If you live in the Rogue Valley or Southern Oregon you live in a land that was once passed over by the connecting gaze of two important and distant souls in love. Their presence taller, and more rugged than any others to their north, south, east or west. The woman, Mother Shasta, who is still alive today, and Mt. Mazama, to the north, now known as Crater Lake, whose form changed before we were all born. And in this story there is Vulture, who, despite a reputation as an undertaker and Grim Reaper, you will find actually carries out one of the most important duties for the animal and spirit worlds. Enjoy the story, inspired by my own adventures here in the valley and the amazing people I have the opportunity to share the experiences with.
Mt. Mazama’s and Mother Shasta’s service to the Spirit World
Like Mother Shasta to our south, Mt. Mazama once stood to the north as a tall proud mountain. He served as sentinel and steward of the surrounding lakes and jagged peaks. Confidently directing the winds and clouds, the lightning storms of summer that keep the forest healthy and the snows of winter that blanket the hills and quiet the land in winter.
Mt. Mazama served an important duty in the animal life cycle. When animals became sick, old, or injured, they made their way to his base, and, using their last reserves of strength, made the long slow climb to Mt. Mazama’s peak. The animal’s journey would take a few days as they navigated their own path through Mt. Mazama’s tall pines, basalt cliffs, waterfalls and mossy trunks. Often being visited by friends who would walk or fly by their side for segments of the journey. During which time the friends would rejoice in all the wonderful times they shared together.
Above tree line the sacred journey was completed alone. Higher and higher, until at last the animal reached the very top. Mt. Mazama, feeling the animal as it climbed his long ridged back, rugged shoulders, and head. At the top the animal took time to enjoy the amazing view, the highest it had ever been afforded in its life. Mt. Mazama waited as patient guide and last companion while the animal enjoyed the unique view. Often the animal would remark about a sense of wholeness, understanding, and perspective, as it took in all that extended between Mt. Mazama’s summit and the distant horizon.
Mother Shasta plays an equally important role in the life cycle of the area’s forests. It is from Her high summit that youthful new animal spirits descend from the spirit world to Earth and occupy the bodies of newborns. It is not uncommon in Spring and early Summer to see their one-way footsteps coming from the upper snowfields down to the pine needle duff of the forest floor.
It was a windy day when an old red-tail hawk, weary and tired, though happy from many years of gliding over the Rogue Valley, came to be at the top of Mt. Mazama. He knew it was a winged animal because if it was a land animal he would have felt the slow footsteps climbing his body. However, with birds and hawks Mt. Mazama would only notice the occasional soft landing of the bird as it made short flights upwards, until the final soft tap on his head when it reached the top.
On this particular day, before the animal’s soul was lifted up into the spirit world, Red-Tail Hawk asked a question to Mt. Mazama. “Do you know what I hope to take with me?” he asked the mountain. “Your ability to fly?” replied Mt. Mazama. “No. I hope to take love.” and with that, his soft feathered body crumpled into the stone, wind rose up Mt. Mazama, across his chest, neck and face, and lifted Red-Tail’s soul through the clouds, into the spirit world.
Red-Tail’s comment stirred the fiery heart of Mt. Mazama that lay deep below his gray stone slopes, and in the following days the animals could hear boulders rumbling down his side. Mt. Mazama knew the feeling of sharp winter wind, the warmth of long summer days, and the rain as it built from a light sprinkle to a heavy shower in the spring. Yet he wondered if he knew the feeling of love. So many animals that climbed to his summit were filled with an overflowing joy and radiance, despite the condition of their dying body.
Mother Shasta and a cold Spring
Mt. Mazama and Mother Shasta always knew of each other’s presence. Together their peaks dominated the skylines of the Rogue Valley, Klamath Basin, and Siskiyou Crest. Often, as he watched the sunrise, Mt. Mazama would find his eye captured by the striking silhouette of Mother Shasta, as cold blue dusk opened to the warm amber light of dawn in the east. In the fall and early winter he would admire how the rising moon arced gently over her moonlit snowfields, draping her in an elegant flowing gown of white.
It was an early Spring day when a bitter cold, still left of winter, found Mt. Mazama tired and weary from his continuous internal questioning, his form slowly eroding from the inside out. That night the animals of the forest felt the earth shake and the sky rumble. Many thought it was one of the thunder and lightning storms spring’s unpredictable temperament was known for.
However, when they awoke in the morning, they looked up to see that Mt. Mazama had collapsed. His strong back and shoulders had given way. All that remained of their stone sentinel was a deep, empty crater. The animals were stunned, some crying, others running to the elders seeking council and wisdom. It was not until the afternoon that the animals came together to sit in silence and stillness.
In this stillness the animals could hear a calling, carried on the wind, filtering through the pines from Mt. Mazama’s broken top, “Vulture, vulture, be here. Vulture, Vulture, be here.”
The animals looked around at each other, “Has anyone seen Vulture today?” asked Raven. “Yes, I saw him perched atop his favorite gnarled tree this morning.” replied a young deer. In that moment they saw the long shadow of Vulture’s body pass over them, beating his wings hard, flying a course to the jagged rim that now overlooked the crater where Mt. Mazama once stood.
Vulture receives his duty
Vulture landed on the rough edge of the crater and listened,
“Vulture, I have lost my tall, proud, form and I can not serve the forest as I once did. Yet animals still need to have a way to ascend to the spirit world when they die here on Earth. I have chosen you to continue my work. You are black, so I can see you arrive from afar in the sky. Your wings are wide and sturdy, so I know you will have the strength to serve all the land. Your focus and sight are precise, so I know you will have the determination and integrity to carry the duty, day after day. In addition, your keen sense of smell will aid you in finding the animals whose bodies are beginning to decay, and whose spirits are seeking a new body, high in the spirt world above.
When you find an animal that has died, give it company and security. Inspect the limbs to ensure there is no disease that will spread as its flesh returns to the soil and nourishes the plants and animals. Once this step is complete the animal will recognize your voice, and know of your gentle care and companionship during this time. In this comfort the animal’s soul will tuck tight among the dark swaths of your wings. It is then that you must fly.
Fly high, and you must close your eyes, for you will fly with your heart and not your sight. Unfold your wings, stretch wide, and be still. You will glide and drift, at first, back to the ground. Your heart will beat fast and hard as you struggle to keep your wings spread open against the rushing sky. Trust, be still. Vulture, you may drop, doubt, and rush, but have faith. Trust in the heart and your intention, feeling for that small edge where a warm current is lifting from the land into the sky. When you are in the warm uplifting current your heart will slow, your effort will ease, and that is where you will be carried up, higher than you have ever flown under your own power. Stay in this uplift, eyes closed, listening to your heart, feeling the warm air swirl around you, pulling you up with grace, keeping you warm in the cold thin air as you rise with the animal spirit kept close in the folds and creases of your wings. When you finally open your eyes you will arrive in the spirit world, where the animal’s soul departs from yours, and you can return to Earth.”
The clouds and rains hold Mt. Mazama’s heart safe
Vulture accepted his new role, humbled and honored. Proud that he had exactly the mind and body to carry out the task. He would need only to practice with his spirit, the new sort of flight that Mt. Mazama described to him, flying with his heart rather than his eyes.
When Mt. Mazama fell and lost daily sight of Mother Shasta, he realized he did know of the love Red-Tail had described that day on his summit. The beauty, presence, and connection he had with the distant peak of Mother Shasta and all the land surrounding, brought him joy, passion, presence and intention as unique as each curve of river flowing to the sea. Rains that once fell to cleanse and cascade over the hard boulders of Mt. Mazama’s slopes now collect in the center of the crater. The clear, cool, blue water serving to protect and hold a quiet, still, comfort over the beating heart of Mt. Mazama.
Generations patiently rebuild
At the base of Mother Shasta you will see a small cinder cone, referred to by many as Mt. Shastina. Mother Shasta asked the forest creatures to help construct a mountain top that will replace Mt. Mazama’s broken back and body. Century by century this small cinder cone is growing. Squirrels scurry with pebbles in their mouths, bears and badgers work together rolling boulders to the base. Eventually, this cinder cone will be large enough, and Mother Shasta will call upon every bird, hawk, vulture, owl, butterfly, bee, and moth to hoist the massive mound and rebuild the broken and incomplete body of her love, Mt. Mazama.
The forest animals around Crater Lake are helping too, and if you visit the rim and look inside the crater today you will see what is known as Wizard Island, also a small cinder cone. Slowly rising, stone by stone, to eventually crest the rim’s jagged edge, and allow Mt. Mazama and Mother Shasta to see each other once again.
©Alex Newport-Berra 2011
And if you enjoyed this story you can explore some more I have written by clicking on the “Poetry and Stories” category to the right on the Categories toolbar, scrolling down that screen and clicking on ‘older posts’