Light Dreams

Caren della Cioppa

I had some gold cross earrings.  No, they were not real gold, just cheap costume jewelry from who knows where.  But back then, I always wore them. They are gone now, I have no idea where they went. I probably lost one, then tossed the other, or lost them both, who knows?

But I still see that light, the spots before my eyes when the bright light woke me up in my dark bedroom.  The dream I’d had was over but I still saw spots as if I had stared into a blinding light.  In that dream, I was climbing Lazy Mountain, a 3700 foot mountain near my home in Palmer, Alaska. It is a very easy climb although it is one of the steepest trails I have ever seen.  It is frequently necessary to hang onto tree branches to pull oneself up some of the steepest stretches. When it is wet, it is a virtual sliding board of mud.  The Palmer winds may try to blow the climber off, and in a snowstorm it might be possible to get hopelessly lost.  But for the most part, it is just a local hiking trail that leads to the foothills of the Chugach Mountains and the beautiful Matanuska Peak that stands behind it.  Every year there is a grueling 14 mile round-trip race with 9,100 foot vertical elevation gain called the Matanuska Peak Challenge that draws local mountain runners up Lazy Mountain, down the other side, then up 6119 foot Matanuska Peak, back down, then back up Lazy Mountain, then down again to an exhausting finish at the Lazy Mountain Trailhead.  I tried it once, but had to scratch after a few bad falls on the rock scramble at the top of Matanuska Peak.  Maybe next year.

But in my dream, I was only going to the top of Lazy Mountain.  While on the dream trail, suddenly one of my gold earrings became huge!  It was like the giant cross of Calvary itself, only it was pure gold.  The light hit the cross with such a dramatic flash of light that it woke me up, leaving me blinking my eyes in my completely dark room wondering – WHAT WAS THAT!

I couldn’t get the dream out of my head.  I decided that I simply had to haul a big cross to the top of Lazy Mountain.  Maybe not one made of gold, but it had to be big.  I called my friend John and told him my plan.  After he got done telling me that I was insane, he decided to help me since I was so insistent. He was thinking something along the lines of a couple of 2" x 4" boards.  But no, that was not good enough.  I wanted BIG.  We finally settled on some home milled lumber that he had in his yard, a six foot 2" x 8" and a fourteen foot 2" x 8".  John used his router and carved PEACE across the shorter board.  Then we gathered the necessary nuts and bolts and drilled holes so we could assemble the finished cross.  We decided that it would be pretty cumbersome to try to haul that gigantic thing up that steep trail fully assembled so we decided to do the final assembly at the summit.

Our plan was to get up very early the next morning and carry it up before the trail became busy with hikers.  We both went to sleep that night wondering how in the world we were going to get this fourteen foot high monster to stand upright on top of a mountain composed of nothing but solid rock.

It happened again!  In the middle of that night I woke up blinking to the spots before my eyes from yet another dream.  In this dream that I now classify as one of my “light dreams,” I saw a blinding flash of lightning strike the top of Lazy Mountain and it created a deep slot in the rocks so we would have a place for the cross. 

Early the next morning, John and I tied the two boards together and started our early morning trek up the mountain.  Most of the way, he kept saying “I wish I had brought some wires so we could get this thing to stand up.”  I always replied with “don’t worry there is a slot up here.”  Of course I had climbed that mountain countless times and really could not recall ever seeing a slot, but at least it sounded like a good response to his concern. 

As you can well imagine when we reached the top, of course, NO SLOT.  While John paced around trying to come up with an idea, I sat on the edge of the cliff nervously fidgeting in a little loose gravel next to me. The more I fidgeted the deeper my fingers went until I suddenly realized, I had actually been digging a little hole in the rocks.  I kept at it then found that there was actually a crack in the rock in that spot and I was simply digging out hundreds of years of dust and sand that had filled up that crack. With only my hands, I managed to excavate two feet of sand and gravel out of that crack and it was exactly the right width for the cross!  We assembled the cross and stuck it in the crack and it fit perfectly. Of course, then I turned to John and smugly said “I told you there was a slot!”

For the next week or so I would fly my plane up over Lazy Mountain to see if it was still there.  It sure was.  I found various viewing points around Palmer where it was actually possible to see the cross on top of the mountain with binoculars.  I found myself checking daily just to be sure it was safe and sound up there. 

In the Catholic Church we often have special religious items blessed by the priest.  Our priest, Father Michael Shields had been away on a retreat but when he returned, I asked him if he would bless a cross for me.  “Sure,” he said, “bring it in and I will bless it.”  “Well there is a tiny problem,” I said, “the cross is on top of Lazy Mountain.”  To that he replied, “Meet me at the trailhead tomorrow at 6 am and we will hike up and bless the cross.”  We gathered a small group together and hiked the trail that morning.  I remember it was only 10 degrees Fahrenheit when we started but keeping up with Father Mike warmed us all quickly.  At the top he blessed the cross and we sang the Chaplet of Devine Mercy, and the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the cross.  It was just amazing.  Then Father Mike ran down the mountain because he had to say Mass at the Palmer Pioneer Nursing home, and he left the rest of us behind.

The cross stayed there all summer. Then one autumn day we had winds of 100 miles per hour.  Suddenly on one of my binocular checks, I saw that the cross was gone.  John and I hiked up and found that the wind had snapped it off right at the crack.  Broken hearted, we brought it down the mountain.  The cross bar with the PEACE message was not damaged.  The next summer, I decided to try again, only this time it needed to be stronger. I reinforced the new base with steel angle irons and figured it would last forever this time.  I hiked up with the new cross and a small collection of folks from the church.  Again it fit well into the “slot.”  But sadly, in only a few days it was gone again.  I hiked up alone and found it lying in pieces below the cliff.  I hauled it all down, in a pouring rain storm that was a howling snowstorm on the top.  I reached the trail head covered with mud, but dragging the broken base and again, undamaged cross piece behind me with ropes.  That PEACE sign now is attached to the outside of my house as a reminder of that special journey up Lazy Mountain.

I always wondered why the second cross fell.  I figured someone just didn’t like it and had thrown it down.  But a few years later, I finally discovered what had happened.  The second cross was so much heavier than the first one that when the high winds came, it fractured the crack in the rock.  The rock itself had fallen and taken the cross with it.  There is no longer a slot there.  So if I ever need to haul a gigantic cross to the top of a mountain, I guess I will have to find a new one since that slot is gone forever. 

There are times when my faith is not as strong as I would like. But I often wonder about the blinding light from those dreams, that lingered in my dark room after I woke up.  Once a few years ago I was driving my seven year old niece, Amber to her ballet class at night and from the back seat she kept saying that she was seeing God.  Naturally, I asked her what God looks like.  She said God was those spots that she could still see when she looked away from the lights.  I realized she was seeing spots after staring at oncoming headlights. But how did she know that was God?  Maybe children remember things that we adults have forgotten.

I’m thinking she was right!


    All photography Caren della Cioppa