Sunday, August 11, 2013

Up in the air

Some mountain vistas are worth the hard work
If my original goals for the sabbatical were the guide, the last two days would be a perfect ten. Here's what I hoped to tend to, as a pattern for the whole summer:

  • The music of relationships: imagine a couple of days with a great friend, hanging out, eating wonderful food, sharing exuberant experiences
  • The music of nature: going deep into a place of great beauty, smelling the pine needles, stomping in the mud, enjoying the vistas
  • The music of silence: having spacious time for reflection and contemplation and tending to the "conversations" in my spirit
  • The music of the performing stage: listening deeply to world-class musicians do their work and learning from their artistry.

After a few days back from Scotland, I meandered the long way to the Catskill Mountains with Jim Thyren, my good friend and fellow cleric. We spent an afternoon in funky Woodstock, where hippies have never gone out of style. Among the art galleries, sidewalk guitarists, and palm reading stands, we found a book store with real books and made quick purchases. After a delicious outdoor dinner at our country inn, we went to the top of Belleayre Mountain, noted ski resort, where a summer concert series brought in Kenny Barron, a legendary jazz musician.

Kenny Barron Quintet
He played two sets of adventurous jazz with quintet of young musicians. It was challenging, demanding music, played with skill and abandon. A long solo on "Softly in a Morning Sunrise" was a master class in improvisation!

In God's Rock Garden
The next day began with a brief worship service with my Sunday candle and the lectionary readings of the day, and then we grabbed breakfast at the famed Phoenicia Diner. We chatted over eggs about the prospect of climbing Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills range. What the heck? Off we went, finding the parking lot about ten miles away and beginning our ascent.

It was a lot of hard work, and only later did we discover that we took the most adventurous trail. It was a tall slant, frequently forcing us to pick our way among boulders (the "trail"). At numerous points, I slowed down Jim with my wheezing and belly-aching. We walked quietly, we stopped to sip water and swap stories, we laughed when we went around the bend and discovered another lengthy rock garden to pick our way up the big, big hill.

But the result was worth the three-plus hours that we put into the climb. See for yourself:

The view from Slide Mountain
Ashokan Reservoir from the top of Slide Mountain
It was a worthy and thrilling climb. My feet were tired, and Jim caught me slipping off my shoes so I could wiggle my toes.

The dogs are tired and weary
The only problem with a mountain climb is that, tired or not, you have to go back down the mountain. It doesn't take as long, especially if you roll down the hill, but it is a different kind of labor. Rather than give a work-out to heart and lungs, we found ourselves treading carefully among the boulders. Pretty soon, the knees, thighs, and calves were feeling the love ... and we were very glad to reach the parking lot a couple of hours later. Contented by the accomplishment of a long hike, glad to be deep in the woods, and ready to keep moving among the mountains.

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