Tag Archives: healing

Fields, Pho, and Foxes: Mount Rainier National Park

Where do I go to celebrate a milestone? A national park!

Spring wildflowers may be long gone from my part of Washington state in July, but in the mountains, they are just starting to bloom. On Thursday, I finished six weeks of radiation therapy for breast cancer. On Sunday, my husband and I caught an early ferry from Whidbey Island to the mainland and then drove two hours to Mount Rainier National Park. We had the whole day ahead of us to see flora, fauna, and mountains! With so much park to explore, we stuck to the Sunrise area in the northeast section.

Subalpine phlox

Go left to get the best mountain views.

Our first stop was Tipsoo Lake parking lot, the starting point for the Naches Peak Loop Trail. The avalanche lilies at the trail head looked like a field of stars, guiding us into this national park of wonders.

Field of stars

The guidebook said the loop was three miles long, rising to 5800 feet altitude. Still recovering from radiation, I wondered if I could make it around Naches Peak and have enough energy to enjoy the rest of our visit. Some of the trail was rough with plenty of rocks to negotiate. Our walking sticks came in handy. With a new view or lake around every bend, it was not difficult to keep going.

Donald on the trail







Barb with Mount Rainier coming into view

Mount Rainier seen from Naches Peak

We also went to  Sunrise and hiked on the Silver Forest Trail, stopping to hear the song of the White River along the way.

Our dinner at the Alpine Inn of salmon for me and a Bavarian pho for Donald  was just what we needed to replenish ourselves.

Pho photo

I also got to ring the bell in the Crystal Mountain tower to mark the end of cancer treatment. A milestone truly celebrated! As if to renew our spirits even further, we saw a family of silver foxes playing near the Inn. How charming they are with their dark fur and white-tipped tails.

Nature knows what I need and is always conspiring to make me happy. My realist side acknowledges that this place I treasure is home to an active volcano and can be dangerous. Yet I agree with John Muir on this, that every location has its hazards. As Muir wrote, “Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” It is a healing place for me, with a radiant power all its own.


Emerging from a kiva

The world has a navel, or sipapu, through which the people emerged.  Some say the Hopi emerged from the Grand Canyon’s sipapu, a calcified mound formed by a natural spring.  The Hopi and Pueblo people who use kivas as ceremonial chambers always include a golf-size hole in the floor of the kiva to serve as a sipapu, an umbilical cord to Mother Earth, so to speak.  You can see these sipapus in direct line with the fire pit in the remains at Mesa Verde and in recreated kivas elsewhere.   I would never be permitted in a working kiva as I am neither male nor Native American, so I have only been in restored kivas at Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico.  I climbed down a ladder into the cool, round chamber and sat by the indentation of the sipapu.  I heard that offerings were sometimes made there so I left a leaf of sage and a wildflower.

Two weeks ago I was cut across the navel, what the doctor called an infraumbilical skin incision, to remove some of my insides.  What am I to make of this enlargement of my sipapu?  I came out of anesthesia feeling like I had expanded, and I don’t think it was just the gas they used to inflate my stomach.  I let go of cysts that were strangling my organs and my mind felt freed at the same time.  For a few days, I couldn’t plan ahead; I was only in the now, recovering in my Chicago bedroom.

Thirteen days later I am at the Taos Pueblo Corn Dance in New Mexico.  People live at this pueblo and have for centuries.  They rely on corn to live and offer drumming and dancing in gratitude and to maintain balance.  That’s what I want, too, to have gratitude for my survival and to have balance as I heal.  I sit near the river that runs through the village and wait for the Corn Dance to begin.  It is hot and hasn’t rained in weeks.  Dusty dogs come by and nudge our water bottles, then go off to play.

Some clouds drift by, one of them very dark; then suddenly it is raining over those of us waiting by Rio Pueblo de Taos.  I put my arm out to feel the drops.  They hit hard.  We spectators bow our heads to the rain.  Our feet are speckled by the brown-red dirt thrown up by the force of the drops hitting the ground, the same soil that was used to make the complex of adobe homes in front of us.  This feels like a blessing to me, both the sacred earth and the reprieve from the hot, dry June we’ve been having.

After a few minutes, the rain stops and men emerge carrying drums, and two young men have eagle feathers in their hair.  They are joined by women carrying bundles of flowers in each hand.  The dance begins and I call the ancient prayers into my sipapu, wondering what corn I will be growing in my new life.

Mural of Pueblo dancer


Congress Spring

 Spring at Congress Park

In Saratoga Springs, New York, at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, water rules.  Or it did in the beginning.  It was a place of medicine waters to the Mohawks and other Iroquois nations of Kayaderossera, “the land of crooked waters.”  Native Americans bathed in and drank the spring water there for a variety of ailments.

William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, traded fairly with the Indians and won their respect and even friendship.  So it was only natural that when Johnson fell desperately ill in 1771, his Mohawk friends took him to High Rock Spring for healing.  Johnson was so weak that he had to be carried on a litter for miles to reach the sacred springs, making him the first white person to visit what is now known as Saratoga Springs.

After four days of sipping the mineral-infused water, the superintendent felt worlds better.  As he reported to his friend, Philip Schuyler, “I have just returned from a visit to a most amazing spring, which almost effected my cure, and I have sent for Dr. Stringer, of New York, to come up and analyze it.”   The secret having been leaked, a trickle of visitors led to a torrent.  Bottlers got busy selling the stuff while resorts sprang up for those wishing to “take the waters,” as it was said.

When I visited High Rock, where the spring used to be, there was nothing left but the stone mound formed by the minerals gushing up all those years ago.  What had been preserved by the First Nations people for at least 300 years was exploited to death in less than a century.  But no worries.  I see that Disney World in Florida built a Saratoga Springs Resort with a High Rock Spring Pool next to their arcade of video games.  “Experience the magic that flows through the community–from the Victorian architecture to the gurgling springs” for $400 a night.  Somehow it’s not the same.

A MicMac elder from Canada, Albert Ward, told me in 2004 that we are getting so out of balance that he believes the planet will tilt, probably by the year 2017.   When we take the waters of Mother Earth, we drain the underground reserves, contributing to these imbalances, he said.  Where water and healing once ruled, other forces have taken over.  The race track in Saratoga is now the biggest attraction.  Place your bets.

I walked to Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs, passing a sculpture by Daniel Chester called Spirit of Life, a winged woman twice my size.  In one hand she holds a pine branch and in the other a bowl of abundance, hinting to me of both balance and hope.  Continuing my search for the springs, I stopped at a white-domed pavilion.  Under the dome was Columbian Spring, which Gideon Putnam, the primary founder of the city, ran dry in short order.  I cupped my hand under the faucet there and drank from the chlorinated city reserves, running not from the natural springs but piped in from a more distant Loughberry Lake.   Sometimes, as the song goes, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.