My tracks from yesterday were gone,
Obliterated under countless other shoe prints
And cross-country ski marks
And snowshoe treads.
It was hard to know that I had been this way only the day before
Except for my memory of the warm, wet pine smell,
The snow crystals and deep blue sky,
The birds’ song,
The rumblings of rock and ice breaking off the rock faces.
What mark was there to prove that I was there?
That I came this way on an early spring day in late February
With snow on the ground?
My mark was gone
Indistinguishable from other footprints who had also traveled the way.
Is this what it will be like after my death?
A day, a week, a year after I am in the ground
What mark will I have left on the surface of the hearts of those who knew me?
Of those who didn’t?
Will my life be obliterated by the passing of hundreds of others on the path of life
While I now lie back in the dust from which I was formed?
At a garage sale at the retirement home years ago,
I bought a metal box that held photographic slides.
(I am dating myself.)
In it were the pictures of someone’s trip to Hawaii.
I dumped them in the trash.
What else was there to do?
They meant nothing to me
But that action has continued to haunt me all these years.
Was there no one who wanted those memories?
All memories die with their creator.
All tracks in the snow melt into oblivion.
Will the birds remember I walked by?


copyright Valerie E. Hess 2015

It is snowing, again, here at this old house. We got quite a dump at the beginning of the week as well, one of those storms where an inch was predicted but ended up breaking a record for snowfall for that day. Here at this old house, we had nearly a foot! This current storm is supposed to bring us a lot but Mother Nature is not always predictable. We are no where close to what Boston has but we have a lot more snow right now than the Sierra’s do! Relatives in California say the drought there is scary. Municipalities are running out of water and are having to truck it in, with no relief in sight. The southwest corner of Colorado is also in a drought. It helps me understand what may have caused the Pueblo people of the Mesa Verde area to abandon their homes: a lack of rainfall for several years in a row equals death.

It is interesting to think of all of this in light of tomorrow’s Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent: Mark 1: 9-15–

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

I have been to the Judean wilderness and it is not the deserts we think of here in the United States. The deserts here are, for the most part, lovely in their own way, with flora and fauna that inspire great metaphors. In the Judean wilderness, the rocks have trouble surviving! Truly, nothing grows there except around the oases, which are few and far between. The Dead Sea is the symbol of that wilderness, a body of water that is lifeless.

I find it fascinating that Jesus goes into that place of barren death immediately after he hears God pronounce him “the Beloved.” That hardly seems like a way to learn about and embrace one’s belovedness. Yet, it is in that wilderness that the essence of life itself and, particularly, our individual life, is revealed. When water, food and shelter are at a premium, one quickly becomes aware of the difference between needs and wants. When there is nothing to distract me from myself, I come face-to-face with my true self, for good and for ill.

At the end of this forty day time of fasting in a desolate place, Jesus is at his strongest, more able to counter the derailing attacks Satan tries to use on him.  Perhaps one definition of temptation might be anything that attempts to side-track us from who God created us to be, from our own belovedness as God’s children, from taking the true path and not a “short-cut” that ends up being a trap.

When we understand deeply our status as God’s beloved children, when we aren’t dependent on the props of life to shore up a low-self esteem, when we can function more out of our true self and not from our false self, we are less likely to succumb to tempting short-cuts and sidetracks. As Isaiah 35: 1-2 promises,

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.

Or as the prophet says earlier, in Isaiah 1:18, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow:” a good metaphor as I watch the snow piling up outside, bringing the promise of water for the future.

Happy Valentine’s Day from us in this old house! As is often the case, Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that began as Christian and morphed into commercial. There was a St. Valentine, a Roman martyr from the third century, whose life and work is now lost in legend and murky details. The original Valentine’s Day may have been a remembrance by the Christian community of Valentine’s death or burial. It may also have been “an effort to ‘Christianize’ the pagan celebration of Lupercalia…a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.” In the Middle Ages, the belief that February 14th was the day the birds chose their mates took hold, making Valentine’s Day more about romance and not martyrdom (though sometimes it might be difficult to distinguish between the two).

Does any of this history make any difference to us today? None of us, I suspect, would change the way we celebrated (or not) knowing these interesting bits of back-story. Yet, for me, this kind of background gives some depth to a day that can otherwise be another over-the-top exercise in commercialism. Knowing that this day comes originally from the death of someone who loved God more than life itself can keep the definition of “love” from becoming “50 Shades of Gray.”

Ash Wednesday is this coming week and with it, the beginning of the 40 Days of Lent. Ash Wednesday is really a better way to define love, unconditional love, in my opinion, than today’s version of Valentine’s Day. While sending hearts and flowers on a day in which Christ-followers are marked with dust in remembrance of death may be too much of a disconnect, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remember today next Wednesday. After the flowers have wilted and the chocolate has become excess calories, we again remember True Love’s incarnation with Ash Wednesday. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:7-8 “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Now that is a Valentine’s Day greeting that will last!


Record high temperatures have been set here at this old house this week. 70 degrees one day! I love Colorado winters: lots of sun, at times, lots of snow, and temperatures that swing between pretty darn cold to spring-like.  With over 300 days of sun or partial sun, Colorado is a great place to be in the winter.

My creative juices have been flowing as well. I finally found the “key” to the women’s retreat I am leading in March. For a long time, I was all over the map with ideas, sticking things down on paper (via the computer–what would the modern term for this be?!), moving, deleting, mental antennae up every where I went, looking for the “hook.” The trick in a one day retreat is to limit the possible material available to share on a given topic. Too much information is as frustrating for attendees as too little. Power points are off-putting for a time of reflection, in my opinion. Some rich, meaty morsels of thought followed by a time of personal reflection gives the right balance to an event like this. And hand-outs. Real paper hand-outs. Many people still respond to the comfort of having something they can take home, look at easily again, share with someone else without having to gather around the computer screen.

I also created my first Shutterfly photo album. I had a coupon for a “free” book (I had to pay the shipping, which wasn’t particularly cheap) and so I tackled the project one night. It took me a while to figure out how to work with Shutterfly. I am pretty computer savvy but uploading or downloading media is a “squishy” spot for me. I can really get myself tangled up in the links, especially trying to download music. One of the things I like to do is take photos of art pieces that speak to me and so, for this book, I gathered some of the photos from my recent museum visits.

Here are some of the photos I put in: 2015-01-23 11.13.13The under-carving of an old seat for the monks’ section of the church, found in The Cloisters Museum in New York City. The Cloisters is hard to get to, it is way north of Museum Mile, but so worth it. Another gift from the Rockefellers, it is dedicated to Medieval Art. The walls are bits of ruined and abandoned monasteries imported from Europe and the collection contains, among other things, the famous Unicorn Tapestries. My favorite piece there is this carved boxwood rosary bead that is 2 1/16″ in diameter:




















I love Roman glass and so was thrilled to see this special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This kind of display always makes me wonder what people will be looking at in museums 500 years from now, things that we are using today.




I also love “ethnic” art, this being from the South Pacific Islands in the room at the MMA dedicated to Michael Rockefeller, who died while on a collection and study trip of native cultures.




I ended the book with Mother Nature’s handiwork: Horseshoe Falls at sunrise from our hotel window.

IMG_1300Though I spend hours working on a computer, I like books: the smell, the feel, the cover, the end papers, the ease they are compared to reading on a Kindle or computer. (I can hear the arguments now to the contrary!) While Shutterfly works on photo paper, which isn’t all that elegant, to have a photo album with a few of my favorite pictures is a real treat.

It is good to be back in this old house after a week of being on the road. After a trip like this, I am always reminded of how convenient this old house is, despite its small size. Compared to a motel room ,especially a very small one in pricey New York City,  it is a mansion! And the ability to cook is a gift. No matter how good a restaurant might be, eating out constantly becomes tiresome and, ultimately, not all that healthy unless you are paying a lot of attention to what you are eating and how it is prepared.

That said, we had a wonderful time in New York City and Niagara Falls. The Falls were quite moving for me, especially the section where one stands right next to where Horseshoe Falls goes over the edge. It made me shake with excitement and fear. Having read of some of the accidents and stunts done at those falls, I tried to envision what it must feel like to be swept over a cliff by an unstoppable force like that. Being close to the power of nature after being in a powerful American city for four days was a study in contrasts. One is unpredictable; one more controlled. One created by God; one created by humanity. Both alive and moving 24/7 but in very different forms. Each overwhelming and even scary but for very different reasons. I think it is good, when possible, to follow up a trip to a place like New York City, where one can get heady with humanity’s potential achievements, for good and for ill, with a solid dose of Nature. It really puts the other into clear perspective.

That said, Grand Central Station in New York also moved my soul in unexpected ways. On February 2, 2013, Grand Central Station opened. In honor of the anniversary, a major renovation was undertaken and the building is magnificent. I don’t know why but while exploring it, I was overcome with emotion. It is a beautiful building and one that is very functional. A lot of people traverse its halls everyday heading to and from trains. There are lovely shops and some decent places to eat but the grandeur of the main hall caused my spirit to soar. God is the first Creator and invites us to create beauty as well. I think Grand Central Station is a testimony to what human beings can do well when they put their minds to it.

The final place that felt “thin” to me, that is, where I felt closer to another realm of existence, was during the Eucharist at St. Mary the Virgin. There is a reason why it is nicknamed “Smokey Mary.” The picture below is what it looked like once the thurible was fully heated up.  St. Mary the Virgin is an Anglo-Catholic community, meaning that it is an Episcopal Church but more Roman Catholic in practice than many Roman Catholic parishes! Worship was a full sung mass, the main parts offered by a professional choir using a setting by Orlando de Lassus, though the congregation had plenty of involvement with singing and responses of their own.  And incense! Lots and lots of incense. The smell of incense immediately transports me to a heavenly realm. I appreciated being in worship without having to worry about the flow of the service, as I do each week in my day job as a professional church musician. I could simply absorb what was going on and I think that contributed to my feeling a bit “transported” at one point.

We also managed to dodge snowstorms on the East Coast during the trip. We got out of New York City before the big storm hit and we left Buffalo in clear but cold weather, with snow coming in the next day. I love going new places, seeing and doing new things, but it is also nice to come back to a normal routine again. This old house may not be everyone’s “cup of tea” but for me, it is home.

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