The Swiss Spiritual Experience

Hofkirche in Luzern, Schweiz = Lucerne Church of St. Leodegar, Switzerland

It was eleven am on a Sunday morning in Lucerne, Swizterland, and church bells were calling across the city, drawing the faithful to the steps of Hofkirche St. Leodegar.  A motion of energy, the click clack of women’s heels, the compulsion that led me to try to open the doors of every church I saw in my week in this country, the timing of events all pulled me along with the others in the vicinity to enter the ornate wooden doors and find our own personal wooden seat for Mass.

This cathedral, a distinctive site on the Lucerne skyline, had been calling people in this same manner since at least 1639, if not before in its many manifestations as an Benedictine abbey, monastery and universal church going back to the 8th century.

As the service began, a line of altar boys entered the space in front of the altar from the right hand side, followed by an elderly priest.  They formed a half circle in front of the altar, the priest in the middle in a green and white sash.  The service began with music, followed by a reading.  It was not in English, but if I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could almost follow along.

My mind drifted back on some of the experiences from my trip. In Basel, I had walked nine miles over six hours, experiencing as much as I could soak up in the time I had.  During that time, I stopped by the Basel Minster, a long-standing cathedral, marveling at the vastness of the holy space.  As I had approached the altar, I felt I could even hear the remnants of past music, the whispers of past voices.  I saw motion to my right, and realized it was not the past leaving its prints, but rather the present, as the music was coming from a woman softly playing a song on the organ.

The whispers were those of courteous and reverent voices of other visitors in the second seating area behind the altar.  I was curious about the second set of pews behind the altars in some of the churches that I saw, and I learned later it was to separate the rich from the poor during services.

In Elizabethenkirche, musicians were playing a concert near the altar.  I entered the coffee shop in the back corner and ordered a latte, then sat at one of the two tables inside the corner of the church to enjoy a respite from my walk and appreciate the music.  In the opposite corner, there was a sign indicating one could climb up the winding staircase(s) to the tower, so I started up.  The staircase started winding tighter and tighter in the ascent, and at some point, my courage failed me and I decided I would rather not get wedged up there.  I had the image of myself stuck somewhere near the top and no one to hear my plaintive cries for help. Perhaps I just got scared of losing my footing on the slippery stairs, or maybe it was the fear of heights that stopped me.  At any rate, my heart was beating fast as I made my slow, careful descent.

Two mornings later, I was taking an early morning walk in Interlaken when I noticed a peculiar site in the distance; two churches of distinctly different architecture sharing the same skyline.  I walked past fancy hotels and through a park to get over to that area to satisfy my curiosity. First, I came across what appeared to be an old monastery or convent attached to a Catholic church, plain and simple in details in the inside.  Next to it stood a Protestant church, the two having shared the skyline and property for hundreds of years in harmony.  The Schlosskirche, as this area is called, first housed 30 monks and then 300 nuns starting in the eleventh century.  Later, Reformation swept through Europe and the Protestant church was built.

Their harmonious dichotomy seemed in line with that in my heart, part skeptic and part saint.  The night before, I was stopped on the way to a bierhaus by a couple who asked me to participate in a survey on faith.  The first question had me rank how religious I was on a scale of 0-10.  I rated myself a 7, but then started to question this myself as the following questions dealt with my actual adherence to religious practices.  How regularly do you go to church?  How often do you read your Bible?  Have you ever committed these sins (list)?  Do you believe you will go to Heaven, and if so, (reflecting on these admissions of sins), why?

One of the questions dealt with how I viewed Jesus, and it was this thought, plus that of my cultural conditioning and spiritual upbringing, that I was contemplating on during my mental wandering in the Sunday Mass, perhaps seasoned with good old Catholic guilt.  Perhaps I had just viewed too much iconography during this week of exploring Switzerland.  I had answered that I thought of Jesus as a prophet, as a teacher, as the “Lamb of God”.  During the biblical age, lambs were brought into the temples as blood sacrifices, their bodies wasted as their throats were sliced open.  Jesus was not meek, though, in the spirit of lambs, but rather stood firm against the misrepresentations of faith.  He raged like a lion against the money changers in the temple, and refused to back down to the Pharisees.

Perhaps I had just been touched by the imagery of the Lion of Lucerne, a monument to the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution.  I had literally just come from the Lion Monument before the church service, and couldn’t help linking the spear in the lion’s side and the tears rolling down his cheek to the day of the Crucifixion. The conflicting feelings of lamb and lion I felt inside of me, my forgiveness towards those who sinned against me and yet anger at being treated badly, as well as the call to purity and to a sinful nature. I had on one hand the understanding that religion might just be a human construct to make peace with our own mortality, but on the other the feeling of faith in my heart that could not be quenched with reason and a guilt for not having been attending church on the regular.

All these thoughts and more stirred up inside me as the choir picked up, first a harmony of female voices to the left of me, then the deep bass of men’s voices on the right accompanying them, with a touch of organ or orchestra mixed it.  The music intensified my feelings, and I felt a single tear roll down my face, like the one carved into the Lion.  I wiped it off and it was time to leave, but the marks on my heart might stay behind.


Cascade Falls, California

I found myself with some time to myself on the back end of a work trip to Reno, about 23 hours worth. I decided to use that time to explore the Lake Tahoe area, a place I had heard mentioned so many times but had never been.

If you have never been, you should go. I don’t care who you are, you should go. I made some loose plans and didn’t have an expectation of what I was going to see, so all things were a marvelous discovery, from the drive in (after a sideline journey through Carson City) along the Clear Creek area that follows along Hwy 50, a road that wraps around a mountainous grade, to the picturesque drive through Zephyr Cove.  My hotel wasn’t much to rave about (Howard Johnson), but it was walking distance to a public beach access.

I checked that out first, and was brave enough to enter the cold, clear water.  I floated around a bit, marveling at the mountains around us and how relaxing it was there in the water.  I could have stayed longer, but I felt a pull to go hiking or at least geocaching up in the Emerald Bay area.  So after about 45 minutes at the beach, I got out of the water and changed my clothes into something dry and headed out that direction in my rental car.

I drove out of the touristy area that included little shops, hotels and restaurants, and headed further down a road that turned into more of a camping and outdoor recreation area.  Bear signs started to appear, and hiking and biking trails looked like an inviting place to explore.  Signs about Pope Beach and Baldwin Beach beckoned, but I was on a mission to get to a couple of geocaches with high favorite points.  One was a virtual at the Emerald Bay overlook.  This view was so beautiful, and I could have have stayed here a while, but the pull to explore further was strong.
I was trying to find the best place to park to look for an allegedly awesome regular sized geocache, and ended up in the trailhead parking in the Bayview Campground. After parking and looking around, I realized this was not the right spot to approach the geocache. However, I saw a sign that said “Cascade Falls”, with an arrow pointing in a direction that I felt a pull to go. I debated on the wisdom of this decision. I was not actually prepared for a hike. I hadn’t packed any of the ten essentials. I really wanted to know what was down that trail, though.
I saw a man coming back down the path, and I asked him how far away the falls were. “About a mile,” he answered. I asked him if the trail was hard. “It’s not hard…but there are a lot of rocks”. Okay, not sure what to do with that information, but I decided to roll with the “not hard” part and ignore the “lot of rocks” part. Later, I was cursing myself for ignoring the latter…but I made it back safely enough to write this little story a couple of weeks later so it’s not like it killed me. Although I did feel like it tried.

The trail started out very nice, and I wondered what rocks the man was talking about as I strolled along a soft pine covered trail.  It was everything I wanted it to be: a soft forest trail with a view of a glistening lake, and snow peaked caps teasing me in the distance.  Eventually, though, rocks began to appear, just a few here and there that I needed to work around.  The soft forest floor began to be replaced with uneven stones.  I had to concentrate on not falling, and on listening for sounds of bear and making sounds of my own to send them notice in case they were there (not sure how much of a danger it was, but there were bear boxes in the campground and signs all about).


I came upon just a handful of hikers along the way.  Towards the end of the hike, I asked a couple how much farther it was, and the man gave me some tips about how to approach the falls, that there was a way to follow the water down below the trail to get above them.  I followed his advice, as well as steering towards another family who had already made their way to the top of the falls.  I even took a family photo for them.  Another couple arrived shortly after, and I was caught off guard by a smell after they had found a cozy spot to sit above the falls.  I kept forgetting that marijuana is legal for recreational use in California, as it was a common smell I kept coming across during this trip.  And why not.

I could have spent some time marveling at the flow of the water from these little creek-like flows down to the torrent that raged down the mountain, but I did start to worry about making my way back before dark, and I really should have brought some water with me.  I headed back, feeling glad I made it all the way to the falls but also being annoyed with myself for not coming prepared to hike.  Also, I should have taken some safety precautions, like at least sending Jason a ping to know where I was.  I kind of didn’t want to make him jealous of my good time, and also didn’t slow down enough to concentrate on that task.

I came across some young people taking selfies on top of the boulders, and I felt my age and maturity as I lumbered past them, probably flush faced and open mouth breathing.  After some time lurching around the rocks, I finally made it back to the soft forest again.

I finally make it back to parking and realized the best parking for that geocache was at the overlook where I started.  I found it and it was totally amazing.  In the end, I felt very happy with my experience.

When I returned from my trip, I told a couple of friends about this, and both of them acted like I was completely crazy for making that hike.  One of that never would have considered that adventure in the first place, and the other one would not have attempted it without a friend/companion along for safety.

I am not a person who has been afraid to have adventures alone, for better or worse.  My sense of adventure has always been higher than my fear of danger, I suppose, and I don’t let things like not having a companion stop me.  I like exploring new towns, trails, places by myself, although there are times I have felt like I wished I had a friend with me.  When I was driving around Reno looking for the wild horses, I had a strong feeling of wishing Jason was with me, but I think it was mostly because I think he would have really enjoyed it (well, and also he makes me laugh). We couldn’t afford to all come along, though. I did invite my exhusband’s sister to join me on my trip in Reno, but she couldn’t/didn’t commit and then wasn’t answering my calls before my trip. It would have been fun to share that experience with Jason or my former sister in law, or any of my friends, but that is not the way it played out and I wasn’t willing to sit alone in my hotel lamenting the lack of a friend.
I saw some great views, had a good time by myself, and, when I got back into the town area, had a killer eggplant parm sandwich for dinner. I can’t wait to go back someday and bring my family to see this area. Also, I have some unfinished business there, which I will explain about in a later post.


Krause Springs

Krause Springs is not for the weak.  It is not for the very young, or the very old.  It’s not handicapped accessible, or even that easy for those with balance issues.

There are slick spots.  There are sharp spots.  There are shallow parts and there are deep parts.  In order to get to some of the good spots, one might have to walk carefully over algae covered rocks, delicately walk across a balance beam-style concrete ledge, walk across fine little pebbles that cut into your feet, and dance around cypress tree roots.  You might have to lay down on your belly and climb up along rock faces, scramble a bit for good footing, which is what is going on in the picture above (no toddlers were injured in the making of this picture, although it seemed likely at some points).

In order to get in the water, you might have to carefully feel your water across the roots, and perhaps suddenly slide into spongy vegetation on the river bottom.  Or perhaps you might be standing on a rock ledge, then take a step further and sink into an abyss of unknown depth.  Perhaps, if you are very brave, you might get into the water by swinging off a rope from the top of the ridge, after having to climb your way up there along rocks and stand in a long line of others trying to prove their mettle.  If you are interested in a further challenge, you might enter the cold river by throwing your body off the ridge, slightly higher up.  The fact that we didn’t see anyone get injured this way is a testament to how deep the water is in certain parts.

For those in the 5-35 age range (with no physical handicaps), this place is great fun.  The kids in our group had a great time.  The two of us who were parenting a toddler were experiencing some stress trying to keep him safe.

Initially, I took him down to the river access area on my own, while my friend and her husband where with the older kids and my husband was still getting dressed.  I went for the obvious choice on where to enter the water – the first area you come to as you come down the steps on the far left, which looked fairly shallow.  I even asked some folks how deep it was and they said it was shallow there.  I got in first, and then stepped back a foot to allow the toddler room to follow me.  Only, it turns out I had been standing on a ledge that only extended about that first foot, and suddenly I was flailing a bit as I sunk into questionably deep waters.  My toddler, showing some good sense here, stepped back and said “No like river!” and then refused to come in, even when I got back in control and on the ledge.

After this, we tried the swimming pool area.  The pool is fed by the natural springs, and is very cold!  It has a gradually increasing depth, being about 2″ deep on one side and possibly 6-8″ deep on the other side.  On the deep side, kids lined up along the rocks forming the back ledge and jumped into the water, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in a group.  There are two ladders into the pool, and other than that, the whole surface is straight concrete and rock base.   We tried to cajole the toddler into the pool, but he dipped his feet in, felt the temperature, and said, “I no like pool!”.

We eventually got him in both places, but only for short times. A nice picnic was had by all parties. Some resting might have occurred by various parties while I was chasing the toddler around the grounds. He made friends with a three year old girl in the gazebo, although he might need a little work on his game (she had a scratch on her face, and his only lines he could come with were “Hi” and “You have owie on face. Are you okay?”). We admired the interesting features on the stone benches and planters (squirrels harvesting acorns and lion’s faces carved into them). We experienced all the grounds, including the incredible butterfly garden at the entry way when we arrived.

It was a very pretty place, although quite crowded on a summer Saturday.It was a good place to experience, a place we would go again, but probably not until several years from now, when little Sebastian is not so little and the place seems a little less fraught with danger.

Estero Llano State Park, in Photos

*not pictured:  the Common Pauraque that we only observed from the ranger’s scope, nor the Golden Fronted Woodpeckers that were often seen, some even from just outside our hotel, and many others

Cinnamon Teal
Common Yellowthroat
Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Eastern Screech Owl (in the nesting box)
Tri-Colored Heron with Alligator escort
Another Alligator Friend
Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
Northern Shoveler and Mottled Duck
Northern Shovelers
Least Grebe
One of the three variety of teals that are park residents
Talk about having your ducks in a row!
Somewhere in this picture, a White Faced Ibis is hiding
We all marveled at this lovely turtle