Be a Lamp or a Lifeboat or a Ladder

Labyrinth Loop Trail

An early start and light traffic helped me justify the long drive to the Gorge this morning. I passed my usual stop at Nisqually in nautical twilight. At this time of morning you could navigate a ship by the light of the moon It was a beautiful crescent, with … what was that bright star above ? Saturn ? 


The clear skies gave way to low clouds and fog through the valley as I was passing through Centralia and Chehalis. It did not escape me how metaphorically accurate this morning is. 


We are all waking up these days in a fog of confusion. We are used to quick turn-arounds and very short news cycles. This is stopping us in our tracks. It has permeated every inch of our lives. It’s on every TV, every newspaper, all over our social media. There are memes and jokes, scientific articles and a lot of speculation. It’s what people do when they don’t have enough information. They make shit up. 


On my drive I alternated between my Preservation Hall cd, The Blend (mindless pop) and of course my own thoughts. I can do a good two hours with no sound. When I’m in silence I often think of John Cage and his brilliant piece titled 4’33”. 


Wikipedia describes it like this:

” 4′33″ (pronounced “four minutes, thirty-three seconds” or just “four thirty-three”) is a three movement composition by American experimental composer John Cage(1912–1992). It was composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence”. The title of the piece refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 4′33″ being the total length of the first public performance.

Conceived around 1947–48, while the composer was working on Sonatas and Interludes4′33″ became for Cage the epitome of his idea that any sounds may constitute music.

It was also a reflection of the influence of Zen Buddhism, which Cage had studied since the late 1940s. In a 1982 interview, and on numerous other occasions, Cage stated that 4′33″ was, in his opinion, his most important work. “

I think so too. 


In fact as I began to establish a meditation practice of my own, this was my inspiration. 4’33”. It was a start. 
To begin, one must only begin. 


Back to my drive and it’s metaphoric significance : At one point I found myself in fog so thick I could barely see in front of me. It dawned on me that I didn’t need to see 100 or even 10 feet ahead. I could see paint on the lane, the path, and I knew I could trust it. It’s always there.

The fog is this coronavirus. It is the misinformation, and the conflicting information, but the path has not changed. I can still trust it. 


There is value in being prepared and open to what will be revealed when the fog finally lifts. Right now, the words of others are like a map. As Rumi would say: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.”  The words of a handful of women help me. They are my lamps and ladders. They are my map.  (I shared them in my blogroll … or just ask me. I’m happy to share)


Driving through sun filtered bare trees along the river, I arrive after three and a half hours, to the trailhead at Coyote Canyon in the Gorge. I had read about flowers, forgotten forests and waterfalls and knew I had to go. I wrote to the authors of a trip report to try to clarify this new path in this new place. They assured me I would not get lost, but I did anyway. Happily lost in mystical woods. 


There is no virus spreading up here. It’s tentacles can’t take hold of the grass and trees and air. No blaring news or bold headlines. What is spreading up here are wildflowers and shadows, silence and the one thing that saves us all …air. Good air.


The depth of It all is finally hitting home. Canceled plans, no coffee shops, no getaways. It will be a whole new world when this virus runs it’s course and slips into memory. I am so sad. The thing I crave is slipping further away and even at 58 it’s too late to play the long game.

The flowers are just starting to bloom and it felt like the first day of spring for sure. The diversity on this trail is just delightful. Yup, forgotten woods, rock formations, wildflowers and waterfalls. A great choice and worth the drive in on the Oregon side of the river. 


I didn’t see another soul on the trail all the way to (what I assume was) the top. Ordinarily, this kind of solitude provides balance to me. I hold onto that with both hands. I don’t want it to change. Without my real life connections it won’t feel like balance at all. I am not good with isolation. 


Grieving is the practice of letting go. I’m a little afraid to let go of anything right now. I’m not sure which parts are keeping me safely tethered to the path and which ones are keeping me from it. Someone asked if I was afraid. Of the virus ? No, I am prepared. Of the aftermath ? I am terrified for all of us. 


As we broaden our physical distance I hope we are reminded that our hearts are elastic. They can hold all of our love and grief and confusion. We can be sloppy with our attention and affection. Let’s curl up and spoon in our social spaces. Let’s reach out in the ways that we can. Let’s hit the “love” button and share one another’s words. Let’s check in with each other because for those of us afraid of isolation, a kind word can go a long way. Let’s dig deep and find our best selves. Now is not the time to push away. This is such an extraordinary moment. Let’s not squander our opportunities to be good human beings. 


And by all means, get outside !

Andrea and Finnlee


I wondered how folks I encountered would be in this new “social distancing” environment. Everyone was friendly. Maybe more so than usual. I met Andrea and Finnlee on my way down and had a great visit. We talked about the new normal and I shared about the Labyrinth Loop Trail. The world is changing but there are still people who can make a really good day even better. Thanks, Andrea. I hope I see you and your pup again. (Hope you found your way on that trail … it was like a maze)


Oh, and tomorrow it’s me and my Yoda boy for a hike on his favorite trail. 
Here was my day ❤

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3 Comments on “Be a Lamp or a Lifeboat or a Ladder

  1. “The thing I crave is slipping further away and even at 58 it’s too late to play the long game.”
    What is ‘the thing you crave’? And why is it too late? Never too late…?

    Liked by 1 person

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