My writing assignment today is to blog about a place. It can be any place to which I’d like to be instantly transported… Each summer, we head back home to Alabama to give the kids and me a bit of a refresher in the forests and green grass. It’s an amazing blessing (and luxury) afforded by living in the desert for the rest of the year. For the last two years, I’ve had the further blessing of sending my kids to the summer camp I attended. Most Americans probably attended one of these once. You know the camp, where horseback riding, lanyard making, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and eating “family style” are the order of the day… every day. It’s that sort of camp and I loved it growing up. I’m pretty jealous of my kids, to be honest. I want to go to camp too. I’m wondering when my camp will catch on and offer a parents week (or even weekend) when we can relive our youth. At any rate, as the summer approaches, notes from the camp building excitement pick up. So, when the charge is to write about a place, camp comes to mind. The challenge… I’m pretty sure that I won’t even come close to doing it justice… But, I’m game to give it a try, so here we go.
My lovely camp is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. Those from farther north have assured me that these aren’t the proper foothills. Those, they tell me, are much higher peaks. But camp is situated amongst the rolling foothills before the broaden out into the plain that approaches the Alabama coastline. Getting there requires heading out-of-town and knowing just the right tiny exit to take. No signs are left to guide you on your way. You follow a semi-major back road through winding valleys and then turn onto a very small back road to find your way to the camp gates. It was along that back road (the tiny one) that I remember stopping to pick fresh blackberries and wild strawberries on my way to or from camp as a child. It’s funny that now I always think of fruits as being fresh-from-the-fridge cold but back then the best fruit ever was the warm one just picked off the vine. There was no fixation on washing the fruit. There was no thought of what could be on it. We plucked them from their tenacious perch on the vine and plopped them directly into our mouths. Often we were shooing bees aside to get our turn. Houses along the road were few and far between. Years of winding along the same route meant you built a sense for how far it was. Just around this sharp curve (the ones with the blackberries on the left) and then up this hill. Just ahead on the right and… yes! Finally, you’ve arrived.
My favorite place, at this camp, was a lovely large rock overlooking its requisite waterfall. In the early morning, we’d be sent off to spend some quiet time with God. You could alone or in pairs, but silence was the key. I always liked to go off alone and, quite early in my camp career had found my special spot. It wasn’t on any path. Instead, to reach my rock, you’d need to brush aside prickly buses and climb amongst the trees. You’d wind your way until you were just above the waterfall. With a rustic wooden bridge to your right and the stone stadium for evening song on your right, you were nestled into just the right spot to commune with nature, with God, with your own thoughts, well, with anyone.
To come to my spot, I always like to go around to the side nearest the hillside platform. You could slip between the trees there more readily. Every morning, I’d push my way through the sticky, filament-thin spider webs that had appeared during the previous afternoon or evening. It always had that slightly grabby nature that meant that once you had made it through, you continued to try and remove the web for several minutes. I’d wind my way through the trees, lush with leaves above but quiet and fairly sparse at ground level. The uneven ground required sure-footedness and more attention than is usually paid to walking. The pine needles would crunch under my feet with that sound that was part crunch and part squeak. If one should change its trajectory, it would poke up and into my leg just above the line of my sock. It felt like a toothpick being stuck in me. After picking my way toward the sound of the water tripping over the fall, occasionally rushing after a large rain, I’d find myself breaking beyond the trees tot he edge of the bank. At just this point, the rocks of the fall were far below, probably 20-30 feet. I’d stride over to my rock and head out on it to sit just at the edge. The rock was a large grey, rounded rock. Its top surface was quite smooth, weather by thousands of years of rains. Owing to its location above the falls, green lichen grew on it. As I’d approach, I’d see the steely green of the lichen in patches. I’d find myself a spot that looked comfortable and sit down. The rock was always cool to the touch and rough, like medium grain sandpaper. I’d plop down on the rock with my journal and my thoughts as my only companions and I’d pray, or think, or watch. Usually, I’d do a little of all three. The babbling of the water over the falls usually sounded like whispering little girls a small distance off. After a large rain, though, the creek water would be high flowing fast over the rocks and the sound was more the dull roar of a large crowd at a distance. It would overtake all other sounds around. Most days there would be shouts from one camper to another, the sound of a far distant car on a road headed back into civilization, or the buzzing of bees and wasps. But when the creek was high, the only sound was the water rushing in its haste to meet up with friends downstream. On those days, I would sit and watch the bees buzz knowing they were buzzing, but unable to hear even a whisper of sound. I’d see campers at a distance stopping to chat, but no sounds would intrude on my solitude and enjoyment of the dappled sunshine streaming in through the trees into me, my rock, and my silence.
Happy Calgon Moments!