Wilderness

 

The path gave way underneath my feet. The ground was soft…thawing from winter and IMG_9372still wet from the recent rain and snow. I glanced back behind me to see the imprints of my boots on the trail. My father’s words hung in my mind….

“Why are you looking behind you, you’re not going that way”

A smile spread across my face. I looked to see the impressions I’d made…to know where I’d been…the trail was clear, I certainly knew where I was going. I’d walked this same path IMG_9390thousands of time.

Time for me. Space for me.

Church in this place.

Antonio Gaudi, the great Spanish Architect who designed the Basilica in Barcelona believed that his church should mimic the forest and nature because that is where you are closest to God. I’ve never been to the Cathedral in Barcelona, but I’ve spent countless hours in this wilderness, which for me is God’s masterpiece. It’s here I feel at home, rooted and what likely drew me to Snowbird all of those years ago…

I Googled the term “Wilderness”:

 Wilderness or wildland is a natural environment on Earth that has not
been significantly modified by 
civilized human activity. It may also be defined as: “The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.”

How would I define “it”. How do I feel when I am here? IMG_9392Surrounded. In the wilderness I am alive, bound, warm, vulnerable and in awe of the world. I feel in ways that I can’t express in any other places or ways. While I marvel at cities and all that we create, they are no match for the creation here. Order and chaos together and yet perfect and “right” The world we create around us is all about “order” with little room for the chaos of nature. No give and take, no Yin, much less Yang. Cities are great for the culture, sophistication and convenience they offer, but I live here in this relaxed rural natural environment at the end of the power lines and it is here that I find peace and comfort in the woods, nature, lakes and outdoors. I like it here. This isn’t a race, you see this is life – and my devotion is deeply personal.

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The trail moved up and to the left, surrounding the big trees. I gazed down at the spider web of roots of the ancient poplar tree. Deep these giants tap deep into the earth, their feet running away from the base like spider legs all crisscrossed with an intricate weave of smaller veins feeding the enormity of the behemoth that stands before me. The top of the tree, towering 150 feet above had long since snapped away. The enormous girth of the tree takes the majority of nutrients from the soil and there isn’t enough to reach the vast heights of the tree, so eventually the tops die out….I wonder how long they will last?

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I watched as a brook bubbled…seemingly straight from the Earth. Looking closely I see the indentions where the water flows underground from a source high above the trail. The sound of the water flowing over the rocks and rushing down a small series of cascades sooths my soul much like music from a choir. I sit for a time on an old log and listen IMG_9362to the sounds. Several couples out on the same walk stroll by. Instead of taking in all of the beauty that surrounded them they are talking about what awful shape the trail is in, how much downfall there is, how muddy their feet are getting – they want the “Disney” experience and that’s not this place. This is one of God’s sanctuaries. A refuge from all that is out “there”. Fairly untouched by the hands of man. Where fallen trees are sawed by hand not chain saws. Where trunks are removed or cut with human effort, only to clear the path. Where bridges over creeks are built to meld with the woods around them. Where water flows where it wants…even if it’s down the trail.

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This is perhaps as close to true wilderness as we can get here in this country anymore…..oh, you can move further into the backcounty and get farther away and it’ll get rougher and more remote, but here….here in this cathedral you get just a taste…enough to make you hunger and thirst for more…trees….water….plants….animals of the world as intended….chaos….and order…..straight…and curved….twisted…and…..young….and old….I take off my boots and sink my feet into the muddy ground feeling connected to this earth, in this place, at this time. Ahhhhhhhh…IMG_9421

I’ve learned so much about myself here. About life, people, places, things and just “stuff”. I need this place…and places like it. I find solace here and with the negative feelings flowing in this country I need this walk in the woods. To be surrounded by God and his creative masterpiece is a blessing indeed. I am grateful. Sometimes you have to enjoy the quiet moments to be able to see the larger picture.

“no winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn”                                                                                                            – Naturalist Hal Borland

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. The air warmer. Change is everywhere. Welcome. Ready. Here, in this place, like the walks I take beside the creeks or lakes I find the great metaphors for life. Endings, beginnings, seasons change, water flows. The wind blows. All constant. Always changing. Just as God intended. The Wilderness makes you better. Indeed it does.

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To be continued………

Robert Rankin                                                                              Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer

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Saying Goodbye…..

is never…ever….easy.

In all relationships there comes a time or an awareness that  you will part company, being closely held, a handshake, hug or just a wave, one begins to realize at some point that this may indeed be “goodbye”. A place and time where you understand that you may never see that soul again…..at least in this lifetime.

Over the years of my life I’ve said goodbye to many. Family members, friends, guests and others I’ve had contact with. I’ve waved from the steps of the Lodge, hugged many as they climb into cars, stood beside graves and placed my hands on coffins through the years, but recently came a goodbye that struck me to my very core. I’ve said goodbye to many animal friends through my life. Several while I’ve been caretaker and steward of this place, but this friend was something special……

 

PGT Beauregard, The General, Beau, Bo, whatever name you used, he was the dearest of friends…my real BFF, in ways that many can never understand. He and I wandered these mountains through thick and thin. In every type of weather, rain, sun, snow, ice, heat and cold. Never once complaining, always by my side. Tail always wagging. Happy, content and completely in the NOW….always. We saw each other through many adventures and greeted each other with love and affection every time we were together. He came here to be with us and  me through some of the most difficult times I’ve known and some of the best times too. Together we experienced all of the elements of life. We often could be found close together, but at the same time allowed each other to find peace in solitude.

In late January I noticed Beau acting a little odd and early in the morning took him to our vet and friend. It didn’t take Dave long to diagnose the issue and immediately performed surgery. Beau came through and continued to improve over the next 24 hours, crossing critical milestones. Two days after surgery, Dave, Elizabeth and I talked and decided that Beau would be better off coming home for the night. Elizabeth and I loaded Beau into the truck and drove him home. The trip home was the same as always and he knew immediately when we got close to home, raising up to see and make sure his senses were not wrong. As we got him out of the truck he wandered the yard briefly, smelling all that was around him and greeting his cohorts and friends, Max, Lakota and JB tails all waging high in the air in greetings and the “I’ve missed you”, “where have you been” that dogs know so well before coming into the house.

We had made a bed for him, but true to his very nature he moved to the foyer near the front door – his favorite spot inside. Elizabeth and I spent time talking with him, laughing at stories and being near. Elizabeth went to bed and I curled up behind Beau, putting my arm across him and holding him close. At a little after 10, his heart slowed and he closed his eyes for the very last time. He died in my arms and in just the way I think we would all want – at home, a very familiar place, surrounded by those he loved and that loved him the most. Peacefully, quietly….and…as for death….easily. As we cried, saying prayers and farewells that we certainly weren’t ready for, we decided to bury Beau in his very favorite spot.

Over the years I’ve witnessed many scatterings of ashes and memorials on this property. Guests and former Innkeepers that have passed from this life and wanted to be spread on this magical mountain. Many of our animal friends, cats and dogs that have shared this space with us and guests alike. All of those spots on this property hold a place of honor with us, but Beau’s place was one that was very close to him. A place that was and is special on this property. High on the ridge, overlooking vast amounts of forest, Beau could often be found lying in the leaves listening to all that surrounded him and watching for the comings and goings from that spot. It was here that we buried him.

For several days following his death we would go and sit near him. His other cohorts could often be observed, either sitting near or actually lying on top of his grave. I know many people that say animals have no souls, but I would argue that point. Seeing the way his other friends acted at his death and feeling him through the years as I did tells me otherwise. I’ve often heard people remark that they wish they were the people that their  dogs thought they were. I am…and was the person that Beau thought I was. He taught me much and always gave more than he took. Filled with warmth and love for those he cared for he knew when to surround you with that love and when to give you space. His life was a remarkable gift to all of those he touched – and he touched many. I know because of the way he not only touched me, Elizabeth and Sophie, but by the tears shed from both the Vet and his staff when they learned of Beau’s death. We’ve received notes and cards from those that heard of his passing and I have been amazed at how many were touched by this magnificent soul, but even more than that I am amazed, grateful and honored that he chose to share himself and all of his love with me.

the fear of loving a dog is

knowing one day they’ll be

gone, and you could never

find the eyes that express all

that you feel.

                        r.m.drake

         

There’s a reason that our animal companions don’t live as long as we do. That reason is that we could never handle their death and our loss if they did. The unquestioning love and devotion of these friends is remarkable and their total devotion and unconditional love to their friends and companions is something that we should all aspire to with every being we meet. Beau lived his life unwaveringly. He lived with complete vulnerability of heart and consequently lived his life very large indeed. The list of course could go on and on with the gifts he gave, but without question he gave me more than I could ever give him.

Snowbird marks her 75th Anniversary this year and we start a new journey here on the mountain. One that is marked without a dear friend and companion. No more coffee and IMG_8609shared sunrises from the deck. My eyes are still teary as I write this. Raw, vulnerable, open, courageous, scared, and humbled. All of these feelings are gifts that were given to me by him.

Beauregard, thank you for the gift of your life, the gift of your talents, wisdom, love and courage. Thank you for choosing to spend your time with me. I am forever grateful and humbled for your presence in my life and I hope I remember all you taught.

Until we meet again –I love you.

 

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Privilege

I always noticed him as I walked out of my parents house growing up. Tall, thin and moving slowly his speed never seemed to vary. He wore the same clothing every day….dark gray IMG_6439pants, a lighter gray work shirt with his name embroidered above the pocket, thick soled factory work boots and a straw fedora or “gentlemans” hat on his head. He never failed to smile when he saw me….we shared a bond…….

James Pete

He was the “yardman” for my parents when I was a child. There was one before James, his name was Hobart and while I heard stories of him, he was gone before I was old enough to remember him, but James was the man. He mowed grass, pulled weeds, planted flowers, raked, tilled the beds right alongside my mother. These were the days before weed eaters and gas blowers. The work was by hand and always happened in the heat, humidity and rain of the southern summers, yet he was always there…working through it all.

He was kind and gentle and taught me more about life, people and the way we can be than almost any other adult. Growing up as a black man (he never would have used the term “African American”) in the Heart of Dixie in those days had to be incredibly difficult. I have no idea how much schooling he had, but I doubt very much, although he could read and write. When he was a boy he worked on the watercress farms that dotted the landscape of north Alabama. From aluminum jon boats the boys reached into the murky water gathering the cress from the ponds. His lower arms were covered in scars that he said were from the water moccasins or cotton mouths that often bit him. I remember staring at him open mouthed when he told me this – the dreaded cotton mouth was the most feared snake in the south and we all thought they’d kill you. He said that he’d been biten so often that he had become immune to their venom….to this day I don’t know if it was true or not…..but I believed him. As he came of age he went to work at a local cotton gin where he had the most dangerous job of feeding the cotton into the gin itself. Somewhere around 30 his hand got caught in the gin and crushed…..It never did work right after that.

James lived in Tanner about 20 miles from my home. He farmed, raising vegetables and hogs (he never called them pigs). He was married and had several daughters all of whom I didn’t meet until much later in life. He drove an old Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck, his right hand draped across the steering wheel because he couldn’t really “grip” the wheel, often picking me up at school in the afternoons. I told him that I would drive a truck one day….he just laughed and laughed…saying “that’s what all boys say”……I loved to listen to his stories…the lilt of his voice…his glowing skin and smile that crept across his face. Working beside him in the yard, watching him lift his hat and wipe sweat from his brow….and planting taught me patience. Every Christmas we shared gifts. I always gave him something I made, my parents gave him money and he always…always brought fresh sausage to the house for our Christmas breakfast. The flavor of that lingers in my mouth to this day……..

I’m not sure what brought all of these memories to mind over the weekend…perhaps it was IMG_6363what happened in Charleston early in the summer….maybe Ferguson or Baltimore or the dozen other atrocities that have happened….both those we hear about and those that never make the “news”. I’ve been blessed far more than most and have lived a life that has been wonderful and incredible. I’ve faced challenges and fears and difficulties just like everyone else, but I also know that those I’ve faced pale in comparision to those faced by folks like James Pete. The difficulties he faced – for no other reason than skin color – were enormous – very likely beyond my comprehension – and yet – he moved with grace and love through life.

I wonder what he’d say if he saw what was happening in our society today? You see I grew up in a South that was very different than the one we see today. Kathryn Stocketts book The Help was more truth than fiction. As I watch and listen to my children and their friends – many of whom are African American, I am happy to see that times are changing…just not as fast as I’d like. To be honest I’d never really thought about the Confederate battle flag and how hurtful that could be to a portion of our country. I get it now. So many of leaders are right – Black Lives do matter….so do Hispanic, Asian, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and every other life….they all matter. None more than the other – all very equal.  As we move forward as a society and country I hope that we will all come to that realization – ALL LIVES MATTER and everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we are all human beings.

James is gone now. Without a doubt to a much better place. The sun is blazing through the trees and as I stare across this mountain towards the town of Robbinsville, I realize that the IMG_6436lessons and gifts he gave me are too numerable to count. He taught me about strength….the kind that comes from inside. He taught me about joy from seeing the smallest flowers bloom. He taught me how important all life is and he taught me respect, for myself and others….a lesson that the thought of him this weekend reminded me of. He taught me that if I find a glimpse of understanding in someone’s smile, touch, laugh, or connection that I am lucky beyond belief…for to be known and understood, even for a moment, fills my soul in a way that most things can’t reach. While he taught me most of these lessons when I was a boy, they’ve really just taken root. I was privileged and honored to have known him, eaten with him, shared water with him….oh….yes….and James…..I thought you’d like to know…..I drive a truck……my hand often draped across the steering wheel….just like yours.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer