My daughter Claire and I managed to escape the heat of the Valley (and isolation of our home) by pitching a tent up on the Mogollon Rim just before her fall semester began. A couple days’ fresh air, a leisurely hike in light rain, and quietly paddling the perimeter of Willow Springs and Woods Canyon Lakes was all good for the soul. It was, for me, an exercise in gratitude. I was blest to spend time with my adult daughter. And I was fortunate to be immersed in the beauty of Creation.
I recently began a sermon sharing one of my experiences on the Rim:
First thing in the morning, well, at least around 7am, I set out my camp chair, back to the rising sun, facing a small stand of quaking aspen.
To close your eyes when a breeze arises is to experience a babbling brook or gentle waterfall.
I sit down with a copy of Larry Brown’s Complete Stories and a mug of hot coffee. It’s very quiet; we pretty much have the campground to ourselves. I can only hear the rustling of the leaves and birds. But I don’t get very far in my reading.
Just as it takes time for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness and behold the canopy of stars on a moonless night, it takes my ears a few moments to take in the sounds of the forest.
The birds are out in numbers, foraging for breakfast. One pecks at the jigsaw puzzle-like bark of the ponderosa. Another rummages through the pine needle forest floor. There, one flits in the air – hot on the trail of a fly, a mosquito? Five minutes pass, or maybe 30?
I get up to warm my coffee and return with a small pair of binoculars.
Now my feathered friends are up-close and personal. This one has a wide grey collar speckled with white.
That one wears a rust-colored vest and blue-tinged wings.
And the one pecking at the ponderosa? Upon closer inspection, it’s got white head with a black racing stripe.
I recognize the robin, the Gila Woodpecker with its red yarmulka and the occasional Steller’s Jay. And there’s one of my favorites, the goldfinch.
But the others – I will have to wait to get home to learn their names from a bird guide:
Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Olive-sided Fly Catcher, Townsend’s Solitair.
But the names they’ve been given can wait. For now, I’ve lost myself. Time. Stands. Still. Transcendence. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
Upon our return, I researched my bird sightings online. (I had deliberately left my phone at home.) I found a 2017 article in the Payson Roundup that birding enthusiasts counted 91 species on the Rim. Why I’d counted 8 or 9, just sitting quietly on my camp chair!
“For lack of attention,” writes the English mystic Evelyn Underhill, “a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. Friends, the spiritual life is, at its root, a matter of seeing. And the flip-side of paying attention, of course, is gratitude.
We all could use a dose of gratitude, especially during these times when thankful feelings seem elusive. But gratitude, as Diana Butler Bass reminds us in her book Grateful, is more than a feeling. It is a disposition, a choice, a way of looking at the world. It is a spiritual practice.
A favorite poem by Mary Oliver comes to mind. It’s entitled Praying.
It doesn’t have to be the blue Iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention,
then patch a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate,
this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.
I’m wondering what occasions for gratitude are you discovering in your day?
With a grateful heart,