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Friday, March 22, 2019

Balm to the Soul, Piscean or Otherwise

On bank of San Pedro River
Philadelphia Wash
 The Artist is a Pisces, the fish loves water, and Arizona is, as its very name suggests, a pretty dry state, an arid zone. Outside our ghost town cabin, the Philadelphia Wash (named for the defunct Philadelphia Mine back in the Dos Cabezas Mountains) is a dry wash for all the months we’re in residence. When summer thunderstorms arrive, the wash will rage with flash flood torrents, but we won’t be here to see it. And so we plot expeditions — you might even say we make pilgrimages — to places with water. And we visit an old monastery over on the other side of the Dragoon Mountains so often we might be mistaken for postulants. 

Trinity Monastery, a Benedictine establishment, in recent years saw its last four monks moved elsewhere, but the property is still managed as a retreat center and spiritual refuge. As for the monastery waters, when we visited in previous years the Artist and I knew only the small pond in the meditation garden, with the spring (we assumed it was a spring) that fed the pond from higher ground, but the garden was a jewel we cherished, because as much as the Artist’s soul is fed by water, mine is nourished by trees. A friend of mine from Tucson was also charmed by the monastery when she and I visited it together last year, and she and I made a return visit, also, earlier this year. The gated garden surrounding the pond is provided with benches, facilitating meditation, prayer, reading, or quiet conversation, but this year my friend and I explored instead the birding trail along the San Pedro River. As spring came near, the Artist and I returned to do the same, grateful for a narrow channel of running water sparkling in the sun. Our monasterial (my word) horizons were widening.

Sargent Cypress from California?

There is a little thrift shop on the monastery grounds and another, smaller building announcing with a simple sign “USED BOOKS.” From the beginning, we have been patrons of both. My Tucson friend and I also find treasures in the official “Bookstore” and office building, the first encountered on entrance, where pecans grown on the property are for sale, as well as bread baked on the premises, honey, pistachios, religious books, cards, medals, and beautiful notecards with watercolor scenes. 

And this year the Artist and I happily made a new discovery. Up a short path from the parking area is a sanctuary within a sanctuary, consisting basically of a much larger, more open pond set aside especially for birds. (Did St. Francis whisper this idea to st. Benedict?) Giant cottonwoods stand at the far end, their great size and huge missing limbs giving them an ancient look, with plenty of shade along one side and benches strategically placed to take advantage of it. Here, besides all the reasons one might seek repose in the meditation garden, birds are a major attraction. American coots glide and dive for food. A great white egret often shares a small island with a statue of the Blessed Mother. Smaller birds flit and call and sing among the greenery. Also, up a slope from the pond, hidden from the parking lot by a beautiful chapel, is a sweet little cemetery. In a turbulent world, every aspect of the monastery grounds exudes peace and soothes the soul.

Walking around the pond for the first time on our most recent visit, we were delighted to discover Asian carp, “just like the ones at Versailles!” Now the Piscean soul really came alive! Actually, both of us were energized and at the same time calmed by the sight of these graceful beauties. We watched them for quite a long time. I also watched reflections of clouds on the surface of the pond.

On the sunny side of the pond is a beautiful building in Southwest style that we approached for the first time on our most recent visit, having previously only admired it across the water. The Artist wanted to explore at closer range. I hung back at first, employing my camera from below, but when he assured me the building was not currently in use I joined him on the patio. How lovely! 

The individual doors on the right leading to — cells? Was this the monks’ residence? Left of the open-air corridor is a courtyard. Is the building now used for retreats or not at all? “Wouldn’t this be just perfect?” I couldn’t help exclaiming. Everything was there — sunny Mediterranean warmth, beautiful water reflecting trees and clouds, the birds, the fish — surely there would be room for a couple of horses somewhere on the grounds!

We really could live there, the Artist and I. Not “could” in the sense that there is any possibility of it, but in the sense that it would be a dream come true, yes, that’s what I mean. Luckily for us, we have always had a rich fantasy life, and we return to our simpler life not discontented with it but all the more richly satisfied with our lot for having briefly imagined another life.


Dawn said...

This is just beautiful. We were supposed to be in AZ next week, not going to happen for a number of reasons. I'm sad, but at least I can live vicariously through you! Thanks for taking me along.

Julia Brabenec said...

Oh Pamela!! I am transported there by the exquisite beauty of your words and photos. To know such a place exists fills my heart.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn and Julia, I am delighted to have your company and to share my discoveries with you! There is so much beauty in the world. We must never forget that.