For a bunch of folks immersed in protesting one outrage after another -- nuclear weapons, warfare, torture, unjust imprisonment, domestic violence, animal abuse, etc. -- we sure were a cheerful crew, those of us attending a peacemakers' retreat at Pyramid Life Center on Pyramid Lake this past weekend. First of all, it was such a great pleasure to be among friends who shared a commitment to resisting war, not always a welcome attitude in the workaday worlds we usually inhabit. But it also helped that we had such a delightful team of presenters as Elizabeth McAlister and Frida Berrigan (the wife and daughter, respectively, of the late renowned anti-war activist Philip Berrigan), each of whom continues to dedicate her life to promoting peace and justice.
Elizabeth, along with her husband Philip, was one of the founders of Jonah House, established in Baltimore in 1973 and still going strong, a Christian-based community of peace activists living together for the purpose of resisting war through active protest. Frida, now married and living with her husband and children in Connecticut, continues to carry out the values she was reared with through her work with Witness Against Torture and other justice-promoting causes. In the course of their presentations, Elizabeth helped us to ground our struggles for peace in the teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, while Frida recounted her experiences growing up in such a radically committed home, where one or another of her parents was often absent because of imprisonment due to their activism. Now, lest you think that these presentations sound kind of grim, you should know that we spent almost as much time in laughter as in thoughtful contemplation. (To get a sense of the kind of stories Frida has to tell about growing up insurrectionist, click here. Or just google her name to find many of her thoughtful and often entertaining essays on loving activism.)
In between the discussion sessions, we had plenty of time to experience the wonders of Pyramid Lake, a pristine body of water surrounded by mountain wilderness. Yes, we had some rain, but the dramatic storm clouds and the mist rising from the forest after the showers had passed only added to the beauty of the scene.
As the sky cleared toward evening, the clouds took on a rosy glow, intensified by their reflections in the still water.
A new addition to the center's facilities this year is this delightful tree house, set over a rushing creek that added its music to our conversations as we sat here to take our meals.
Abundant stands of pretty Hedge Nettle could be seen at several places along the creek.
I enjoyed paddling close to the foot of dramatic cliffs, from which huge boulders had tumbled down to the shore. From deep in that green forest, a Winter Wren sent his exquisite fluting, warbling, trilling song out across the water.
Nestled in among these boulders was a single stalk of Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), its bright purple flower spike set off to fine advantage by the gray of the sheltering rock.
Adding even more color to this tableau were patches of the vivid orange lichen called Elegant Sunburst (Xanthoria elegans), a most appropriate name.
Huge Fishing Spiders inhabit these boulders, sometimes dropping straight down into the water to pursue the tiny fish that are its prey. There must have been a recent hatch of baby spiders, for a number of miniature versions of this big one were skittering across the face of the rock. There is one of the little ones in this photo, at lower right. (By the way, this photo presents the big spider just about life size.)
Skittering across the surface of the water were hundreds of Water Striders, which must have recently molted. I came across rafts of their cast-off skins and was able to pick some up to get a closer look. I would never be able to capture a living one, they move across the water so lightning fast.
At either end of the lake is a swampy area where the water narrows into a stream that passes among hummocks covered with Rose Pogonias (Pogonia ophioglossoides), one of New York's most common but also most beautiful orchids.
Also here in these swampy areas, deep-pink clusters of Sheep Laurel stood out against the green.
If I paddle very quietly, I can almost always surprise a Great Blue Heron before it lifts its great wings and flaps away.
Well, all is not sweetness and light in the swamp. With almost every fallen log studded with patches of Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), it's inevitable that the delicate wings of damselflies will occasionally get stuck in the sticky fluid-tipped tendrils and not be able to escape.
I've come to expect to see damselflies stuck in the sundew, but never in all my wildflower observations have I ever seen a bee get stuck in a Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemiflorium) bloom. Poor bee! It was much too late to set it free.