One of the most lovely hikes I took in Tahoe was into Desolation Wilderness. For the first hour or so, it was almost a straight-up climb. In the 80’s the trail I was on got a working over so it’s basically a rock staircase hewn into the side of the mountain that goes up inexorably. Many of the ‘steps’ are high and rough and uneven. I huffed and I puffed and I felt like an old fat woman who should know better than to do something like this. My right knee hurt. But I was also determined that I would keep climbing.
There were moments of exhilaration, when I’d look up long enough to catch something like this
Because there are mainly evergreens and so much granite in this part of the Sierras, it can become almost monochromatically boring. And then there’d be vistas like this. I have just about decided to get a flame tatoo, the notion of “set the world on fire”–the call and invitation of Ignatius is so layered with meaning and hope for me these days. I saw what that looked like so vividly all around me during my retreat. A tatoo would be the outward and visible sign of the inward given grace I received — a sacrament.
At any rate, the climb was arduous and filled with the paradox that a desolation wilderness can be so stunningly beautiful.
I was also aware that I stayed in the very safe spaces of Desolation–during part of my hike, I watched rock climbers rappelling down from the peak on the other side of the canyon that dropped further and further from me as I climbed. I’m still glad I had my zipline adventure in Panamá and I know for sure that I will never rappel. But if I were 15 or 20 years younger…
Finally, the trail became less vertical. I came into a grove of evergreens. There’s one kind of pine tree–the Jeffery Pine–that has pinecones that aren’t prickly. What’s even cooler is if you get right up to a Jeffery Pine, scratch the bark and put your nose against where you scratched, you can smell this sweet vanilla fragrance that just delights and is about as contrary to the smell of pine I am used to as possible. I am sure a pair of hikers who came by right as I tried that trick must have thought I was some kind of wierd, but part of the joy of my time in Tahoe was the intimacy I felt with creation. I kept going. Until I got here
A small alpine lake. I dipped my hand in the water and crossed myself, another reminder of my baptism. I thought of my friend John Senette who preached a sermon I have never forgotten, about the fact that sometimes in life, we breathe the desert in so it feels like our lungs will fry and our being will wither and die–and that those are the invitations to go deeper still, until we find the springs of living water.
My days are extraordinarily busy now, and Tahoe is far away. But not the fire and the water…