Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Sermons in stones

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
— William Shakespeare
By Dave Ammons
My family’s summers were spent in the mountains of Colorado where my brothers and I received an education that surpassed anything we learned academically. We awoke each day surrounded by the reliable and comforting cadence of the wilderness. We immersed ourselves in the earth, we walked through woods as softly as the Arapaho, relishing the discovery of live snakes and dead mammals. We constructed rafts from timbers replete with ramming logs in preparation for the battles fought on a stagnant pond. We saw bear, deer, marmot and moose walk through the yard and memorized their tracks.
We learned how to fish, graduating from spinning rods to fly rods and making increasingly educated guesses about the fly pattern that would elicit a strike. Subsequently we learned how to gut a trout with two simple slices of a knife and a pull with our index finger. We built forest lean-to’s, honed climbing skills, and observed the tenacity of wildflowers growing above timberline.
My younger brother would wake up each day, grab his bow and arrows and disappear into the woods to return only as dusk was turning to darkness and bats took shape in the blue black sky. No one ever worried about him. My older brothers were brave and immortal, validating their fearlessness by scaling the granite face of Boston Peak which looms large on the western wall of the canyon. Ultimately they parlayed their love of local climbs to scale great summits in Asia and South America.
I escaped the public haunt by walking to the river at the margins of dark and light to fish. Captivated by the eternal flow and hypnotized by the eddies, pools and riffles as I tried to understand how a fish thinks. I shook with nervous delight when I hooked a trout – still do.
We grew up sons of a Presbyterian minister but I’ve always felt the mountains were our religion. Our father certainly had ample reason to be disappointed in his family as we were fairly rebellious against the expectation that we evolve our faith and beliefs through the teachings of the Presbyterian church. My brothers and I were not good Christians.
However I have upheld a deep spiritual connection with the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. Whatever each of us believes is the definition of God, He is clearly at work there, painting masterpieces of rock and tree and sky with every shade of light, works of art that beckon us and wrap us in permanence and awe.
On the grounds of the chapel down in the canyon there is a rock and mortar columbarium built by my grandfather as a gift to the community. I can see him working in his brown work jeans, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, trowel in hand as he purposefully set stone after stone, day after day. There is so much good in every memory of him. His hands are on every rock, his design in every shadow, his words still echo through the days.
He lies there now, along with my grandmother and two of their children, one of whom is my own mother. I often stop here and pause in reflection. The river tumbling and laughing nearby, a chorus of deciduous leaves and pine boughs wrought by the wind. I place my fingers on the bronze nameplates etched with two dates and reconnect to what role I played in the dash in-between. I talk softly and tell them all hello … then bid goodbye until next time. They whisper back, all of them as softly as I to them. Sermons are in these stones, fashioned by the passing of ancestral wafts of time.
If religion is about belief, about faith in higher powers, about creation and resurrection, then I will worship in this vastness to find meaning and purpose. My God is an awesome God. And so I go to the mountains as I can, to meditate, to read the waters, to talk to the woods, to sit quietly in nature’s pew and hear these sermons, reminding myself of my transience and frailty.
Dave Ammons is a TU volunteer and a member of the Zane Grey Chapter in Arizona.

By Chris Hunt.