Bare trees, bright sun and wet snow greeted about 75 people of different spiritual walks who gathered Tuesday afternoon for the eighth annual "Blessing Mount Ashland" ceremony.
Participants banged Native American drums, burned incense and raised their arms in praise at the entrance of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, honoring the mountain and all that it has to offer.
"That's not smoke, that's sage," Carol Browning of Ashland told her caregiver, Judy Kitsom, as they sat in the circle.
It was Kitsom's first year attending the ceremony.
"It's my first time, too, and I've been here 27 years," Browning said.
For Browning, the ceremony was an opportunity to find creative inspiration by being in nature.
"I figure I'll take pictures and write poems," Browning said.
Browning also found the ceremony was an opportunity to reflect on a lifetime enjoying mountains.
"I grew up backpacking and downhill skiing," she said.
For Browning, there was a small blessing in this year's drought that closed the ski area for the 2013-2014 season. It meant she could make it up the access road for Tuesday's ceremony. But like other participants, she was concerned about its lasting effects.
"We're all here to support the mountain, and the mountain supports us, but we're all feeling the effects of the drought," Browning said.
"This is climate change manifested," said organizer Robert "Bobcat" Brothers, of Arcata, Calif. "New York gets Hurricane Sandy; we get the drought of 2013. It's a sign, not a message from the Earth."
For Brothers, the ceremony isn't so much about religion. It's an opportunity to honor a mountain, just as other cultures around the world revere their mountains.
"It doesn't have to be a religious thing," Brothers said.
Devon Strong of Montague, Calif., performed a Lakota prayer song at the opening of the ceremony.
"I came here to pray for the water," Strong said. "I'm scared to death of people, but I'll sing for the spirits."
Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.