Saturday, February 20, 2016

Stone Sermons

Of the jagged horizon south of the Tuolumne Meadows, John Muir's journal entry regarding Cathedral Peak reads:
It is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from the living rock, and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope some time to climb to it to say my prayers and hear the stone sermons.
Muir's journal entry on page 266 of My First Summer in the Sierra and Selected Essays was written in 1869 as Muir approached the middle age of 31 years.

The Cathedral Range. Cathedral Peak is the houndstooth spire on the right.

Muir mused about returning to Cathedral Peak to climb the temple of one stone and to hear the stone sermons.

Whether physical or imagined, our trek requires resilience of body and mind. Because we have limited capacity for minutia, we condense our experiences into tightly edited vignettes that, strung together, form a narrative that becomes our handhold to a semblance of Self.

In the poem Releasing the Sherpas, Campbell McGrath considers body and intellect as the sturdy but perhaps expendable porters carrying our freight through steep spires of glacial ice.
Releasing the Sherpas
by Campbell McGrath

The last two sherpas were the strongest,
faithful companions, their faces wind-peeled,
streaked with soot and glacier-light on the snowfield
below the summit where we stopped to rest.

The first was my body, snug in its cap of lynx-
fur, smelling of yak butter and fine mineral dirt,
agile, impetuous, broad-shouldered,
alive to the frozen bite of oxygen in the larynx.

The second was my intellect, dour and thirsty,
furrowing its fox-like brow, my calculating brain
searching for some cairn or chasm to explain
my decision to send them back without me.

Looking down from the next, ax-cleft serac
I saw them turn and dwindle and felt unafraid.
Blind as a diamond, sun-pure and rarefied,
whatever I was then, there was no turning back.
Nearly frostbitten, clinging to an ax-cleft serac, our body and intellect need coaxing. Our intellect, buttressed by unimaginable fortitude and resilience, summon physical strength.

We walk over wind-blown passes to descend into verdant valleys. We move on to face an undeterminable number of sunrises and sunsets.

There's no turning back.
Far up the Pilot Peak Ridge the radiant host of trees stand hushed and thoughtful, receiving the Sun’s good-night, as solemn and impressive a leave-taking as if sun and trees were to meet no more. The daylight fades, the color spell is broken, and the forest breathes free in the night breeze beneath the stars.John Muir