talked about fish, dams, spiders, squirrels, we talked about the mountain and at one point our dog entangled his arm inside of his collar and wobbled around on 3-legs, which brought us all to the ground with laughter.
The kids would have kept playing in the mud all day, covering their bodies with the grey composted ash…but I had to get away and into the forest, and during my run to the car I spotted an off trail that took you up into the woods. That’s the ticket!
So we went… I felt so much relief with each step deeper into the web of the forest. I could breathe in and taste and smell the earth around me. More huckleberries were growing up there, but very tart and had flavors of the forest that danced in your mouth, far different than the water-side ones. We found enormous conks growing on trees, we let them be, they have been working hard on their growth.
Then as we turned the corner of the trail, my husband rushed forward and reached his long arms around the girth of an ancient tree trunk, his arms could hardly wrap around even a 3rd of her circumference. I felt teary at the sight of this big man warm against the tree like a little boy.
I then had to have my moment with her, that wise old tree… and when I did I felt the sun’s heat on her bark, and I held onto her sides as much as my arms could grasp…it took a while before I could let go.
My daughter and I said thank you to our creator for such a tree as this… and I kissed it before we carried on with our hike.
My heart ached, my throat was all bunched up feeling like I needed to just sit down and sob… Cry because I am so thankful that I could see a beautiful beast of a tree such as this, but also sad at so many that have been lost.
Yet, we use wood to make our homes, we use wood to burn our fires, it is the patterns of give and take, but how does one not mourn the loss of something so grand…
I believe we are responsible to give back to the forests so that balance is at hand. I didn’t cry though, I held it in my belly…maybe I should have let it all out…It might have been really healthy.
We were only able to travel along that path for a little while longer on because the city clock of responsibility was calling us home to take care of a few things that night. On our way back down the trail we sat on the edge of a perfect look-out perch, a divine spot where we could view the ruins of the ash world below us, and we could see both the mountain and the lake while we sat within the safe sanctuary of the old growth paradise.
At that spot we had church. My husband, my son, my daughter and I, we gave thanks to our Creator for the magnificence and mysteries of life. We sat together for a while and each of us shared what God had displayed to us during our time out there and we gave thanks.
For starters, my son talked about how the mountain farts and he explained to us all, with certainty that it had really bad gas so it just had to explode. So he learned that mountains fart just like people. I am pretty sure he got that one from his dad… My boy was thankful for lunch and Moonshine (our dog) and the flatulent mountain.
My daughter shared how she learned about the health of huckleberries and how they are nutritious for our bodies. She expressed how God displayed to her how much plants need water. My daughter was thankful for water and plants that we can eat.
My husband talked about the trees in the old growth forest. He has a love affair with trees. He shared with us how the trees have always been a symbol to him of how wondrous our creator is. My husband was thankful for the dam he built with the kids, the time spent away from work and of course for the trees.
I shared with my family how I struggled to see the beauty in the soot land below, how the entire time part of me was just waiting to get out of it. I was reminded of the cleansing that takes place out of the ashes, I was reminded of the new life forming all around me. I gave thanks for the ash… I gave thanks for the pain.
Those spindly baby trees down below were making their way out of the purified soil and the former land, post eruption, was now decomposing in the form of ash; the soil will grow rich because of this. The cleansing of the forest will allow new light to shine through so that baby trees can travel tall and new flora and fauna can flourish. One day the emptiness will be alive and full; a great forest once again.
Our creator gives and takes away, and this is an example of what that give and take is all about, and how nature, God’s most perfect worshipers will always continue to loyally say, “blessed be the Lord!” … “Even the rocks cry out…”
Sometimes it is hard to see the beauty when you are the one in the ashes. Life in the ashes can be blinding… blind to the new growth that is taking place.
Sometimes we have to feel the pain in order to grow…
Sometimes, it takes the rising actions of change in order to lift our heads out of the dirt and rise…rise to see life from a different perspective.
Yes, out of the ashes there will rise beauty, grace and life!
It wasn’t until we sat in that spot with that window view of the grey below, that I saw the new perspective… it wasn’t until then that I was reminded of the beauty that was and is and is to come. “There is beauty in the dirt.”
“I am mountain, I am dust
Constellations made of us
There’s glory in the dirt
The universe within the sand
Eternity within a man
We are ocean, we are mist
Brilliant fools who ruled and kiss
There’s beauty in the dirt
Wandering in skin and soul
Searching, longing for a whole”
– Gungor “I Am Mountain”
(A song worth listening to)