Archive for the ‘Wantastiquet Mountain’ Tag

When’s a Sign a Sign?   Leave a comment

Yes, there are signs and signs. And whole bunches of debate, at intervals, over what “really” constitutes one.

Here’s my in-progress rule of thumb: if it helps me see more deeply, love more richly, create more vibrantly, wonder more amazedly, then it deserves the name “sign.” Coincidence doesn’t enter into it — in fact, it’s irrelevant. (Most days, though, I won’t go as far as Carl Jung and say “Superstition and accident manifest the will of God.”)

What matters with a sign for me, then, is not its origin but its effect. If I don’t invite such causal ripples, funny thing, they tend not to manifest for me. Tune myself away from the universe and it doesn’t vibrate for me like it did. I cut myself off from that original song that’s always singing just beyond my hearing. That’s a form of spiritual death.

If a potential sign doesn’t manage to do any of these positive things, however woo-woo* it appears, I’ve got better things to do than wade in superstition. By which I mean a vague sense of woo, yes, but without anything concrete and transformative that rises out of my encounter or experience. Those are just dime-a-dozen woos.

And if it’s your sign? Go with it! What does it say to you?

But I tend to discount signs others witness and want to “give” to me. To each our own. There’s a reason you and not I witnessed what you witnessed. And vice versa. That neither validates nor invalidates the sign. It simply personalizes it. If, following Leonard Cohen, the “cracks in the world let the light in,” the person or persona lets the sound of awen through. Latin persona: the theatrical mask (and later, a character or role) that lets a voice come out that did not speak before.

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you …

sings Leonard Cohen in “If It Be Your Will.”

But he continues:

If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell …

As long, then, as the rivers fill and the hills rejoice, I take it that there is a choice — and it’s our choice.

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On to my “sign of the day” — two giant red oak leaves I spotted during my climb up Wantastiquet Mountain, detailed in the previous post.

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The larger of the two leaves comes in around 10 in./25 cm. Are they “signs”?!

I find meaning in them. They make me marvel. They come at a needed time. More about that in a minute. They resonate in my thoughts. They also objectively stand out in some way — in this case, a measurable physical dimension. Together, those qualities are enough for me for them to earn the name “sign.”

As a primary tree of Druids, the oak already comes laden with symbolic meanings. (Some plausible etymologies, after all, define druid as “oak or tree knower.”) And now, for me, more: to stand up in a way that expresses my best. To be more visible in my walk (especially since I found the leaves on a mountain walk, and after asking for sign). Not to shy away from living the values that matter to me. To leave a legacy that inspires, even as I have been inspired. Simply, to give my best.

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*woo-woo: a deeply scientific term, used here, of course, with ultimate precision. Urban Dictionary obligingly defines it as “any belief not founded on good evidence.”

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Light Gets In   Leave a comment

To begin this post I invoke with the words of a great Bard, the late Leonard Cohen, who sings in his song “Anthem” : “Ring your bells that still can ring./Forget your perfect offering./There’s a crack, a crack in everything./That’s how the light gets in.”

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Doing my small part to ring some bells and locate some nearby cracks to work with, it’s been in my thought more and more to explore Wantastiquet. But it took word of another’s recent climb to the peak to prod me into visiting this local treasure. As a Nigerian acquaintance said to me recently, quoting an African proverb, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late.”

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Just over the Connecticut river east into New Hampshire, Wantastiquet Mountain rises to approx. 1350 feet. It’s a moderate 1.5 mile hike to the summit — about an hour’s walk along numerous switchbacks for this 57-year old. From downtown Brattleboro it’s a little over half a mile to the foot of the mountain, so plenty of hikers and their dogs were out enjoying the afternoon. The sunny weather hovered in the mid 50s, oak leaves carpeted the trail all the way to the top, and as mountain treks often do for me, the climb had the feel of pilgrimage. There is a berg-geist, a mountain spirit, if I silence the mind chatter and attend. The rumble of weekend traffic from nearby interstate 91 which the river valley amplifies begins to fade around 500 feet up.

The site is a perfect shanshui — landscape, literally “mountain-water” — one of my favorite Chinese words from a year in the mid-80s spent teaching English in the People’s Republic of China. The Connecticut river valley defines the state line between New Hampshire and Vermont for 150 miles, and seen from the west, the peak appears to ascend right out of the river. Here’s a view from perhaps 70 feet up on the trail, looking back toward Vermont.

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Evergreens march along either side of the path, but the few remaining leaves on oak branches above them account for the trail’s leaf cover.

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The pines and oaks busy themselves both splitting the rock and holding it in place.

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Gathered near the marker at the summit were several resting hikers who left shortly after I arrived.

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In the distance, the peaks of Ascutney (45 miles north) and Hogback (13 miles due west) loom through the haze.

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I’d gathered a handful of acorns along the way, thinking to plant them as I establish my grove at home. But as I neared the top, an impromptu ritual (my favorite kind) threaded into my attention and I made an offering instead. Finding a clearing a few hundred yards away, I bowed to each direction.

I gather, I give away.

To the North:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

To the West:
you are holy —
may it grow there

To the South:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

To the East:
you are holy —
may it grow there.

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Images: Wantastiquet map.

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