Dark Places

15 Mar


The Thunderbird Trail in the Tucson Mountains sounds like a challenging and exciting stroll through the desert, but actually it’s rather tame.  The rocky path climbs slightly from the trail head, then levels out in a smooth opening where you have to make a choice…this way or that way…the Thunderbird or the Sweetwater.  Thunderbird sounded much more glamorous on that brilliant morning, so to the right.  Sweetwater another time.

Most trails in the mountains surrounding Tucson offer spectacular vistas.  The desert really can be astonishing, especially when the shadows are just right and the mountains glow in the breaking sun.  Up a slight climb.  Down across a very rocky basin.  Around a gentle curve between meadows of sugaro giants, now a bend to the left….wait a minute.  The marked trail winds off to the right.  Did I miss a sign?  What’s this little path curling into a patch of unfriendly cholla?   And that’s when I found it.

Standing in front of this black hole in the mountain offered me another choice.  Do I peek in, maybe even step inside?  But it’s so dark and who knows what might be living in there.  Mountain lions and temperamental javelinas populate our desert, not to mention rattlesnakes waking in the warm spring sun, and I’m not equipped to come face to face with any of them.  Just a peek.

In summary, it was dark!  Very dark!  So I decided to rest on a large stone near the entry and recall some of the articles and books I’ve read about “dark places”.   Not cellars or my bedroom at night when I was a little boy, but the dark places that we all carry around with us day after day.  Deep internal darkness is the source of so much of the pain that we endure each day.  And, like the yawning cave just off the Thunderbird Trail, the darkness calls to us and invites us into places we’d rather not visit.  Old wounds.  Betrayals or failures.  Bad decisions and broken dreams.  Those things feed and fester in the darkness, and they never let us go.   Unless.  Unless they are revisited and relinquished.  No, it’s not easy.  In fact, it can be scary and painful, but dark places don’t deserve the right to direct our lives.

I’m actually glad I made the wrong turn early in the hike.  The dark cave would have remained hidden in the background, always there but always just around the corner.  I plan to go back soon and sit on the rock again.  No, I’m not going to explore the black tunnel, but just looking into it is a place to begin.  It’s a start.


4 Responses to “Dark Places”

  1. Steve Kelsey March 15, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Wonderful experience and image, Roger. Thank you for sharing that. I love that you intend to return and just sit by that space – no agenda or high minded plan. Just to sit, and perhaps in time discover the dark place as a friend? Or not!

  2. heatherpentland@aol.com March 16, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    Throughout your

  3. heatherpentland@aol.com March 16, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    Throughout your writing I hear the echo of poet and mystic Mary Oliver who sums up the spiritual life quite simply in three lines:

    “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Amen, Heather

  4. terry rosato March 19, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Given your wonderful description, I felt as if I was walking with you, Roger. “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor invites us to enter those dark places in a variety of forms–complete darkness deep in a cave, the shadow side of ourselves, the “dark night of the soul” a la St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila etc.
    Thank you!

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