August 22, 2014 - Nambe Lake

Taibai asked Baso in all earnestness, "What is Buddha?"
Baso answered, "This very mind is Buddha."
Mumonkan case 30

Dear Sangha and Friends,

Six companions joined me on Saturday for a hike to Nambe Lake. This is popular hike from the Santa Fe Ski Basin that I haven't done for decades, if ever. I have preferred hikes off-trail in more remote locations for the solitude and adventure, so now that I am aging and my stamina is diminished I have the opportunity to discover nearby trail hikes.

Day Hikes In The Santa Fe Area, the Sierra Club guide book, lists this seven mile hike as "moderate", but I haven't attempted a hike from 10,250' to 11,400' since the latest depredations of old age. The trail goes up and down and then up again to the lake for a total elevation gain of over 2,000 vertical feet and I approached it wondering how difficult it would be for me and how long it would take.

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We walked through the forest under a cloudless sky up to the Pecos Wilderness boundary, then down the steep trail to the Rio Nambe. From here a trail climbs for perhaps a mile and a half to the lake. We stopped to rest in a meadow less than a half mile up this trail where I suggested that on the way back we might head off trail, following the contours of the north slope of Raven's Ridge back to the wilderness boundary. This would avoid a steep, rocky uphill stretch on the Winsor Trail and afford us the pleasure of encountering the forest directly and intimately.

The lake is at the foot of Lake Peak, which thrusts up above the forest in this photo.

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After the meadow the trail becomes quite steep, closely following the stream, and the terrain changes to granite cliffs and talus slopes. I had to go slowly, and after a few minutes of climbing I would have to stop because my legs simply refused to work. The way I felt immediately upon stopping might best be characterized as dumfounded. I would look around me in a kind of daze, unable to think or consider, only able to take in what I saw, felt, heard. I soon regained cognitive capacity and when I tried to make sense out of what was happening I decided that whatever part of myself makes these sorts of decisions said, "Sorry brain, legs need more blood, I'm reducing your supply." Brain would accept this for awhile and then assert its priority rights with, "OK, enough, I need more blood and legs will have to go on short supply." This went on all the way to the lake and I arrived an hour and a half after the rest of the group. All except for Max, who insisted on staying with me. I assured him that he could go on ahead but he said he likes to know what is happening to the person at the end of the line.

Evan Thompson, a Buddhist philosopher, says that the popular idea of mind as a function of brain is decidedly wrong.
...cognition is a form of embodied action. 'Embodied' means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; 'action' means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central.
and
What's important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning.
Tricycle Fall 2014

I had a powerful, visceral experience of this climbing to Nambe Lake. The decision making process by which I walked or stopped was determined by my brain, my body, and the steepness of the trail. When I stopped and couldn't think at all my mind shifted to receptive mode and the components of the environment flowed into me without passing the gate of thought. I am clumsy writing about this but the experience was seamless and my sense of mind as embodied in brain, body, and environment was vivid.

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 I stopped to gaze at this boulder, where the flow when this rock was magma in the fierce heat of the deep earth is revealed in the frozen stone.

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Late summer, and the abundance of wildflowers of a few weeks ago has begun to diminish. Even as the blossoms of this composite are shriveling a tiny butterfly finds nourishment in the disk flowers. The butterfly, too, will soon reach the end of its brief life and the flower's nectar will become food for the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to the next generation of butterfly..

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.
~ Iris Murdoch

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Wherever water encounters steep mountain slopes there are cataracts, and the displays created by water tumbling over rock and falling into pools always fascinate us. They are simply beautiful, of course, but there seems to be more to the fascination they hold for us. Perhaps in their rush and song they suggest the freedom and abandon that we would all like to feel.

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With the summer rains all sorts of mushrooms are pushing up through the forest floor. These have found shelter in a niche created by the roots of a ponderosa. I was moved by the contrast between the strong, rough roots of a tree that is probably well over a hundred years old and the soft, ephemeral mushrooms that chose protection here.

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Finally, the lake in the cirque below Lake Peak, where I could rest, eat lunch, and delight in alpine beauty.

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Nambe Lake is shallow, well on its way to becoming a meadow. This is the fate of all such lakes as rain, wind, and snow grind away at the mountain and deposit the results of their activity in the lake. There may be no fish in such a shallow lake, but there are plenty of salamanders swimming about

in the muddy shallows.

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After lunch, we headed back down the steep, rocky trail, past the granite cliffs, and soon reached the meadow. As we had planned, we left the trail and headed west along the flank of Raven's Ridge. Without a prepared trail the terrain changes step by step. Sometimes we were on steep gravel slopes, that require careful placement of each foot; sometimes almost level, walking easily on soft, springy duff. There are always trees to navigate over and around, and sometimes rock fields to challenge our footing. I love this sort of travel, requiring, as Dogen says, "fully engaging body and mind."

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Different sorts of mushrooms appeared here, like this beautiful hawkswing.

At one point Nancy whispered, "Look!"
"Where?" I said.
"There, on the ground."

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 The blue grouse was so well camouflaged that I didn't see her until she moved. She became more visible when she moved from the brown forest litter onto green ground cover and I followed her carefully and quietly, photographing her as she grazed. Most birds and animals avoid people and trails and one of the delights of off-trail travel is happening upon them in their habitat.

 Walking off trail is necessarily slower than on trail travel, but we finally reached the Winsor Trail not far from the wilderness boundary at Raven's Ridge, thus avoiding the steep, climb up from the Rio Nambe. Since I am so slow now it was a long day for a modest hike but, according to report, everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly. I have a better idea now of my capacity to climb at these altitudes. I would like to climb Lake Peak one more time, but that is a thousand vertical feet above Nambe Lake, although no farther from the ski basin trailhead. Perhaps.