Whispering Bells


 “Why is it, that when we talk to God, we are said to be praying, but when God talks to us, we’re Schizophrenic?”

-Lily Tomlin


Rising abruptly east of San Francisco, is Mount Diablo, and from its’ shoulders, the city can be seen, floating on its’ famous fog. If you happen to be there at sunset, during the correct time of year, on the right side of the mountain, the sun sets perfectly, in the gap they call the Golden Gate. The Pacific frames the whole with a gentle curve along the horizon as if there were only this one city, in all the world.

The mountain is aptly named, as it is normally dry, hot and dusty. Climbing to the peak is an arid feat of endurance and for wildlife, it offers mostly spiders, scorpions, and rattlesnakes…with an occasional coyote.

I felt at home.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a Spanish general came up this mountain, on his way to attack a tribe of Indians, and climbing the trail, they encountered a Shaman “clad in striking plumage”, whom they took for the devil…hence the name. They decided to retreat…Spaniards have a long familiarity with satanic appearance. 

California has had its’ share of devilish fires. The “gold in them thar hills”, are the warm amber tones of a landscape parched to eager tinder by the hot summer wind. The first rain after a forest fire produces a profusion of small lilies called fire-followers. Several varieties of delicate blooms scatter themselves among the bones of a burnt forest. The soft yellow flowers seen in Central California are named whispering bells…and conjure a quiet and secret rebirth. They covered the hillside where I sat, leaning my back against the charcoaled remnants of a sturdy oak.

Satisfied that my burnt perch seemed free of snakes and devils, I sat for a couple of hours reading and alternately gazing at the city in the distance. I thought of Oz, as I had come up the mountain seeking solitude, and respite from the flying monkeys in my head.

When I finally got up to leave, I straightened toward the trail, and standing before me was a monk…in purple and orange robes…not plumage exactly, but looking very elegant in his ropes and beads. He looked up at me and down at my book, and asked what I was reading. As I showed him the book, five or six young men, also in robes, came up the trail behind him. They kept their distance, and hovered in a small group about fifty feet away. He seemed to ignore them.

The book was called Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, the third in a series of manuscript translations by W. Evans-Wentz. The first two books were tracts on reality, and had afforded me certain strange experiences which I was having trouble understanding. I expressed this to the monk, and he told me he had known the author, so we discussed nothingness for a good fifteen minutes, while his disciples patiently baked in the sun. He talked in a quiet, sweet way, almost in a melodic whisper, and I think I derived more from his demeanor than his words. After all, what can you say about nothing? It just is.

Or isn’t.

The oddest thing about it all, was how perfectly normal it felt. Neither of us was surprised at finding the other, as if we simply resumed a conversation we were having before. I was twelve thousand miles from Tibet, a near antipode on the globe, when he showed up like a library monitor, and it seemed that the book itself had drawn him to me.

We parted ways, as if we would see each other again, although I knew that wasn’t likely. Sometimes, life teaches you when you stop looking…by chance or choice.   He was headed up with his entourage, and I was headed down alone. Before leaving he wrote a mantra in the margin of the book, saying, “Perhaps you will need this…”, then he laughed…and I laughed with him, although maybe not at the same irony.

As I walked down the trail and away from them, I thought of another Indian I knew, an Iroquois I met far away, in the east…who told me that if I was about to sneeze, and couldn’t…I should look into the sun.

Sure enough, it always makes me sneeze.

I opened the book to the page on which the monk wrote in Sanskrit:

 “Om ah hung vajra guru pema siddhi hung”

Perhaps, you will need this…after you’ve looked into the sun.


“There is no key to happiness…

The door is always open.”

-Mother Theresa

~ by theoxherd on February 4, 2013.

4 Responses to “Whispering Bells”

  1. Hey Walter…my mother taught me that trick with the sun when i was a very little girl.

  2. It may look like one but Mt. Diablo is not a dormant volcano – that is a common misconception. It is an anticline (folded rocks) that were uplifted along with the rest of the Coast Ranges. Interestingly it is composed mostly of sedimentary rocks with older rocks exposed in the center due to erosion. (I’m a geologist and used to run field trips to Mt. Diablo)

    • Thank you for the correction…makes me wonder who told me that…
      Could it have been…..?
      All the same, it pretty much feels like a volcano on some days.
      A very special place.

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