Monday, July 18, 2011

A Place of Peaceful Retreat

For those who try to imagine a world at peace, I can think of no better place to contemplate this vision than Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center on Pyramid Lake in the heart of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. Far from the noise and noxiousness of human greed and violence, here we can experience the world much as God made it, and acknowledge that world as sheer gift. What could we possibly have done to deserve this magnificence? All we have to do here is open our eyes and ears and hearts and minds, and we are struck dumb with wonder and joy and gratitude. Thank you, dear Creator and Sustainer, for the gift of life in this beautiful world!

I've been coming to Pyramid Life Center for 20 years now, beginning in 1991 at the start of the first Gulf War, fleeing the cheers and flag-waving enthusiasm for war my fellow Americans were exulting in. Let's see now, how many wars ago was that? Nothing much has changed in our world so addicted to violence and greed, despite all the sit-ins and rallies and demonstrations and jail terms we peaceniks have engaged in, and yet we persevere. Why don't we just give up? Sometimes we do, growing cynical and despondent and very, very weary. And that's when we need to gather in retreats like this, to share stories of hope and courage, and above all, to immerse ourselves in the life of our greatest hero and fellow disdainer of military power, Jesus. He, too, grew weary and frightened, and for darned good reason. The Roman army killed him in just about the most terrible way a man can die. But we who would follow him remember who had the last word. And so we go on.

We were Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, and other seekers. Many were long-time activists who have served on the front lines of the anti-war, anti-empire movement for many years. (Dorothy Day's granddaughter was one of those who joined us.) Some of us seek to bring about peace in smaller communities than the world stage, through teaching, social work, addiction counseling, hospitality to the homeless, anger management and conflict resolution in schools, and many other areas including my own, which is hospice caregiving. Our overriding cause, whatever our occupation, is to try to ease the suffering of the world.

It's certainly easier to imagine a world without war when we come to a place as peaceful -- and affordable -- as this. The accommodations are simple -- rustic, even -- but who needs more than a quiet bed and good food and loving companionship? Why would we strive and struggle (even kill!) for more than we need?

What billionaire could hoard for himself a more majestic view than this?

Everywhere you look, some lovely work of nature greets your eye. This thriving clump of Hedge Nettle had found a foothold along a rushing stream.

Orchids are likely to pop up anywhere, such as these Green Wood Orchids nestled against a moss-covered log . . .

. . . or Rose Pogonia, still blooming in profusion in a marsh.

These mushrooms and Clintonia leaves just seem to know how beautiful they appear together.

A jumble of boulders tumbled from the mountain above creates a fascinating shoreline, where minks can hide from the paddler who spied them, and giant fishing spiders hang above the water teeming with minnows.

Multicolored lichens have covered the rocks with beautiful colors and textures.

Paddling by fallen logs that were carpeted with Round-leaved Sundew, I liberated this Bluet damselfly whose wings were caught by the sticky fringe of the sundew's leaves.

This little bur-reed, Sparganium natans, is one of New York's rare plants, but here at Pyramid Lake it has found a happy home and thrives by the hundreds.

After sunset, I stood and watched the lake exchange its colors with the sky. As the twilight darkened into night, the firelight from a lakeside campfire glittered on the water.

The sight of this caused me to think of a lovely song called "Little Fire" from Patty Griffin's album Downtown Church: "All that I need is one who knows me, a kind hand upon my face when I weep. And I'd give back all these things I know are meaningless, for a little fire beside me when I sleep." Patty would love it here.

What could make a mountain lakeside weekend even more close to perfect than beautiful weather and delightful companions? How about a big moon coming up over the mountain and casting a silvery path across the water?

Or a perfect moonset dawn, with a pink sky tinting the drifting mist that was rising from the warm water?

That mist flowed about my body as I set out to paddle around the lake, and I felt the very air embracing me in warmth on this chilly morning. Soon, the sun cleared the mountain top and lit the trees on the near island.

Slanting shafts of sunlight picked out the fluffy pine boughs against the dark shadowed forest.

Here's that rising sun peeking through the boughs of the pines on a tiny island.

The mare's tails flinging their veils across a blue, blue sky promised fine weather the rest of the weekend. And their prediction was right.

I had heard the loons calling all weekend, but it wasn't until Sunday morning that I finally saw the whole family: Mom, Dad, and their two downy chicks.

Mom and Dad Loon soon dived, and I took that opportunity to draw nearer to the chicks.

While Mom and Dad were underwater, the babies would stick their heads under the water, too, and go snorkeling along. I wonder if they were watching their parents catch fish down there.

Soon Mom (or was it Dad? I can't tell) emerged with breakfast, and the little ones swam to greet her.

Open wide, little one!

"Hey you, you're getting too close to my babies!" I think that's what she was telling me by rising up and beating the water with her wings while hooting loudly.

Okay, Mom. I will leave you and your family in peace. That's why I came here this weekend. To try to live, and to help others live, in peace.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such tranquility and beauty with us all every day. Peace lives in you and you inspire it in others.

Louise said...

What a marvelous place. And, how good to know that it exists, to bring solace to those who seek it.

Jens Zorn said...

Amazing--- what a voice, what an eye!

catharus said...

Thank-you so much for sharing this place, your time at the Retreat, and your experience of knowing your/our Source of peace.

suep said...

thanks for sharing these bits of your beautiful weekend ... you are a giving person and I can't think of a better place to recharge your spiritual batteries !

I read somewhere about loons, that the chicks are very bouyant, so much so that they CANNOT dive, and get their own food, so the parents feed them for quite a while.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Wow. All those things I miss. Hard not to get choked up going thru this post. Loons, orchids, mountains and lakes. Cool greenness. At least I can visit through your blog.

I hope you feel revived.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this.
├ůsa, from Sweden

Caspar Green said...

It was great to meet you and the others over the weekend, and Pyramid is certainly a beautiful, peaceful place. Thanks for sharing.

B said...

Great photos! Especially the damselfly. Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

And than YOU, dear friends, for sharing your appreciative comments with me. It pleases me enormously to be able to show you such incredibly beautiful places.