Pilgrimage - “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance."
Baptism - "a trying or purifying experience, potentially of thought and character.”
I recently returned from my own two-week pilgrimage to my home state of California this month. I went with some friends to climb the 14,179 ft snow-capped peaks of Mt. Shasta, and to baptize myself in the spectacular and sacred Klamath Native American site of Crater Lake - which the tribe used for vision quests for centuries. It was a welcome bookend to one of the most demanding years of my professional life and I am a better man for having done it.
I am not entirely sure what I was searching for this trip, but I suppose some part of me was looking for a little perspective on the year’s events - big concerts, new faculty appointments, working on CD edits etc. In short, I was looking to do something legitimately ‘hard,’ as opposed to something merely tedious or stressful; to better understand the distinctions between the three.
I’ve been ascending the peaks of California since I was a teenager and it was good to return home. Climbing a mountain has a funny and helpful way of trivializing a lot of things in life. You are forced to contemplate the possibility of your -or your companion’s- demise; to push yourself by overcoming pain, nausea, fatigue, and sleep deprivation; to ponder infinity in comparison to your own worldly aspirations. I find that climbing is a good way to take time each year to do these things in a sustained way, lest one get absorbed in the daily ups and downs of the rat-race.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. We reached the summit of Mt. Shasta with many adventures along the way, met numerous travelers going through life in numerous ways (model scale train enthusiasts, Spencer: The world’s alleged best waiter, a nostalgic widow, a petrified but trash-talking cliff jumper, etc.). And I can think of no better way to baptize oneself than the way we took a 15-foot leap of faith into the purifying 38 degree water of Crater Lake.
As the summer winds down and I prepare for a new concert season, I am thankful to be alive, to have good friends and colleagues, and to keep searching for a place to do all things tedious, stressful, hard, and beautiful with this gift of music. I’ll meet you there. -Thomas