Crater Lake

The Cascade Range, stretching along the West Coast from northern California into British Columbia, is by far the most volcanic region in North America. Seattle’s Mt. Ranier, Portland’s Mt. Hood, and its Washington neighbor Mt. St. Helens, are its most famous peaks, with St. Helens losing its top in the historic cataclysm of May 18, 1980. All of these are closely monitored for ongoing seismic dangers.

View from North Rim

View from North Rim


But the mountain that really lost its top some 7,700 years ago is probably the most visited and admired. The ancient Mt. Mazama, as it is called, was a “composite cone” built up over hundreds of thousands of years to a probable height of 12,000 feet. A  series of massive explosions released gas, ash, and magma, and evacuated the lake of molten rock inside it, causing some 5,000 feet of its top to sink into its interior, leaving the sheer rock faces you can see today.

Snowfalls and rain began filling the caldera, which constitutes a slight oval about 6 miles across at its widest point. Subsequent eruptions built up cones beneath the surface of the present lake, with one, Wizard Island, rising 800 feet above the lake’s level. The lake itself, with its remarkably stable level, has a maximum depth of 1949 feet, making it the second deepest lake in North America. Some 1500 feet above it looms the rim of the ancient volcano, displaying the whole range of volcanic rocks that geologists have deciphered to unlock its history.

Because the rim is still some 7,000 feet above sea level, it receives over 40 feet of snow each year. While the Park Service keeps the road to the top open all year, the road around the rim was still not completely open when we visited at the end of June.

View from South Rim near Lodge

View from South Rim near Lodge

Fascinating as it is, that is just the geology, the physical history. What attracts so many people is the awe-inspiring blue jewel of the lake itself nestled in the silent rocky testimony to the creative destruction that formed it, still reverberating in the legends of the native peoples of the region. It is this combination of intense beauty amidst the silent testimony to overpowering energy that makes a visit a kind of pilgrimage, one we try to capture in our cameras but can’t quite capture in our minds.

At first it frightens us, because one slip could send us down the steep slope into the freezing water like an unsuspecting ant at the edge of an ant lion’s lair. Then it awes us, as its size reduces our pretensions to a wispy breath in the arguments of cosmic time. But then the blue, amniotic waters connect us to the heavens and the waters of creation. It is this nearly mystical sensation of the “mysterium tremendum” that probably drew me to its rim to gaze across the blue expanse, as it does so many others.

A hundred years ago the land was set aside as a national park, a fitting consonance with Native American veneration of the spirit of the mountain. A lodge was built for visitors. We couldn’t get a room even six months in advance, but we ate in its rustic dining room, sat on its porch overlooking the lake, and chatted with old friends who came up for the day from nearby Medford.

We had been there for a few hours 33 years ago. Crater Lake Pose webWe found the silvery skeleton of a tree where we had stood before and got a photograph. The sky mirrored the intense blue of the lake as shadows began to pull the covers of the night across the surface far below. The boat that takes intrepid visitors around the lake was carving its last V into the waters as we turned to go to our cabin on the flank below.

We had driven up the western slope of the range from Eugene. The next day we leveled out on the high desert to its east, a mile above sea level, to head to Lakeview, the ranching and logging town where Sylvia had grown up.

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The Oregon Bach Festival

In days of violent acts and words, we all need times to center ourselves again in beauty that orders a world, in memories that give it meaning, and grandeur that frames our brief lives in the work of all creation. We have just returned from a trip that has helped us repair in such a way. We went to Oregon, where Sylvia grew up, first to spend a week at the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene, Oregon, home of the University of Oregon, where Sylvia studied music over fifty years ago. I’ve decided to share some of this trip with you as a way of reflecting on beauty, memory, and grandeur, capped off with a reflection on rugged craft. Here’s the first installment.

The Oregon Bach Festival arose in 1970 fromOregon2016_062916_0218 the inspiration of Helmut Rilling and Royce Saltzman to promote not only the legacy of Bach, but of music that embodies the values of the musical tradition which he played such a large role in. It brings young musicians together with seasoned players, conductors and composers under the auspices of the School of Music and other arts organizations. Walking around the campus under the giant spruces, firs, maples, and redwoods, I became aware that the campus itself is an arboretum, reflecting the university’s long interest in environmental studies. We were indeed in the groves of academe, a grove filled more with the sounds of music then the laughter and calls of young students. We only had a chance for a slice of the twenty-day festival, bringing us to rehearsals in the very hall where Sylvia gave recitals during her studies.

The Berwick Academy, one of the Festival’s key components, fosters performance that seeks to reproduce the instruments, styles, sounds of the period in which a work was written. The music of Bach, Boccherini and Mozart gains a new crispness, clarity, and intimacy that is often lost in the lush and loud styles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As we listened through oratorios, concerts, recitals, and chamber music, I always had a sense that music is not just a sound of the moment but an expression of a long history woven of many traditions, each informing as well as informing our sensibilities. Matthew Halls, the Artistic Director, shared insights at several points into the theology of Bach’s work, without which the music becomes a harmonious but meaningless sound.

And there were contemporary works like those of James MacMillan, the renowned Scottish composer and conductor. While some of his work sounded like a train wreck to us, other work had a haunting immediacy, evoking a sense of loss or hope. We had to miss the premier of his European Requiem, which stands in a long history of Requiems but which had a poignant edge in the age of Brexit, the collapse of Middle Eastern societies, and the rise of our own reactionary movements.

Music like this makes us aware of inner harmonies that constitute us as well as of the brittle edge between our personal lives and the events that often seem to overwhelm the world around us. It opens us to the depths of that world even as it reminds us of the singing atoms, molecules, and organs that constitute us. It compels us to weep as well as to remember and to hope. In my own case, the Festival’s setting, indeed, its very buildings, helped weave together our memories with this larger heritage.

We left the Festival and Eugene to visit Crater Lake, where grandeur speaks of music as well as devastation. That’s the next installment.


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How Many More?

How many children more

            must we sacrifice

            to Great God Gun?

How many more must die

            to feed the greed of

            Smith and Wesson, Remington, and Glock?

How many more must die

            so that their blood

            runs into pockets of the politicians

            bowing at the altar of The Gun?

How many more must scream before we hear their hopeful songs?

How many more must die before we learn to trust in love?

How many grieving parents will it take to cleanse the temple of their blood?

How many more before we drive away the fear that now enslaves us?

Come, God of Love, save us from our fear.


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Aging in our Communities

Last week I had a public conversation about aging at our local library with Dr. Michael Pass, a local physician who has helped establish a very fine hospice program and facility in our county. We were discussing Atul Gawande’s fine book, Being Mortal, which I wrote about earlier. The small auditorium was full, with about 75 people from various health care professions and the general public. Their interest was intense and, for many of us, existential.

We were examining the medical and ethical dimensions of the way our society cares for an increasingly older population who need help navigating their long tenure as old and able citizens. In particular, we older people want to remain in the homes and habits we have created over the previous six decades of our lives. Even more important, we want to remain in the communities where we enjoy friendships, community activities, and familiar services. However, our society is set up to provide resources for us that are predicated on models of illness and cure. They provide nursing “homes” when we just need some help, structured “communities” when we only need a handyman and some younger friends. Medical science and public health advances have enabled us to live longer, but we don’t have the social structures to enable us to live more fully. And living more fully is not an individualistic accomplishment. It occurs in communities over time.

Now, this observation does not belie the need for skilled medical and nursing care when our bodies really give out and our minds wander off, never to return. I know of some wonderful facilities and people who exercise this care with dignity, respect, and professional love. My brother-in-law is in one. And we are grateful. But the majority of us seek to navigate the bumpy downhill ride of our last decade or so with a suitable vehicle and some guides along the way.

Now, what would that look like? Mike and I pointed out the rise of many home health and home assistance programs that are beginning to emerge so people can live in their own communities and homes. Gawande points to some of these near the end of his book—places like Beacon Hill Village, in Boston, and Athens Village, in his home town in Ohio.

What struck me is how important churches and other religious congregations can be in mobilizing resources for older people who might need help ranging from cleaning out a gutter to helping with food, cleaning, or personal care. Most of these resources can be found or created in our local communities, but typically, and I am talking about myself here, we don’t know how to mobilize, monitor, or negotiate the help we need. At this point our churches can be used as networks for tracking these things down, but the churches don’t see this function as intrinsic to their mission. No one questions the importance of youth programs for the mission and vitality of a church. Shouldn’t the same be said for those at the other end of life’s journey?

I know that churches have launched “parish nurse” programs in years past, but my impression is that they had a more medical and clinical focus. What if they now supported a pastoral professional who would function as an ombudsman of sorts for older members of the parish? Rather than directly providing this care, they would be liaisons between members and the often confusing array of services in the wider community. They wouldn’t have to move away to find a specialized retirement community. They could stay in the church and community that has nurtured them.

I’m talking with other people in my own church about this. I’d be interested in what you know from your own experience. This is definitely NOT part of my expertise, so I’m just generating a more public conversation. I’d love to hear from you as well.


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