Monday, November 4, 2013

Nature calls...

I close my eyes... Crack, shush, whizzzzz, is what I hear. I am not doing justice to the sound of dusk as it comes comfortably accompanied by gusts of wind on a chilly October night. It is the eve of all Hallows, October 31, 2013, or as some of us classic movie geeks will refer to as “Neewollah.” Google 1956 films and you’ll get this trivia clue.
Sitting on the deck, outside a log cabin in the middle-Ohio hills, smelling the fire burning right behind me, yet waiting for the rain to cease so the bonfire outside can be lit, I am thankful. I am also remembering.
Winter of 1994 came with a bang.  During what was recorded as one of the coldest February’s in Dayton, this college sophomore, after surviving a heart-break, made a decision. For most of the summer I was going to be a camp counselor in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Those who knew me wondered in bewilderment, for I had never gone to camp as a kid, nor was known as the “outdoorsy” type. Just ask my father or my aunt if you don’t believe me.  So, there I was with no real desire to “go home” to the beach, my family or friends. I wanted to do something different. 
Was I certified as a lifeguard? No.  Had I ever gone camping, overnight,in the woods? No. Would I have ever considered rock-climbing ? Do you really know me? :) Still, I said, yes.
Camp Horizons was a one hour drive from D.C., off highway 81. That summer I learned to really, truly, and clearly, listen to nature... Every morning, the early walk to the man building from the cabins allowed for the birds to sing to me. The sunshine peaking through the woods heating up the wet ground constantly reminded me to lighten up and be ok with wet toes. :)
Something happened to me that summer. I connected with God in a very spiritual way and it was all due to the beauty of nature I witnessed. The mountains, the lake, the trails, the stars at night painting the darkness with what only can be described as a Pollock type stroke. That summer I learned to appreciate being outside, to sleep by a fire, to stare at the sky...until I fell asleep.
On an unusually chilly July morning, the task at hand was to learn to climb a tree, go on a few ropes that connected tree branch to tree branch, so one could then climb onto a platform very high above us. Did I say I had to climb a tree??  Once on the platform I had to walk on the ropes, one foot in front of the next, so on and so forth. When I reached the next tree I had to climb to another platform and from then unhook my harness from the ropes to a zip line and let go... I zipped line my way to the bottom of the hill in the most exhilarating moment I can only describe as “I think I can fly!”
Summer ‘94 lead to summer ’95. I was a skilled counselor and instead of a 2 day hike, went on 4 and 5 day hikes. Our crew hiked, climbed rocks together, sang together and even hid from a black bear together. The kids loved it; adults even more! My fellow counselors, from near and far, became some of the most treasured friends I still keep in touch with.
Those summers in the Shenandoah Valley, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, after hiked part of the internationally known Appalachian Trail, I also learned to look at myself in a more natural way. T’was the first time I purposely wore no make-up for 2 months and actually said out loud words along the lines of “I don’t care how I look.” Now those of you who know me, understand that I do indeed care about how I look. I take care of myself, work out, and eat well- for the most part. However, the superficial “stress” of having to put “on a face,” a slab of make-up in order to look “better” or “prettier” was gone. I was cool with how I looked, with who I was.
Here’s the point of this entry: I had forgotten. So fifteen years ago, or so, I had a lovely, very close encounter of the nature kind, but I forgot all about it. I forgot how it felt. I forgot how that experience helped me a year later give a talk at a retreat for my friends and classmates. It was my first retreat talk and it was all about finding God in nature... how I found God in nature. How could I have forgotten?
Well, life happened. Careers happen, family happens and a city life happened with not much motivation to remember. For one that had a transformative experience, amnesia happened and I forgot it all...
Thanks to the nudge to explore again, to hike and to be in commune with the Divine Creator, suddenly, I remembered.
Last week I hiked to Old Man’s Cave, in Hocking Hills, Ohio. Or is it “the” Hocking Hills? I am not sure. All I know is that I couldn’t decide if the scenery was magnificent or majestic. Special, beautiful and well preserved it was. It was the last week in October and the fall foliage was at its peak. The reds, oranges, yellows were bright and stayed true to their form beating the browns in order to stick around a little longer. The greens are still out but only for a few more weeks before Old Man Winter comes to knock most of the color down, yet hopefully, bring us crisp, sunny, yet cold days were white snow covers all.
The falls broke silence as the water hit the rocks and splashed on the ground. The air was humid, yet we trekked along. Uphill, downhill, hiking along, the beauty of the hills was breathtaking. Thank you, I kept saying... thank you, I kept praying.
Our adventure came to a close when we exposed my 11 year old son to the great outdoors. Four hours of what we described as “hard core” hiking and the kid only said “on ward” with his walking stick, leading the way. He couldn’t have said it best: “Today was exhausting, but it was awesome!” Stopping once for a snack consisting of bananas, almonds, granola bars and crackers, this kid was a champion.
This entry is a love note to the hills, the trails and the trees we hugged, we have climbed and to the sky we have admired both in daylight and at night. It is for the bonfires and the smell of smoke on our clothes, in our hair (LOL!) and for the smore’s we still need to make!
I thank the heartbreak experienced in February of 1994, for it brought me to nature and it taught me how to make a steak and potato hobo meal in the fire. :)
This note is also in thanksgiving for the beauty of our land, whatever land you call yours, be it the ocean or the mountains. May we get out more often and literally take time to smell the flowers.

ADDENDUM: March, 2014. It's been 3 months since this post. I went hiking last Saturday. It was a gorgeous day and the kid and I savoured every minute of it. Lesson learned here is that I allowed these memories to disappear at the time when they seemed pointless in my life and no one respected they were mine. My memories, my experience and my life. I stress and invite others to take the time to remember... Remember a transformative experience, a summer job, a book you read, a movie that changed your life. Hold on to it. Don't forget it happened, especially if it mean so much and shaped who you are as a person, a faith-filled person as I continue to strive to be every day.

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