Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lift up your Eyes, Lift up your Heart

Easter afternoon,
we pack up our alleuias,
camping gear,
and a few ham sandwiches from my mother
and began rolling west in our little car.
Full, thankful hearts set on pilgrimage,
our sights aimed at the heights,
things higher than ourselves.
How can your heart raise any higher
than it does on Resurrection Sunday?

You can take it to the mountains.

Before you can get there, of course, you have to make it through some barrenness. There is no experience like that of driving the length of Nebraska. There is a certain calm that sets in after a while, a rhythm to the seams on the road.Your eyes become so sharp, you catch the slightest variation in the landscape. Oh! A red-tailed hawk comes down from who knows where. A diminutive, roadside church disappears behind us; I barely catch it with my camera. Is it forgotten as a place of worship? Maybe we should have stopped to thank and eat there, re-christen its walls with fellowship and leave some crumbs behind for the birds. Instead, we broke bread together at eighty miles an hour. The crumbs fall between the cushions, and I re-calculate the rest of our journey. 

We were taking it to the mountains.

Generous people who had never met us offer a place of rest, their cabin nestled in the Wet Mountains portion of the Rockies. They have named it "Sursum Corda" which means "Lift Up Your Hearts." It is the portion of the Eucharist that we have learned to echo and hold precious, though in English, not Latin. Ancient words made present in our mouths week in and week out, just before the bread and wine:

"Lift up your hearts."
"We lift them to the Lord!"
"Let us give thanks to the Lord."
"It is right and good to give thanks to the Lord!"

We took it to the mountains. We lifted our eyes, and our hearts came along. 

It is good to also train your eyes on the tiny as well as the magnificent, because there are riches close to the ground just as there are in the vast beyond. Delicate lichen holding to the side of a path, fresh from the melt of late April snows. Ancient stretch marks in the sandstone, telling stories of how the creation has always groaned, is still groaning and waiting for the birth of full glory. The brilliant blue and black suit of a Stellar Jay that hides in the pines near the cabin and scoffs at us. Tiny spiders who quarry out their living in the expanses of mountain sand dunes. The miniscule roadside town, so small you wonder if it has a name, but you know they've got at least one person around to offer some directions and refreshment. And some stories about the mountain hippies, for good measure. 

To get to the marvel of the land-locked, wind-whipped sand dunes (as we are told, the highest in North America), we drive again, this time through the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Sangre de Cristo, the Blood of Christ. We go around the long way around to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Along the road, we eat burritos and ice cream at a roadside stop where a genuine cowboy watches the road into town and the boxing match on TV with an equally languorous eye. He tells us about the hippies.

The Dunes are astounding, unearthly. We manage, with considerable effort, to make it to the top of the first dune before sunset. 650 feet from bottom to top, through slipping sand, to the peak where all is straight wind, and you can feel pure power. We tumble downhill, sliding and laughing at our exhausted, barefoot selves. What a walk!

The next few days, we take it a little higher into the mountains, from the base of Mt. Shavano and Mt. Antero, into the parts that are still white and crunch with snow, aspens waving a rattling praise above. We are forging through the Colorado Trail in early spring, and we find ourselves wading through snow instead of sand.  It is so warm, though, it hardly matters.

A glorious, sunny day when we trek from the Angel of Shavano trailhead, named so for the image in snow that forms on the mountainside. After gobbling up egg-salad sandwiches in a warm, pine-scented clearing, we hike until we can no more, ending up knee deep in white, winds whistling and roaring through the spruce just at the treeline. After, we head down for a swim in Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.

This, too, is a revelation: steaming natural springs in a river. We lie flat, listening to the gurgle underneath. We pop up to splash in the frigid waters and we glance down to see trout leaping to do the same downriver. You can organize the rocks to regulate the temperature and create a pool just-so. After toweling off, we cautiously lumber up the nearby road a-ways to seek our campsite fortunes. The idea is to stay overnight so we can be at the ski hill bright and early. 

As it happens, we stumble upon an official trailhead up there near the Chalk Cliffs, so we throw the tent up and drive back down to grab dinner at the lodge at Mt. Princeton. The waiter talks us into the Colorado steak, delectable asparagus, nutty rice pilaf, salad, and tomato-basil soup, topped off with a couple of decent glasses of red wine. Back to the impromptu campsite for a night of sleep which was slightly haunted by a worry about bears (can they smell the steak on our breath?) and pretty stiff ground, but otherwise refreshing given the mountain air. We awake to the chalky cliffs towering above us, and many mountains ahead of us yet, for skiing.
After grabbing a cup of joe at the lodge and stretching our muscles a bit, we hit the slopes for a superb day of late-season skiing. Fairly warm, but sunny on and off so as not to melt the snow into too much slush. 

That day, we are "skywalkers", gliding over and on the continental divide, over 11,000 feet in the air above sea level. After a full day of swooshing around, we drive back to the cabin and create a delicious dinner of bacon-wrapped salmon with orange-cilantro sauce and sauteed broccoli and onions, topped off by a bottled of local-ish wine (from Palisades).

The last day, we do everything we could to take the mountains with us. We gorge ourselves the last day on visions of the rolling, foggy, pine-filled Wet Mountains and dear old Pikes' Peak in Colorado Springs. We also explore the historical Pioneers' Museum which tells the stories of those who have made the hills their home and why, and wander through the geological wonder, Garden of the Gods.

We took it to the mountains. They lifted our eyes. He lifted our hearts. And we took it all home with us.