Having Had

Photo by Varadh Jain on Unsplash

Just after takeoff from Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport (MSP), a seatmate asked my destination. I was visiting a cousin in Germany. He was on his way home from an Oregon vacation. We were both relaxed and free of the scowls on the faces of business class passengers. Finding common ground with friendly people is a bonus of traveling alone.

“Have you heard of Crater Lake?” he asked intently (but not in a creepy way). “You should go,” he continued, and I heard the words ring. They held odd weight for small talk.

The Crater Lake Lodge is booked many months in advance. It was over a year later when I turned off State Road 138 into the forested park entrance. I checked into a rustic room with no phone or TV, and then hiked a short trail to nearby Garfield Peak where tiny, clicking crickets hid in the rocks until my footsteps stirred them to yellow-winged flight.

It was an inspiring view of the caldera. The crater’s vast rim is 33 miles around the rugged basin. It is the deepest lake in North America; a sacred place to the Klamath people that inspires all who visit. The waters are a destination for modern spirit quests. Far below at the boat landing, seekers braved the cold plunge to commune with “beings” from the icy depths. Opposite the lake, a small desert displayed a multicolored sweep of ancient pumice where a few scrawny trees and scrubby red plants had reclaimed the hard ground. Both lake and desert are the wild remains of Mount Mazama’s eruption over seven thousand years ago, but the sandy expanse was unexpected.

“I like the desert, too,” Beth shared at dinner – that’s what I’ll call her for this story.

She and her husband had traveled from Ohio, and we’d introduced ourselves on the patio. They were curious about my solo travel, and I shared the events that brought me there.

I’m searching for something,” I confided. “But was only able to book one night at the lodge. Tomorrow, I leave, and I don’t even know why I’m here, yet.”

“Maybe you should check at the desk,” she said. “Sometimes there are cancellations.” It was a simple solution. I inquired after dinner and managed to book another day.

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There were friendly faces everywhere. That evening, I met two scientists from the Crater Lake Institute: A local botanist who lived in the nearby town of Klamath, and a former park ranger from Tennessee. They’d planned to set up a telescope for the close approach of Mars, but a thunderstorm moved through the Cascades, and we found consolation in a late dessert and park trivia.

“Did you take the boat tour?” the botanist asked.

“No, it was too noisy.”

“The lake is known as the Well of Silence,” he agreed. “Have you visited the Lady of the Woods? Her statue is near the visitor center.”

I made a mental note to look for it. His passion for the park was genuine, and if he thought the statue was important, I did too.

“It’s amazing,” I offered. “How little has changed in seven thousand years.”

He gave me a look (a little creepy this time), so I went to find Beth and say goodnight.

“I hope you find out why you’re here,” she said. It felt good to find someone who cared about my journey.

I’ve become more focused on the Spirit as an outward expression of community and care.Next morning, I found the Lady of the Woods behind the visitor center. She sat curled within a granite boulder as if seeking shelter from Mazama’s eruption. Lichen covered her back, and there was no interpretive sign to explain her origin. The statue almost looked like a natural formation but was no less moving when I learned it had been sculpted. Park administrators believe the work does not belong in a natural area and consider it artistic vandalism. For me, it was a monument to beauty, but The Lady held no answers.

Back at the lodge, Beth raised more questions about the writing life. Her outlook was plainly religious, so I felt okay talking about my higher power. As a writer, John’s description of “the Word” is a natural fit: “In the beginning was the Word.” A logical Step 2 for my practice.

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But the trip was winding down. At sunset, the scientists set up their telescope, and we viewed tiny white smudges that were galaxies larger than the Milky Way. Mars rose around 9 p.m., and it was time to say goodnight. We left thanks for their astronomy with the manager on duty.

The next morning, Beth and her husband would continue down the coast. I had a few more hours to enjoy the park before a drive back to Portland International airport (PDX).

“Why not take a walk in the desert?” she suggested. “There are no cars allowed, but hiking is fine.”

So, I parked near the small expanse on my way out. From the road, I could see a line of green where the pumice turned to grass, and it became my destination over the sand. Halfway across, I noticed a single, tall evergreen among the red plants. Some poetic soul had rolled a boulder into the shadow, and it beckoned me to sit. When I faced the tree, desert sunlight filtered through the boughs. It was not one trunk, but three in one. A trinity branched before me, and grace filled my heart.

Now having had a few years in the program, I’ve learned it’s best not to interpret a spiritual idea too literally – my take on the Word notwithstanding – but the sight made me pause to reconsider my childhood worship. Over the years, “the three” had meshed into one collective consciousness. It would take some work to begin again with a three-part Higher Power (HP). Since the solo trip to Crater Lake, I’ve become more focused on the Spirit as an outward expression of community and care; meeting friendly people and hearing their words with faith a higher power will guide the way.

Please send your 1st Person story to phoenix@thephoenixspirit.com. We will respond if there is interest in publishing it in a future issue. Thank you.

Last Updated on April 7, 2023

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