This is part one of an extract from a manuscript I used
in a class on spirituality and photography
at the Pacific School of Religion,
and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
How do we get to where we are going, and why is it that we cannot see forward except by guessing and speculation, while it seems we can see backwards just fine? If the axiom “all roads [the paths we have taken] lead to Rome [the home we claim for ourselves]” is true for us, it is only in retrospect we can know the roads which were traveled which led to this our present.
How could I have known that, back in 1966, as Cherie and I were awaiting our first child, Shannon, to be born and I took my father’s old Argus Color Camera out to the Auburn Ravine to test the shutter so I would be sure to get good images of our first child, that I would end up a professional photographer? How could I have known when I, eight years later, filed for bankruptcy and proclaimed that I would ever touch a camera again, or that I would go back into photography less than four years later? Not I, that is certain. I could never have guessed that one day my failures would become paths to my successes.
Neither could I have known that when I had my first exhibition in 1969 dealing with the re-development of what is now Old Sacramento, that it was setting an agenda for the rest of my professional photographic career. Land and space issues, what we give up for the mirage of progress: this is what I have spent my career photographing. But I still do not know where it is I am going. I am not even sure enough of where I am to know where there is. I have learned though that the path I take will eventually lead to where I will be, and wherever that is, will be somewhere in the process of obtaining my heart’s desire: this is to move on a path that is closer to the divine through using the gifts which I have been given by the divine which I love. I know it will be good. Photography, drawing, prayer, theology, preaching, counseling: these are my gifts for a life in the Spirit which lures me along a path to the divine.
I have learned about paths from hiking. I started to hike at an older age, I was twenty-five years old when I did my first one. I knew nothing about hiking. I knew that I was going into the mountains. The Donner Party had frozen to death in the Sierra Nevada range, and as that was where I would be hiking, I purchased hiking supplies accordingly. I bought boots insulated to twenty below zero, a light-weight pack on a frame, food that tasted like dungeon-fare (dried dietary eggs and Bacos for breakfast, pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and store-bought beef jerky for dinner, and because I smoked two packs a day, lots of cigarettes). I learned my lessons the heard way. My feet roasted hiking in the ninety-degree August weather, I was nauseated most of the day from the food, my pack-frame snapped and I had to drag it back to the car, and after I realized that my lungs could not absorb enough oxygen at the high elevations I hiked, I gave up smoking.
Mine was not even close to a Donner Party experience, it was my own, but at times I did think it would be my last experience. I have had blisters so bad that my feet absorbed my socks, and it took an hour of hiking each morning before my feet got numb enough so I could hike without pain—and I had to start the feet-numbing process all over again after each break. I have spent hours lost deep in a red-fir forest, circling and crisscrossing until I found the trail. In the sun’s glare I have almost walked into an ice crevasse. I have slipped on black ice while crossing a stream with a forty-pound pack and landed square on my knees. With all that said, I go back, and I went back until my body hardened and became trail-wise. Eventually, I learned what food and clothes to buy, how to gauge my energy, and how to walk, even how high to lift my feet. I have even developed a sense of direction that helps me when I cannot find blazes.
I now have over thirty years experience hiking on the mountain’s paths, and with the physical and functional knowledge attained, I have been able to learn something of myself, and something of the divine. Poetry comes to me when I hike so I will share one at this point.
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
We hiked the long north slope
To Tell’s Peak,
Trailing day-old horseshoe prints
Of ranger and horse.
One quarter mile from summit,
We forked east and down
Between Tell’s and McConnel Peaks,
To a cirque and Highland Lake.
I’ve been colder.
Storm-dropped clouds fell
Cloud-frozen wind slid between peaks
And clouds, blew hopes
For fish on empty lures to our teeth.
Fire rose above stone fire-circle,
Burned food/frozen food
Uneaten of tin dishes.
Too cold to stay up,
We went discouraged,
Disappointed into sleeping bags.
Too cold to sleep,
But morning’s weather looked better.
We started back to the ridges,
To the fork, No-Name Lake, and
A yellow-belly marmot on the granite.
Then, the final climb,
Clouds breaking up,
And the real treat.
Looking back into the Great Valley,
As far as sight,
Then back to this range we sat,
Came first lines of storm front.
Row on row,
Phalanx on phalanx,
Cloud on cloud.
Separate, yet together as an army.
White against deep sky.
Roaring, growling, barking violence.
As though armored,
And in mighty struggle–siege of fortress.
As each reached some invisible marker
In spite of its fearsome noise,
Slowly fade, never be.
The force of their might,
Created their oblivion.
Is it that way with me?
My power sterilized
By my violence.
Is it simply the evaporation of a cloud,
The stealing of living water
From a parched earth?
What then, is the power of not being violent?
Because this meditation is about paths, it might be helpful to get yourself on a path as a beginning for this meditation. Go for a walk. Walk briskly. Walk slowly. Let the notions of paths mull through your thoughts. Think of how many songs you have heard that are about paths or roads or about going somewhere. Think imaginatively about the beginning of a path, and about finishing a path. How do you feel? Is it a different feeling in you when you ended from when you began? What good are paths, to our world? What good is walking?
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