Recently I spent a few days in Colorado’s San Luis Valley staying in a cabin perched on the Sangre de Cristos. The valley has a palpable presence that I can only describe as forceful. A powerful fullness. There is a human aspect to it, to be sure. But mostly it seems elemental.
The Sangres reputedly were a destination for spiritual pilgrimages for native tribes since prehistoric times. Archaeologists found 9,000 year old arrowheads within a few miles our cabin. Nearby Blanca Peak is one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains, and according to the Tewa Pueblo, human beings first emerged from the underworld through a sipapu (hole) near the great sand dunes. But the rest of the valley also pulsates with the energy of ritual. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross is in San Luis, Colorado’s oldest town (in terms of the population that originated in Europe), and Penitente canyon was the pilgrimage site of a 19th century community of ascetic monks. The village of Crestone has developed in this same vein, hosting numerous spiritual retreat centers representing diverse traditions.
But I think all of this is merely a response to the energy of the place. To this unnamable thing that nature is expressing here. The valley is vast and the scale of the forces that shaped and continue to shape it, stops you in your tracks. Being in that valley puts things in the proper perspective, in the sense that it is impossible not to feel puny. It is impossible to maintain any kind of inner dialogue about what’s going to happen to me. It is so utterly irrelevant.
My husband and I got into the habit of spending two hours in silence every evening, watching the sun go down. We didn’t discuss or decide this. It just happened. The experience of sunset filled those moments so completely that there was no room for words. And there was no room for the strategic mind to hold forth with its usual machinations. It also fell silent. There were clouds, sunlight, ravens, shadows.
More than enough.