Playful Friend or Fierce Foe?

By Mandy Cloninger

We ascended very quickly, up the steep climb, to the top of a large, red, rusty rock outside of Sedona. We breathed in the view of the Airport Mesa Vortex. Beauty beckoned from every vantage point. We selected an edge, sat down and crossed our legs, and I asked, “Do you want to meditate?”

I turned on the calm app, as I’ve done many days since December, and hit play. We were guided into a thoughtful meditation that encouraged us to find one element in nature to focus on. I selected the wind that had reached out and tousled my hair. My niece, also named Mandy, shared that she had felt the sunshine warm her skin and selected that element.

Mandy X 2: at the spot where we meditated that morning at the Airport Mesa Vortex.

Sedona is known for its vortexes. We had already experienced a few eerie occurrences around various stones and minerals as well as the loss of center and direction a couple times. Coincidence, serendipity or simply getting lost in the moment? Truly not all of us who wander, or wonder, are lost. 

I often laugh and share that I’m directionally challenged. I show my dirty blonde roots at times getting lost but not caring which direction I’m headed when in nature. I firmly believe that often a spirit, a presence, God winking, whatever you may prefer to call it, a guiding force is shepherding us around almost every corner, chasing us, inviting us in, and reaching out to embrace us.

As I focused my breath and my attention on the wind, I observed a playful friend. She would linger just out of my reach, and then surprise me with a puff and a gust of air. As we warmed to the climb, and the temperature rose to more than 80 degrees, I sought out the wind, shedding layers and missing her, wishing she would playfully cross my cheeks and my lips. 

As we rounded the backside of the mountain and proceeded in the semi-circle of the hiking trail, we were greeted by wildflowers swaying in the wind, vibrant purples, oranges and pinks, dancing amidst beautiful prickly pear cacti. Earlier on our trip, I claimed the prickly pear: my spirit flower. My closest friends have a “safe word” to use when I get cranky, and will gently warn me when I’m getting “prickly.” I’m a lot like that prickly pear. I’m unique, independent, sometimes beautiful in an unexpected way. I’m sweet and fruity on the inside, but I have some sharp edges, some barbs, that when you get close, may prick you if you’re not paying attention. 

After I tried the prickly pear fries at a local restaurant, on our next hike, I reached out to see if I could pierce into the hard exterior of the prickly pear to touch and taste the fruit in the wild. The shell wouldn’t give. I was only able to make a fingernail-like gash in the exterior, and felt a tiny bit of moisture, but when I pulled my hand back, carefully avoiding the large needles sticking out, I accidentally grazed the tiniest of fibers, which stung and splintered my first three fingers. That cactus was tough; she took it all in and protected herself. The prickly pear did not dance with the wind. She was rooted in the soil, firm, unmoving. Yet, the wind was all over her.

But the wind isn’t always friendly, she can be brutal. Like the first day we hiked outside Sedona, and we found ourselves chilled to our core when she blew. We were unprepared for the sleet that soaked our clothes, and her fierce gusts pushed us around at Bell Rock. The sleet progressed into snow and an eventual blizzard had me clenching my jaw and the steering wheel as we tried to reach our destination in Flagstaff. I couldn’t avoid the huge gusts that sent snow enveloping and whiting out the windshield. My teeth grinded; my shoulders were rocks. I was scared to death to try to pass the semi-tractor trailers on the winding road. 

As I recalled the stress in my body, a childhood memory was jarred loose.  

Growing up in West Texas, we lived in Tornado Alley. I was probably seven or eight, and I recall sirens that rang out to seek underground shelter, and daddy and I rushed a couple blocks to the city hall. We crowded underground with our neighbors in a secure shelter. When a tornado touched down, you ran. The wind was no friend. She was a random, God-finger, with destruction, mayhem, and death in her path.

I cried for my mama. Mom worked 12-hour shifts in the denim factory, and she wasn’t yet home. I had seen that factory. I could picture the large machines ripped from the ground, and my mom in danger while we were safe.

The memory from childhood, embedded in my body, sprung from my depths as I encountered that same fear of the wind in a blizzard. Our bodies remember. 

In nature and in life, we often encounter both a playful friend and a fierce foe. In many moments, it simply depends on where we focus.

I wrote three flash prayers the day I played with the wind at the vortex. I clearly wanted to spend my prayer in praise and cement the place in my mind:

  • Wind reached out to embrace me.
  • The wind is a playful friend.
  • Airport mesa vortex: wind teased me.

Published by mcloninger

Mandy Cloninger, CFRE, is a nonprofit thought leader, charismatic spokesperson, and a results-driven executive. With 20 years of experience raising hundreds of millions of dollars, cultivating transformational relationships with diverse constituencies, she has built capacity, scale, and scope in higher education, health care, and community-based nonprofits. She is passionate about social justice and humanitarian work internationally and at home. Mandy Cloninger is also a writer, public speaker, leader and faith seeker. Her journey and travels often bring inspiration to write, think and dream new dreams. Mercy & Meadows is a writing project inspired by a camping and hiking trip to Yellowstone National Park in 2021.

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