Up or Down? In or Out?

wp181 2 cliff house, towerThe cliff dwellings of the Anasazi are situated at the tops of mesas. But they are also tucked underneath the overhangs.

wp181 2 nooks, cranniesWind, sand and water have created nooks and crannies that beckon habitation—natural cavities of protection.

wp181 2 roof, kivaOne climbed down into a kiva via a ladder that fit through a hole in the roof. If kivas were the central spot for spiritual and social gathering, they were also a perfect symbol of going down or inward to experience God.

wp181 2 paint, petraglyphsArt has often been a way to outwardly express an inner concept in order to communicate with others. It was then and is now.

wp181 2 wall, tree weatherAt the same time the Ancestral Pueblo people were finding God down and inward, other native tribes were finding God above and outward. Though apparent opposites, are these two ways of perceiving God really at odds?

wp181 nooksI believe God is within us and outside us. One can find God in the deep recesses of the rock and also on its surface.

wp181 2 butterfly, lizardI am now gazing at a butterfly and lizard. One flies above, the other crawls beneath. Is one any more beautiful than the other?

I am sure the cliff dwellers beheld the same species and noted their brilliant colors and precious designs as I am now doing. Nature connects us through time—and God connects us through eternity.

All photos © Sondra Sula.


Mesa Verde

wp180 haunted treeThe landscape of Mesa Verde is harsh. Gloriously barren, extreme, unending. Trees are tenacious, even after death.

wp180 2 bald stone, kivaBald expanses of rock radiate summer’s heat. But the ancient kivas were cool. Those who lived on these cliffs must have known every cave and cranny, every seasonal slant of the sun.

wp180 half stone forest, half skyThe sky is its own upside-down landscape—rolling cloud hills or bare blue eternity. Looking out from an outcrop I see half earth, half sky.

wp180 tree on stone ledgeSpirit can voice an opinion here and anyone can hear it. Silence echoes in the canyons. It is not the absence of sound, but a subtle music of wind and bird calls.

wp180 tree in storm lit upA storm bears down causing the sky to darken while leaving the foreground in an eerie bright light. There is nowhere to hide—no roofed kiva to climb down into, no leafy tree to umbrella me. I must face the pelting rain, surrender to the cleansing. I kneel to accept Mesa Verde’s asceticism—no, to revel in it.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

The Unexpected Dunes

wp179 dunes CO 1st viewWhen Rob and I visited southern Colorado for his break week, we didn’t expect to see North America’s largest dunes. But there they sat in all of their strange and out-of-place glory at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. As we approached, even with heights up to seven stories, the dunes seemed dwarfed by the 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo mountains. Sometimes I feel small and out of place.

wp179 2 dunes CO ants, rockWhen we arrived at their base, the dunes suddenly loomed larger than life. People climbing them looked like scurrying ants. Is that what I am to you, God, just a tiny ant?

And yet as I shifted my gaze to my feet, I realized this vast landscape was made of tiny bits of rock. Each piece united to create this marvel yet each also carried its own story—its long and involved journey from mountain to valley. Does my journey make more sense when I share it with others?

wp179 dunes CO w greenAs a storm approached, I noticed the edges of the dunes were covered in green. Regular watering was necessary to keep this flora alive. God, I need Your living water to continually nourish me.

wp179 dunes CO rainsAs I hurried back to the car, I could see the rain from afar in great columns, falling to the earth to sustain life. Even in my driest times, Lord, I know the rain will come.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Becoming a Child Again

wp178 giant eggs in nestWhat would you do if you came across speckled turquoise bird eggs in a nest on the ground? And what if you could easily fit into this nest because it was ginormous? Perhaps, like me, you would feel a sense of childhood awe.

wp178 verbascum curlThat feeling is what I like to capture every day. The wonder of seeing of a mullein plant twisting itself into a circle.

wp178 purple sticky seedHairy purple and green seed heads that look as if they are out of a sci-fi novel.

wp178 foxglove closeEven a common foxglove looks particularly striking when one bends down to toddler level to view it.

Almost anything can amaze us when we let down our adult guard and embrace the world around us with freshness and glee.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Note: Nest is situated in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.


wp177 morn gloryInglenook Fen Ten Mile Dunes Preserve lets you know who’s boss: its sand. Ever shifting, the dunes alternately cover and reveal various flora and fauna. Insects take refuge from the wind within the cornucopia of a morning glory.

wp177 3 flora in sandPlants withstand being surrounded by blazing hot sand that cools at night. Whether leaves are furry, waxy or frilly, they can all survive burial and resurrection.

wp177 log, yellow floraThe path is marked with vertical wood posts. But many have fallen, others are neck deep in sand. How will I find my way back? I decide to follow my footsteps—divots in the smooth surface.

wp177 2 crab, musselAfter climbing up and down the dunes, I am deposited near the ocean. A crab carapace with barnacles for eyes gives a sideways glance to a mussel shell.

wp177 2 sea bouquetsSeaweed, feathers and sea creature segments form big bouquets on the beach.

wp177 crab1I inspect another crab shell. This one has purple edges, a beaded texture and a coral center. White dots create an image of upraised arms releasing a dove-like spirit. I see God in everything.

wp177 spotted thumb crabI turn to go back. As I round the top of the first dune, I see no footsteps. Did the wind sweep them away, or have I lost my way in this vast landscape? I know I will eventually find my way back because Ten Mile River Bridge can be seen from a great distance and my car is parked at its southern tip.

I realize The Presence that guides me through the shifting, ever-changing landscape of life is solid and trustworthy. For I believe God is sand’s boss.

All photos © Sondra Sula

The Sacred Art of Beholding

wp176 measuring tape, leafHow does one measure beauty? Is it the length of a pine needle?

wp176 iris in pampasIs beauty more surprising, like an iris peeking out from a mound of withering pampas grass?

wp176 rhodo in sandIs it poignant, like a fallen rhododendron blossom crying in the sand?

wp176 2 pollen shapesOr is it mundane, like pollen gathering along the edges of a dried puddle?

wp176 2 gnome plantsIs it mysterious and unusual like a gnome plant pushing through the pygmy forest floor?

wp176 orange leaf in sandOr common, like a curled leaf dropped to the ground?

I believe beauty is all these things and more. It can only be measured by the beholder. Because ordinary or extraordinary are simply judgments we assign to nouns. Beauty is a way of seeing, not the seeing itself.

Join me in this sacred art of beholding. Its purpose will reveal itself in everything you see.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Spiritual Microclimates

wp175 redwoods, rhodiesMicroclimates abound in Mendocino County. On a short hike, one can experience several of them. On today’s walk, I begin in the redwood forest where tree trunks are moist and sunlight is only seen in shafts. Rhododendron are tall, but scraggly, as they twist and turn to find the sun.

wp175 2 slug, clewtoniaAt my feet, banana slugs creep across moss, sorrel and fallen needles. Forest detritus often collects at their tail ends as if they are carrying miniature firewood bundles home to create a cozy mood. Clintonia flowers shoot up from a swirl of flat leaves, bursting like magenta firecrackers from their muted backdrop.

wp175 2 pygmy white, pinkThe shift from damp to dry is quick. Trees transition from soaring to short, temperatures from cool to hot—darkness is completely dispelled. The pygmy forest comes into view. Diminutive bushes are abloom in white and pink.

wp175 pygmy rhodie pinkThe soil is hard as rock. The rhododendrons are stunted, but their flowers are just as lovely as their counterparts among the redwoods.

wp175 2 pygmy rhodie bloom, leavesSpring, summer and fall are united in a display of bud, bloom and colored leaf. I realize my devotional life can be rich and loamy or dry as bone. Multiple “seasons” can meld together. I can bud one day and bear fruit the next. The secret is to embrace all of my “spiritual microclimates” as they present themselves.

All photos © Sondra Sula.




wp174 rock, yellow flowersNews travels around here by word of mouth. While grocery shopping I overheard someone say that the remaining part of the coastal trail in Fort Bragg had finally been joined and one could now walk continuously from Todd’s Point to beyond Ward Avenue. Was this hearsay or true? I had to know.

wp174 shadow eyeI began my walk at the Noyo Headlands and soon found myself curving around a water treatment plant—not exactly scenic. But I noticed a sphere of light shining directly through a hole in a metal plate. It resembled an eye. We were eyeballing one another’s shadows.

wp174 puffI had to look for beauty where I could find it; a perfect seed head puff, creeping yellow bird’s foot trefoil.

wp174 2 eucalyptus leaf, cloverA eucalyptus leaf lay dying on the gravel path in subtle hues of mauve, sage and dusty ochre. Lavender clover thrust its red stems out in every direction—a starburst.

wp174 bird muralI turned a bend and saw that someone was in the process of creating a mural on a giant hunk of concrete. A woman walking by said it represented the bond with Otsuchi, our sister city in Japan.

wp174 2 borage, lavendarOnce I got into the groove, it was easier to spot the joining of drab and dazzling. Borage poked its blue head from the gravel as did some perky purple posies. Scrubby expanses were home to melilot, lupine and Johnny nip.

wp174 3 clover, lupine, yellowI realized it wasn’t just the path that joined, but also light and shadow, weeds and flowers, art and nature, sister cities… Unity. The hearsay was true.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Forest in Focus

wp173 leaf in trunkI was distracted, letting thoughts glide through my mind like snowflakes on a winter day. Snow. A normally refreshing thought in June, when temperatures begin to rise. But it was chilly among the redwoods and I decided to zip up my light jacket.

That’s when I saw it: a bright green leaf unfurling from the crack of a stump. The shape was like a teardrop, or a flame, or the empty shell of a roadside shrine waiting for its saint. This single leaf took me out of my whirling mind and brought the whole forest into focus.

wp173 2 twinberry, lavenderA twinberry flower, like a carnival hotdog, nearly poked me in the eye when I straightened up from bowing to zip my jacket. And once I was aware, a friendly lavender bloom—small and dainty—beckoned me to crouch down to its level and inspect its loveliness.

wp173 2 catkins, holly fluersAt my turnaround point, tall grass catkins glowed in the dappled light like frightened caterpillars. Oregon grape flowers opened their first set of yellow petals blushed in pink, but kept their centers held tight, waiting for warmer days to summon their release.

wp173 b slugThen a banana slug caught my eye. Its serpentine body moseyed along at a snail’s—or should I say slug’s—pace. I realized I, too, needed to take it slowly in body, mind and soul to savor the richness of life.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Come Join Me

wp172 2 radish path, lavendarCome join me on a path where the wild radish grow. Where flowers sprout from sheer rock cliffs.

wp172 seaweed pastedWhere purple seaweed ferns are decoupaged to rocks by the sea’s frothy fingers.

wp172 krillWhere miniscule krill feed the behemoths of the ocean.

wp172 mussel mouse earsWhere discarded mussel shells bury themselves in sand—mock mammal ears.

wp172 swirl woodVan Gogh’s Starry Night swirls upon a canvas of bleached driftwood.

wp172 barkAnd tree bark makes its mark in the world of abstraction.

wp172 2 wood, avalancheLet us sit together and contemplate Creator, creation. And as an avalanche of thoughts cascades down from its precarious mooring, hear its future silence after the crashing and tumbling. Center there, amid the movement of wind and wave. I will be doing the same.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

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