Fall on Your Face

I’ve recently begun living alone in an off-the-grid cabin in Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest. No electricity or running water. No f lush toilet. No easy-access concrete driveway or garage. No cell coverage and no landline. I’m the caretaker of the cabin and the land it sits on–twelve mountain acres of lodgepole pines and a pond.

Bears live here, too, but there’s still snow on the ground, so I don’t worry about them just yet. I fret obsessively about other things instead, such as getting injured and not being able to call for help. I worry over melting enough snow for a day’s worth of water, and I worry when I leave for more than a day at a time because I know I’ll have snow to shovel when I return.

One evening, I was driving home to the trailhead where I park my car for the hike in, undoubtedly thinking about all of these things. I crested the summit point on the mountain pass, and I slammed on my brakes at the sight of a fallen man on the shoulder. He was lying there on the ground, not moving, with his face down in the dirt.

I pulled over and put on my emergency f lashers, slid out of the driver’s seat, rehearsing how to do CPR–because I thought this man might be dead, or dying. As I ran over, I noticed another man standing over him and saw that their car was pulled over, with its f lashers on, too.

“Hey–hey!” I yelled, short of breath, as I approached. “You need help?”

“Aw, thanks, ma’am. But we’re all good here,” the standing man with a lumberjack-style plaid shirt hollered back, waving his hand overhead. “Well–what’s going on? Your friend? What’s wrong?” I shouted, frantic.

“Honey, he’s okay. He’s just praying to God. Never seen mountains like these before, from Oklahoma. And I’m prayin’ over him.”

“Uh–okay,” I said, skidding to a standstill a few feet away. I stood there watching them for a second–just long enough to hear myself straining to suck in deep breaths of thin mountain air, feeling my heart beat hard inside my chest.

I bid them well and turned away, a little embarrassed for intruding. I got back in my car–hands shaking on the wheel–and continued driving down the other side of the pass towards my new cabin home.

In front of me, I saw exactly what they had seen at the top of that pass: a gigantic pyramid peak with a staircase-to-heaven ridge on the skyline. Snow- and ice-caked deep rock veins on its front side, the summit smoothed over with snow.

I see this view every time I drive this road. In just a short time of living up here, it had barely registered as anything out of the ordinary. That evening, I certainly wasn’t thinking of the sight as something worth falling on my face over. But in truth, it is. And seeing a big man from Oklahoma lying in the dirt reminded me of that fact.

Biblically speaking, people fall on their faces to express the highest forms of worship, astonishment, epiphany–or even desperation. The disciples fell on their faces before Jesus at his transfiguration. Women fell on their faces when they discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Moses fell on his face to worship God. Jehoshaphat and Joseph did, too.

Now when I crest this summit on my drive to the cabin, I see the Oklahoma man as my surrogate. I’m not going to get out of my car and lie down on the shoulder. It’s a dangerous place to worship. But the image of him gives me something to hold on to. It pulls me away from my worries about the hardness of my living situation. It softens me enough to see the beauty before me. And it also reminds me to keep seeing what’s worthy of worship elsewhere, all along the road.

Traci J. Macnamara is a freelance writer and literary critic. She’s currently living in the cabin she’s dreamed of inhabiting ever since she first read Thoreau’s Walden at the age of seventeen.