by Clara Klein
There is a mountain that overlooks the dusty desert valley of Las Vegas, Nevada. Only a short drive from the overrun city, climbing it, you enter another world. There are other mountain ranges that surround the neon city, but this one, Mount Charleston, is unlike any of the others. It is called a sky island for its unique features. Residents like to day trip there because they can play tennis in town in the morning and go skiing on the mountain in the afternoon. In the summer, it is a welcome respite from the overbearing heat of the Mojave desert. I travel there often.
Ascending the mountain’s slope, you travel through several different ecosystems, from desert scrub to ponderosa forest. At the very top lie the bristlecone pines, some of the oldest trees on the planet, deformed and clinging to life at the very edge of livability, the alpine tundra. But few people go that high. The most attractive area is the conifer forest at about 6000 – 8000 feet. Thick with acres and acres of white fir and foxtail, limber, and ponderosa pine, you can feel the viriditas at work. There, the deer and wild horses run, and a myriad of songbirds flit about. You won’t find that in the desert. It’s the ponderosa pine that really grabs my attention, one in particular.
I saw the tree from a distance, as I drove up the mountain slope. It stood out like a brown spike among the greenery. Defoliated at the top, but still bearing a few branches below, I could tell it was a survivor. It was located on the grounds of a summer camp where I worked many summers ago. At this time of year, the camp was deserted, and I entered solitude. This is a place of peace for me. The aroma of pine, the gentle wind through the needles, the soft ground and the dappled sunlight all enveloped me with serenity, but for that one tree. It was a large old tree that had been struck by lightning. It was amazing -the lightning strike hit the top and severed part of the crown, then proceeded in a circular motion down the trunk. It was as if God Himself pointed His finger at the tree and drew a swirl around it. “See, I am here,” the mark seemed to say.
I felt the tree was very special because it had been touched by the hand of God and had a special message for me. I could feel the power running through it. Though the blast had happened long ago, still electrons reverberated throughout it. It gave off a kind of energy. I laid down on the ground underneath the tree, looking up at its uneven crown. I saw all the life around me at ground level. Warmth filled me and I felt myself being absorbed into the ground itself. On the soft bed of pine needles, my energy was flowing out, but not being drained from me. It was as if my fingers had elongated and reached out to where a chipmunk spied from its hole. The vibration of the animal’s tiny steps reverberated back to me, ten feet away. Lying on that soft earthy bed, feeling the hum of the earth, I could dissolve right into it, my body absorbed into the ecosystem and my spirit floating, watching from above. I felt as if I could die there, as I was becoming part of the forest. Because it would not be death per se – only the corps of me that would fall away into the earth, and the electricity in me that would reach out into the rest of the universe and back to God, the source.
Reticent to leave, I pulled myself away from my cradle and stood up. But I needed to remember this experience. While I examined the lightning tree one more time on my way out, a piece of burnt bark came loose. Sheepishly tucking the memento into my knapsack, I carried it like a holy offering. I keep that piece of the disembodied bark with me. It speaks to me of the hand of God, always in my life, and I remember when I went up to His holy mountain and worshipped Him there.
Clara Klein has been a freelance writer for over 30 years. Retired from a career in natural resources, she is currently writing about Christian ecospirituality topics.