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
I recently returned from a week in the Utah wilderness with my friends from college. I must say that I have returned a better man than the one that entered the desert, both physically and mentally. I feel invigorated and excited about the adventures that the new concert season will bring. And I feel confident that no challenge will be too daunting when compared with hiking more than half of the West Rim trail with a pulled hip muscle.
The week involved roughly 40 miles of hiking, 20 hours of driving, a chance midnight encounter with a high-tech desert astronomy club, and my first Major League Soccer game. But the highlight was definitely the day we hiked the Zion Narrows river trail and decided on our way back to go off-trail beyond the mandatory stopping point in Orderville Canyon; into what can best be described as a natural obstacle course.
After reconciling to attempt the wrong-way ascent of the canyon, we agreed to do what the ascent required of us: We abandoned our packs, abandoned our food and water, abandoned our walking sticks, abandoned our spare clothing and our cameras, and began a 2-hour adventure of the sort that many people live their entire lives without experiencing.
It involved climbing several waterfalls and seemingly insurmountable ledges, crawling under multi-ton boulders, scrambling up slick rock faces, and wading through freezing chest-high water until we reached the end (actually the beginning) of the canyon at The Guillotine. In short, we took a leap of faith and shared an unspoken consensus that said, to us -in that moment- pressing on was more important than the fear that our possessions would be stolen; it was more important than the likelihood of growing hungry, or thirsty, or cold; more important than stopping where some authority had told us to stop, and more important than the hesitation we had towards venturing into the unknown. Without taking such risks and giving ourselves fully to the notion of “press-on,” the rewards of the endeavor surely would have escaped us.
At the end of it all, after we had solved all of the challenges together and helped each other overcome every obstacle, I thought to myself that I was living through a period of time in my life that -although brief- could only be described as “glorious” (adj. Marked by great beauty or splendor). Whether I was staring at Jupiter and the “wild-duck” cluster through the midnight desert telescopes of incredibly knowledgeable strangers, or standing at Panorama Point and looking out at a sunset 145 miles into the distance, or conversing with a kind bus driver who shared a beautiful part of her life experience with us on the way to the hike, I was constantly overwhelmed with the sense that this year’s adventure had put me closer to reflection upon the profound than I’ve been in quite some time.
A glorious day indeed, and a week I hope to communicate through my playing, composing, teaching, and relationships in the days and weeks and months to come. Having experienced first-hand the splendor of creation, how could one reasonably justify not trying to find a way to share it?
Have you ever felt you were living a glorious day? Tell me about it below.