Spirit Offering

This is a strange tale, but one worth telling. I was in New Mexico, speaking one day with a Native American about the protocol for visiting sites considered spiritual. What many tribes did was to leave an offering, perhaps a sprinkling of tobacco or a keepsake, as a gift to Mother Earth for allowing the visitor to take away some of the spiritual essence of the special place.

A few days later I just happened to be photographing on a trail and considered climbing to a higher spot for what I thought would be a better vantage point. The more I shot down below, the more it gnawed at me that just a hundred or so yards higher I could capture a magnificent image. So, with 25-pound backpack on and a 4x5 view camera mounted on my tripod, I attempted the climb.

I knew as soon as I started that I might have bit off more than I could chew. The footing was loose and sandy, with big rocks giving way under my feet. By time I got halfway up, I was soaked in sweat and sucking air (altitude: 7,600 feet). But, I had gotten to a slightly better vantage point, so I decided to heed the warnings of the mountain spirits and go no further. I took off my backpack and my favorite Tilley hat and got to work.

For the next thirty minutes I marveled at the red rock walls, the green trees, the dry wind carrying the intoxicating scent of ponderosa pine up the slope. It was, as a colleague says, a Zen moment. It was truly a gift from the mountain spirits.

Finally, I had had it. I was tired and hungry since it was 7:00 PM and I had been up since 4:30 AM for sunrise.  So, I packed up and literally slid back down the treacherous trail as the sun was setting. When I got to the bottom I realized I had left my favorite Tilley hat where I had taken the photos. That hat had accompanied me all over the globe for the past 12 years. It has kept me warm on top of mountains and sailed with me on several oceans, protected me from bat guano in caves and bird droppings in forests, in the Amazon rains and Egypt’s sun. Sure, it had a few holes in it, but I loved that hat.

Then, I grinned. Unconsciously, I had remembered to leave my gift for the mountain spirits. I smiled all the way back to the car.

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