About that view from the upper falls…

We’d hiked almost six miles already, on a warm day in July, warm enough to be hot and sweaty and tired and have feet that cringed in anticipation of the return hike. As we approached the cliff of course you could tell from a little ways off you were coming to a cliff, what with the drop and the mountains on the other side of it in view. I thought it would be lovely, but knew I was too trail-tired to relish it.

But when we got there, to the edge, no guard rails to mar the view or protect the stupid, oh, when we got there….well, within 30 seconds the tears began.

View from Upper Falls

Yosemite Valley. I’d never driven through it or seen it, and here it lay before me, stunning in green and glory and peace. That lovely wide valley, the Merced River a ribbon along its waist, bejeweled with dark green pockets of spruce and pine, the arch of Half Dome, to the left of me, its trifold cap. That long perfect valley, supine, with the beauty and innocence of a woman in Eden. Green, and gold, and azure, and granite blue and silver, and a jaw-dropping 2,700 feet between my feet and the valley floor.

I stood there mesmerized, my feet suddenly as heavy as the stone on which they stood. All I could think of were the phrases from the Psalm I’d memorized the previous summer, trudging the high country of this very park:

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, oh God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders. Where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:5-8).

Who could make these granite giants? Who could carve out the curves of this river? Who could tell this river, “Jump. Here,” and have it obey? Who could arrange the lonely trees into forest families, give the chipmunk incisors tough as nails, imprint the dent we call Half Dome?

I sound practically plaintive, like I’m reading Yahweh’s response to Job’s piteous complaint. Who indeed? It’s okay by me if I sound like I need a crutch: who else but Almighty God would I credit for this?

I stand on this precipice and feel my heart lunging from its cavity with palpable, gasping, desperate desire. I ache to hold this beauty in my own hands, turn it over gently as if with the wonder of a family heirloom, hold it to my sweaty t-shirt and close my eyes and open my mouth as if I could infuse it into my own cellular structure. I yearn for this beauty to never leave me, to remember with my own fiber the awe that filled every crevice of my potholed soul one day in July.

It’s cliché by now but still resonates, the words of the Oxford don: “If I find in myself some longing which nothing in this world can satisfy, it can only mean I am made for another world.”

And standing there on the brink of Yosemite Valley, on a hot July afternoon, I get a glimpse – oh the briefest glimpse of that Eden. Strength and beauty consummate there, unashamed and transcendent, there at my weary feet, and my soul falls down in wordless worship. It cannot stand in that Presence.

Even as I recollect, even as I conjure that image while singing songs of praise, even as the memory makes my tummy giddy with desire and delight and healing, I feel the weight of my inadequate words. They’re so limited they’re pitiful. They fall under the burden of clichés, sink in depths of sophomoric profundities, squawk and strain at high notes like a first-year violinist.

Rich said it better; he almost always did: “Another tune forms in my head. More harmonies, more empty words. And oh I could play these songs till I was dead, and never approach the sound that I once heard.”

There are no words for a glimpse into Eden. There’s only a deep breath, closed eyes, and, if we’re alone and honest, a groan that begs for ecstasy. How we yearn for our original glory, and the fellowship of a long, unhurried hike with our Maker. How nearly worthless all our grasping, gasping endeavors to get there turn out to be.

Yet even here the Counselor sends comfort: “Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

One day I will take that long hike with Jesus, and I will know fully the strength and beauty he has been giving all along. There will be no gasping for it like a last breath; I will walk in it with the assurance and ease of a birthright.

Until then, I will keep walking, no doubt often stumbling, my eyes open for another Glimpse. And Grace will grant it.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 5:31 am  Comments (1)  

An Ode in Prose to the Southern Summer Night

Hannah with the ultimate Southern summer fruit (the BEST are from S.C.)

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It’s more a sensation than a sound: cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers, constant as tide, webbed things in and out of the water, dusky air heavy with wetness, a cloistered heaviness that, paradoxically, calls to mind the oxygen-deprived air of higher altitudes as it greedily absorbs your warm breath.

Sometimes there are bona fide sensations that leave a proof of purchase: the no-see-um pricks of coastal pests, shallow pale welts from thirsty mosquitoes, a sheen of delicate sweat where skin folds upon skin – at the elbows, knees, neck, armpits, between your feet and your $3.99 flip-flops.

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It conjures the memory of lukewarm water flowing over pitch black dirt, weaving over bottomland and lapping witch hat cypress knees. It speaks of hot humid air made no less hot or humid by your rolled-down window going 65 miles per hour on rural blacktops. It hems you in on a front porch rocker, a paper plate with peanut butter-covered pound cake in your hand, a floor fan oscillating among the forest of woven chairs and bare legs. Its insect roar lullabies you to sleep with windows open and ceiling fans whirring.

Southern summer nights sing out the sweet strings of “Tara’s Theme.” They grate the coarse steel guitar of “Hold on Loosely.” They fiddle the quick fingers of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Then they pause in their insect chorus just long enough for you to recall your grandmother’s voice retelling the tales of your crazy Uncle Ben – mixing fact and fiction, bequeathing a tight, if not-quite-seamless, weave of family ties.

Southern summer nights are pregnant with memory – is it perhaps only here, bafflingly, that a state of expectancy is defined by what was, not what is or will be? So warm you are transported to childhood and adolescence, as though reaching back through time for the warmth of your mother when you were new to her. So warm you sit still and think, and your thoughts go not to grand plans for future days, but rather to rock in the gentle warm waters of yesterday, and yesterday’s ease and slowness, its familiar places and paces.

Summer nights are dark elsewhere, of course. Summer nights are hot and humid elsewhere, too. But they do not carry the weight, the volume, the sheer enormity of memory that a Southern summer night carries so effortlessly in its cricket arms, so buoyantly in its humid breath. They cannot compare with its dark, rich, potent sound or sensation. There just is no night like a Southern summer night.

Samuel, transferring mud from the beach to the lake; undoubtedly a brilliance to this we cannot see

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment