Day 14 Saturday, July 23 Challis to North Fork, ID 82 miles
What makes something sacred? That is the question that unfolded for me as I rode today.
I had another leisurely day on the bike following the Salmon River. I now have been following it on a slight descent for 140 miles. Because of that I was able to put in 82 miles today without feeling like I had overdone it. That is about to end tomorrow. I rode as far as North Fork which is where the river veers off to the west and the road veers up and up to the north. I met Dean and Karen, two of the nicest people, staying in the room next to mine. They said this stretch of road is their favorite for its beauty and can be enjoyed while zigzagging up the numerous switchbacks.
But, we don’t have to worry about that until tomorrow so let’s get back to what emerged as a theme today. I actually started the day off a little roughly. I think I was recovering from dehydration from the day before. I kept drinking Gatorade and water all evening and still woke up thirsty this morning. By the time I was on the road I just didn’t feel right. As the feeling persisted I suddenly found myself singing improvised “sacred” music to lift my mood. This is strange for me. I get enough church music at church to last me the week so when I break out into song at other times it’s more likely to be John Denver, U2, or Ray LaMontagne (a new favorite).
As it turned out, other sacred moments showed up in my day. I don’t know if my eyes were suddenly opened to the sacred because I had invited it in as I struggled earlier in the day or if there just happened to be more of it. I have had many stunningly beautiful days on this pilgrimage. Reflecting back on the many moments and days I can certainly ascribe the sacred to much of the experience. But, today I had moments that as soon as I came upon them I felt that I had entered sacred space.
The first was when I came upon a fairly small plot of farming land just off a lagoon. The land was probably no more than five acres and appeared to be a farmer’s hayfield. As I approached it, I startled a hawk and it flew off just as I rode by. Lovely moment, but not unusual. Moments later I came upon a deer who just as quickly pounced behind some trees to escape this strange creature on two wheels. The deer crossed the path of three wild turkeys who weren’t so quick or nervous to flee. I finally got a picture of the turkeys and just as I mounted my bike again toward the end of the field I startled a great blue heron out of the lagoon which flew right across my path. Each in their own right were lovely moments. By the time I saw all four in such rapid succession I just felt that the space from one end of the field to other end abutting the lagoon had become sacred.
Then I am riding casually along enjoying this ongoing descent and gentle push from an invisible hand when I glanced into the yard of a home. My reaction was immediate. This simple yard had been turned into a sacred space by the placement of a statue of a woman sitting with her arms around her legs and her head bowed into her lap. Grief, sorrow, meditation, contentment, gratitude? I could not tell. But, what I could tell is that the spirit of this sculpture transformed what would have been a well-groomed, but normal yard into something sacred.
By this time I was beginning to look for the sacred. As I neared my destination for the day a simple, steepled, white wooden church was silhouetted against the mountain that shapes this valley. We have seen pictures like it many times before. Small towns with the obligatory church with four white walls, double doors and steeple. It’s simplicity somehow elicits a nostaglia for a life that has been lost or was never quite realized.
Minutes later I arrived at “The Village at North Fork” www.thevillageatnorthfork.com). The rooms were cheap, breakfast was included, and the energy saved from not having to set up a tent could be used on the climb tomorrow. I wasn’t expecting much. The exterior of the building revealed that this motel has been around for a long time. I opened the door to my room and fell in love with it immediately. It is the cutest little place with both modern and rustic flourishes. Included is a replica of a wood stove with gas heat, pine window frames and doors, and a feminine touch that makes it feel like home should feel. Sacred may be a little stretch, but not much!
So, I ask again, what makes something sacred? I don’t know exactly. I do know that it has something to do with the ability of a place or an event to pitch our mind to the veil behind the physical world. In this sense I think it takes “two to tango”. I think the physical manisfestation needs to be arranged just right and then I think we need to be in a place where we are open to seeing more than just what our eyes say are there.
Somewhere after the hawk and before the great blue heron it became a sacred field. The presence of contemplative woman sculpture transformed the average lawn into a field of meditation. The old white church was more than just a building and became an image of a certain innocent yearning. And a motel room wasn’t just a place to crash for the night, but is providing me restful sanctuary.
Maybe I am seeing things. If I am, don’t wake me. I prefer this dream world!