The Road to Whitney Portal

It was spring break, and we had driven for hours in the rain. At some point as our elevation climbed the rain turned to sleet, something halfway between rain and snow. We drove though miles and miles of wasteland blurred by storm and fogged windows. But once we reached the backside of the mountain range the storm clouds disappeared suddenly. We had reached the desert, the rain shadow created by the jagged peaks we had just traversed. The clouds would unload all their water and snow and precipitous fury within the elevated peaks, and the clouds would evaporate into the atmosphere as soon as they passed, all their piss and vinegar beat out of them by the altitudes of the mountains. The sky was a piercing blue, but we could still see the clouds swirling into nothingness as they passed the snow covered peaks.  The mountains on either side of seemed to be growing taller and steeper, and the shadows longer and darker. Finally we reached our ultimate destination — The Motel Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, CA.

Having been cooped up in a truck most of the day we all were anxious to get out on the road. One quick little excursion before dark. We unloaded the motorcycles from the trailer and made a quick check of the map. Less than ten miles from out current location we saw a jagged and enticing road that wound up the backside of Mt. Whitney named Whitney Portal. Though Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks were still enshrouded in the remnants of the storm clouds, we could see the snow at the base. We didn’t know how far we could get, but decided to make the effort and set off through the upthrust boulder fields commonly known as the Eastern Sierras.

To give an idea of the topography of this place without a personal visit is difficult. The land has been folded into steep and jagged and dangerous looking shapes. Mount Whitney is the tallest point in the Continental U.S., and less than 100 miles away is Death Valley, the lowest point, and in between there are many other valleys and peaks. The landscape makes you feel very small and insignificant, and creates a sense of uneasy wonder as you ponder the forces that could create such rugged beauty.

When we reached the bottom of Whitney Portal Rd. we found it closed due to the extreme weather, so we turned around and went back to the Motel. All I could think was that it felt lucky somehow, like that icy, mountain road would have been nothing but heartbreak and trouble. I didn’t feel ready for such extreme adventure yet. Better to ease into such things. But I didn’t have long to acclimate. The destination the next day – Death Valley.

Welcome to paradise.

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

See more photos of the Eastern Sierras HERE

My Religion is Dirt

A DP Weekly Writing Challenge – Threes

I have never been religious, but I am definitely not an atheist. I am a very spiritual person when it comes to the connection I feel to the natural world around me. When I look at stars twinkling like glitter in the sky I don’t feel small and insignificant, but powerful and connected. There is something greater than me that I am a part of. All things are related by the breath of life that transects each of us and connects us in ways we have yet to discover. Even the soil beneath our feet is alive and vital to our very existence. From dirt we have come, and to dirt we will return.

I have a hard time envisioning a vengeful God in Heaven watching over every action, interaction, and happenstance. Even a caring God feels a bit far fetched. The atoms and chemical reactions that create our physical forms are connected. They date back to the common ancestor of all living things, and even further back in time to the big bang, when all matter in the universe was contained in a singularity. It was all touching and all started at the same instance, and that vibration still exists in each us. We are all forged from the unlikely coordination of stardust and ectropy, and a synergy that is not of a material nature. I don’t expect to understand it, but that does not mean I can’t appreciate it.

The Buddhas and other figures scattered through my garden help remind me of this. They remind me to appreciate my  temporary vantage point of the universe, to give thanks for my luck and ability to walk and breathe and create a meaningful existence. Us sentient beings are like the nerve endings of the universe, here to take note and experience the wonderment that surrounds us. We should all take a moment to breathe deeply and appreciate our unique position in this wondrous, emotional, and temporary roller coaster that is life. Our consciousness may pass but the physical pieces will continue on.

The philosophy that I most associate with (and I have studied many searching for profundity) is Taoism. Here is a small part of verse 15  of the Tao Te Ching (as translated by Jonathon Star).

Through the course of Nature muddy water becomes clear
Through the unfolding of life man reaches perfection
Through sustained activity that supreme rest is naturally found

Those who have Tao want nothing else
Though seemingly empty they are ever full
Though seemingly old they are beyond the reach of birth and death

If you want to see God, look at the stars above. Look at the dirt beneath your feet. Look at the vibrant natural world around you. God is in the details, so make sure you pay attention.

Weekly writing challenge: Threes