The path is also used by the local gas company as a maintenance road in case the huge pipe underneath my feet should rupture and mimic the long-awaited earthquake along the Wasatch Fault. So there's a median and a two tracks. Tickseed fills the median and lines the edges of the tracks. No matter which side I choose, I feel like I'm walking between my own personal corps of yellow-faced marines. Every morning, I feel like nature's throwing me a wedding. I can smell the damp underneath the summer grass, where the dew hasn't evaporated. Sometimes, I disturb a shadow of deer (although most of them are in my garden, eating at the salad bar).
It's quiet up there on the trail. Occasionally, a biker will pedal past. This morning I saw a fellow walker on my periphery as I started out. All the way from Y Mountain to Rock Canyon and back, only one other walker on this mountain side. Toward the end of the outward leg, I looked down from the trail into my in-law's yard where my father-in-law was standing, like Adam between his peach trees, surveying the late summer garden. I would have shouted but I don't think his hearing aids work past thirty feet.
Some mornings, Dave Matthew sings to me, "It's good for the soul when there's not a soul in sight." I think I know what he means. I find my place when it's just me on the mountain. Walking alone, just me and the creeping sun, the smell of summer rotting beneath the grass, and my iPod, invariably I have the moment. It's the same moment and happens after I've been walking for a while and I pass from the shadow of the mountain into the sunlight. When I feel the sun on my skin, and the chill gives way to warmth, I have to stop.
I turn my face to the sun. My eyes are closed. My arms stretch up to touch the sky. My fingers are spread wide. If I open my arms out just wide enough, I can feel my chest muscles pulling into my shoulders. I breathe deeply through my nose. I feel the cool air flow through my nostrils and down into my chest cavity. I feel as if I am swelling from within, like the center of me is expanding. If I weren't so chicken, I would stay there for longer than the few moments I allow myself. But mostly I am a nervous supplicant, afraid that my devotion will be seen by Chuck and his golden retriever. So, I repeat the embrace every few steps. (From afar, I must look like I'm conducting a band in some southern high stepping competition).
I've seen that pose before. Hiking into Delicate Arch one summer day a few years ago, my sister Margo suddenly stopped on a red rock slope. She turned to the sun, set her feet shoulder-width apart and raised her hands to the sun. "Sun worshiper," she proclaimed. I'm not sure if she was naming a yoga pose, or her personal religion. But she was beautiful. So I took her photo.
I hadn't yet felt the urge Margo felt to stand so, to align herself with the sun, and to worship at its warmth. But this late summer, I've recognized in myself the same physical/spiritual need to come to that stillness, arms stretched high, chin tilted and hands reaching heavenward. I feel on the cusp, "born before the wind; younger than the sun." I'm sailing into Van Morrison's "mystic."
The ancients built altars in their holy places. They made sacrifices and brought offerings to these altars of earth and uncut stone. Noah, upon leaving what must have been a stinking, musty place of shadows, and stepping onto a dry earth with all his beasts and creeping things alive, built an altar and "offered burnt offerings." Following a prompting, Abraham gathered up his family, and left his homeland. At the place where God spoke to him, Abraham built an altar. Then he travelled on to Egypt. After waiting out the famine in Egypt, he made camp again at the holy place of that altar and "called upon the name of the Lord."
I don't know for sure what physical posture Noah and Abraham assumed when they came before their holy altars; or Elijah, Saul and any other number of Old Testament worshipers for that matter. But I'm sensing that, even with millennia between us, their bodies before their earthen altars and mine upon my mountain path would not look so different. Abraham tells the King of Sodom, "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth." I know that feeling, that physical urge to stand still before the almighty, to lift up mine hands unto.
In our modern temples, we come to prayer at an altar. I've never been completely comfortable in those movements of the ceremony. I'm a somewhat diffident pray-er there; the gestures and motions feel awkward and cramped, and so public. But lately, on my mountain slope, I think I have felt to pray as the ancients and as our modern ceremony intends but can only vaguely suggest: body and face aligned to the sun, arms spread wide to embrace the warmth, my skin turning golden in the morning light, every muscle and bone and sinew stretching toward.
Title: Van Morrison, "Brand New Day."