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Saturday, July 24, 2010

COLDWATER PEAK 'Thee-Odyssey' – Boundary Trail

4. And the Lord said unto Moses,
“This is the land I promised you,
but you shall not enter. Psych.”
5. And Moses died.

(as paraphrased by Shalom Auslander in The Foreskin’s Lament)

I wanted to talk to God the other day.

I thought it should be possible because on any given Sunday, if I go to my church, the respectable people of my community are gathered there addressing God as ‘father’ and there’s a kind of script they hand out that even gives you appropriate words to pray. Sometimes there is even a collective petition – they all kind of do this choral speaking thing - usually to ask for health related things. So it isn’t just some isolated crazies carrying on one-sided conversations on the sidewalks of downtown Portland who talk to God…it’s all those adults who watched you grow up and who made you go to Sunday school and who otherwise seem completely rational.

What I wanted to talk about was the way people you love eventually get old, and then sometimes they get confused, and sometimes they begin to forget all the things they knew and then sometimes they even begin to forget themselves. And then one day you notice that they aren’t even there anymore and all that’s left is some incontinent stranger.

Why is that necessary?

So I started planning.

As I am wont to do for God related things, I referenced the Bible for examples of individuals who had a certain knack for not only talking TO God, but also HEARING BACK from him. Two of my favorites:
Abraham – Schooled God in the art of haggling
Jacob – Wrestled with God and prevailed

What I like about the Old Testament accounts is that the old patriarchs had’t come up with prayer formulas yet (Father, God we just really thank you…)

Oh - and the fact that God actually talks back.

The account that caught my attention this time was the story of Moses, and how God and Moses spoke together like friends.

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him (Moses) and sought to kill him 

– Exodus 4-24

I have friends like that – who try to kill me. I’m not sure what God’s plan was for Moses, but my friends tend to share straight shots with me.

While reading the Moses story, I did notice a trend, and that was that he often was either accidentally climbing a mountain, or being required to climb a mountain in order to have important conversations.

In the epic story in which Moses receives the Ten Commandments, the mountain he is supposed to climb does things like quake and smoke. In fact, “…the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln…”  It just made sense to me that if I wanted to talk to God, maybe I should seek him out in a similar place.

Generally people speak pretty highly of the Bible. But sometimes it seems to me like the infallible word of God could be just a little bit clearer.  Maybe it doesn’t read so well for me because it’s a translation. I’ve heard from multilingual speakers that you can lose a lot of subtle meanings in a text that’s translated. Sadly, it seems that things like puns and jokes are the first thing to go.

An interesting exchange occurs between Moses and God when Moses asks to see God’s ‘glory’.  I’m not certain, but I have a gut feeling this next bit may be hilarious. God replies:

…Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

No, the funny part isn’t that Moses maybe caught a glimpse of God’s ass. The funny part, to me, is that Moses insists on calling it a face-to-face encounter for the rest of his life. It almost becomes his epitaph – the man who saw God face to face.

I’m not trying to be profane here. I love the idea that God and Moses spoke together as friends…and based on the mortal friendships I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, it tickles me that those two might have been intimate enough to call each other names like ‘ass-face’.

As my plan to talk to God began to coalesce, I started getting cold feet. I don’t stutter or anything, but sometimes it takes me a painfully long time to come up with the right…um…words. Not only that, but I have a dismal history when it comes to prayer. When cancer and chemotherapy took turns whittling away at my father, I prayed long and hard for healing. But he died. When Mr. K. couldn’t get a diagnosis for the pain in his gut, and when he grew scared and had some of us gather round and lay hands on him and pray for healing…well, he died too. And I prayed for Mr. T. when disease started cutting parts of his body away…but…you get the picture.

The conventional wisdom on these kinds of prayer results runs something like this:
Scott, you do not have faith even the size of a mustard seed.
Scott, you are not a righteous man, so your prayers aren’t effective
Scott, your prayers were answered, but God said ‘no’.
Scott, you should have prayed for God’s will to be done and not what you wanted.

So, taking another cue from the story of Moses, I decided to feign incompetence and hire a talented graphic designer to speak on my behalf. 

Here, the talented graphic designer is introducing a specialized font. I like his flashy presentation style. His experience in graphical alphabets may come in handy if we should get within seeing distance of God. Something else I consider is that, because of the bold actions he’s taken to pursue his ‘art’, I suspect he may very well have ‘faith’ the size of a mustard seed.

Fortunately, the graphic designer is also young and strong so he gets to carry the powerful radio transmitter (plan B). Because the young graphic designer has taken on this job pro bono, he has asked not to be identified.

In legal terms, I think this whole area is considered one giant ‘act of God’. It isn’t a faith statement so much as an excuse not to pay out any insurance claims. Call it what you want, it still seems like an excellent place to go if you’re looking for something like a burning bush… that talks.

Scientists assert that our continents are giant plates that float upon a magma core, upwelling out of the core, spreading and cooling, then migrating until a collision with another plate sends its edges up toward the sky like Everest, or back down into the forge at the center of the earth. Our species rides on temporary geologic conveyer belts, glimpsing visions of creation and destruction at points along the ride. Moses took his shoes off when he walked on holy ground. Maybe it is all holy.

Our destination 
Coldwater Peak

The Boundary Trail threads the eye of a needle large enough for a camel to pass through.

Remember that inspirational Footprints in the Sand story that you can always find in Christian supply stores?

Guess how many sets of footprints are in the snow?

Far beneath Coldwater Peak, we thought we saw the glint of sunlight off metal (perhaps the remains of the last powerful radio transmitter brought up here and struck by lightning) but I concluded it was probably pools of water accumulating at the edges of the melting snow field.

Late in the afternoon, we think we see God’s ‘glory’ approaching.

The talented graphic designer springs into action.

…and as usual, the resulting silence leaves me the ambiguous answers I’ve come to expect.

The talented designer heads back down the mountain.  I have a hard time keeping up with him and I’m reminded that I am getting old. 

I’m beginning to forget things. 

And sometimes, I am worn down and I begin to forget myself.

But damn it if this place isn’t beautiful and …life… any life is a gift, and …

…I wish I’d stop losing sight of that.

The talented graphic designer had the foresight to bury 2 liters of water in the snow at St.Helens Lake before we set off for the peak. When we return, the water is ice cold…and it tastes like a miracle.

As night falls, we are enveloped in clouds that drift and dance over Spirit Lake. For the most part, We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then…”

1 Corinthians 13:12 – The Message


  1. Scotty, Your pictures are fabulous. What an incredible experience. How long were you gone?

    I must say that I have been very lucky when it comes to my Father. I have prayed and my prays have been answered and my Daddy has gotten well. My Father is always very quick to point out that we are all born and we all die. I prayed for your father when he was sick. I prayed for you when your father was sick. I'm very glad you're climbing mountains like an artist and a scientist or like only Scotty can do! I love it! Vicky

  2. Vicky,

    I’m glad to hear things are going well for your Dad. I’ll put you down on my list of ‘effective pray-ers”. Given my track record at prayer, I am reluctant to volunteer for prayer work, especially if someone still has hopes of pulling through. But I can say that I understand a little of what you are going through, and if I could take some of the fear and uncertainty away I would.

    The pictures are taken form a hike that starts from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a facility that documents the 1980 eruption – it is only about 5.5 miles away from the crater that was formerly Mt. St. Helens. Anyway, the trail to the top of Coldwater Peak is about 12 miles roundtrip with ~2000 feet cumulative elevation gain. It’s supposed to be a day hike, but I seem to have a way of stretching these things out…so it also took me part of a night to get out of there. I’d like to say it’s because I spent too much time waiting for sunset pictures, but that isn’t entirely accurate.

    Also, I kind of like it when you call me Scotty.

  3. I hope its okay to post this image of the hikers here. Thanks again for a great time, Scotty.

  4. Don't pray for me Scott. please.

    I miss monkey cam! You could have sent him into St. Helens to get some wicked shots.

    And I'm pretty sure naked picasso was out there watching the snowman lifting weights.

    Hey, what ever happened to your friend with considerable biological expertise?

  5. Anonymous #1:
    O.K., let me be very clear.
    I like it when Vicky calls me Scotty.

    Anonymous #2:
    Let's just say my friend with considerable biological expertise has passed on to a better place.



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