Autumn is swelling in fury this year.
This season is the busiest part of my year, and often the most overwhelming, but with that comes great, great joy.
This morning, I’m sitting at the picnic table outside the camp office, which is my favorite spot in the summer. Music is drifting from the Art Barn next door, where Jonah is busy cleaning for the next group of campers. A family of geese are making their way up the lawn from the lake, the babies nearly 1/3 grown, their feathers darkening by the day. I can hear cooking campers in the herb garden, seeing what chive blossoms look like up close. I sent off ranch and basketball campers just after breakfast- their mornings’ spent elsewhere, exploring and playing.
A huge robin is sitting in the tree above me, scouting for a morning snack to share with her babies. The lake is swelling to full pool and the nights are staying warmer. The solstice is this week, when the sun will linger til nearly 11 o’clock. Last night, I watched the most brilliant rainbow dance between the pines in the late evening, while campers settled in for their first night.
The rhythm of camp life is in as many ways routine as it is sporadic. The bell rings each morning at 7:30. We sing, we eat, we pray. Campers come and go, staff learn a new set of names each week, the moon rises a slightly different place each day– community continues, the earth continues, joy continues.
“you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace, the mountains & the hills before you, shall burst into song & rejoice,
and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands, for you. ”
We sing this blessing to our campers each Friday, at the end of the session. As the summer sinks in, I pray you, too, go out with joy.
If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among.
If you’re Emily, a garden will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.
Anything that touches.
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.
All important ideas must include the trees, the mountains, and the rivers.
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.
The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.
Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way, Mary Oliver
“Because we have forgotten our kinship with the land,” she continued, “our kinship with each other has become pale. We shy away from accountability and involvement. We choose to be occupied which is quite different from being engaged.” (from Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams)
photos taken at Glacier National Park, mid September
When I have a day off, I do my very best to wake early and hightail it to the mountains- Glacier, the Jewel, Whitefish Range, where ever seems appealing that day given weather and time. I value these days apart so much, especially when they feel few and far between. I have spent hundreds of hours out in the woods in Montana and have hiked hundreds of miles over these past two years which I consider such a gift of living here. Sometimes I hike with a crew or a partner, and love those hours of conversation or comfortable silence as we push our bodies up and over mountain tops, but sometimes I hike alone- just me, my bear spray & those big mountains.
Gale over at She-Explores recently put out a question to listeners of her podcast- do you enjoy hiking, camping and/or backpacking solo? At what age did you start hiking, camping, and/or backpacking solo? Did it feel natural or did it take you time to get used to it? What are the benefits of taking on solo challenges in the wild? What are the risks?
Today, I started out to hike to Granite Park Chalet after my hopes of hiking Swiftcurrent Lookout this week were dashed by snow. The first snow hit Glacier earlier this week and the peaks are coated in white, fading below treeline to the speckled yellow and red of early autumn. I started out at the Loop, with a light mist falling, cold, but not enough to bother me. I hiked up the switchbacks and watched in wonder as the clouds shifted, catching glimpses of the freshly capped peaks. After about 2 and 1/2 miles a couple stopped me on the trail, sharing that they had run into a bear and 2 cubs, on the trail about 1/4 mile from us. They noted that the bear wasn’t moving and that she wasn’t pleased with their attempts to get her to move on. I nodded, heard them say that there were other people in front of them, and headed forward; often, bears will move on quickly and the trail will clear. Shortly after, 3 other groups of hikers passed me the other way, all noting that the bears were staying put and that they felt it was best to turn around. That, coupled with the increasing snow and the fact that I’ve done this particular hike before, factored into my decision to turn around.
I don’t go to the mountains just to summit peaks or rack up mileage, I go because the woods are the place where I recenter.
The breeze lifting the leaves toward the sky- a warning of weather to come.
The way water makes it’s way through the smallest cracks in the rock- modeling perseverance and patience.
How vibrantly trees give up their leaves in autumn- a brilliant lesson in resiliency.
All of it teaching me, helping me remember what’s important in this life, renewing my spirit after long days of work and humbling me in perspective. Wilderness does not exist for us, but in spite of us. It is an immense gift to be able to experience it, a gift of which I will never tire.
Being alone in the woods doesn’t scare me. I am deeply aware of the inherent risks that come with walking alone through grizzly country or walking a ridge line solo, but I manage them with experience, like today, when turning around when it seemed the best practice. My parents taught me from an early age how to rely on myself, with the proper preparation and awareness of my surroundings. For me, being alone in the woods is empowering and soul centering.
However, I constantly experience secondhand concern about my hiking alone.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Don’t end up like one of those stories you hear on the news…”
“I don’t understand why a pretty girl like you lives in the woods alone.”
& my favorite, slightly threatening comment-
“Does your father know you’re out here alone? What would he think?”
(for the record, my father taught me how to be alone in the woods)
I’ve heard these comments on summits and at trailheads, at my place of work (which also happens to be my home), in the middle of crowded chalets in casual conversation with other hikers. It is almost always men questioning me, while their hiking partners are quiet in the background. I understand that many of these comments are out of genuine concern, but I have never heard anyone question a man hiking alone in the same way. Unfortunately, our society spends a lot of time editing what women can and cannot do, alone or otherwise.
I appreciate the way that hikers and backpackers look out for one another, and I am always, always happy to chat with fellow hikers, but I am careful to question anyone’s motives- each of us has our own story, our own path leading us to this one. Warn me of the bear ahead, ask me how I’m doing, tell me good luck, but please, don’t assume that my solo womanhood is inherently dangerous.
Women can do anything. ANYTHING. This is a truth I have been taught my whole life, from my badass paramedic/ camp director mama, from my incredible, creative camp counselors, from my brilliant professors and supportive friends. I am so grateful to be surrounded by truth telling, compassionate, courageous and loving women and hope so much to inspire others to be the same. We are out there, millions of us, hiking alone and enjoying the woods or city streets or suburban parks. Thank you to all the women who go and have gone alone, for inspiring me.
If you want to be alone in the woods, do your research, understand the risks and get out there, regardless of gender. And if you don’t want to go solo, find a friend! I really encourage other women to try a hike alone, to allow yourself to be immersed in the quiet of the woods, to feel the power of your own body as you traverse across the land, to allow your instincts to keep you safe. I would love to hear other women’s experiences with hiking alone!
There is so much to see in this big world, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
Be brave, y’all; wild is within you.
These days are long and tiring and joyful and sometimes too hard and heartbreaking and often full of grace and laughter and life. Sometimes people say that summer camp is some sort of separate reality apart from the “real world” and I have to push back against that and testify that my life is very capital R real. The news of the world is always present. Our campers and counselors have all of their stories and experiences within them, informing the way they are part of this place. People love and hurt and forgive and make peace here every day. The magic of camp is that we work so hard toward the common good and an honest, intentional community, promoting love and helping one another work through all the realness of our lives.
I have felt very stretched this summer, in my many roles at camp and in my personal life. I often feel like there is too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to be present for the staff and campers AND get everything done. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t do well when I don’t have time to play and relax and have honest conversations. I am working so hard to be present in this space and time; please say some prayers for me along those lines. Alongside those emotions, I often feel like my heart could burst because I am so lucky to work with and witness the staff loving these kids and just truly being themselves. I hope they know how loved and appreciated they are.
One of my favorite pieces of camp life is how often we sing together, during worship, meals, games, in between times. It is a gift to live in a community that celebrates in music. This summer I have been meditating on these lines, from Canticle of the Turning:
“though I am small, my God, my all, you will work great things in me.”
& from the Prayer of Good Courage:
“give us good courage, not knowing where we’ll go; to know that your hand is leading us, wherever we may go.”
Each season has its peaks and valleys; give us courage through it all.
be brave, y’all; you are loved.
A consideration of how the sun looks on the water at twilight, when the days stretch their long arms toward the horizon. I imagine the sun as a child; one more minute, one more minute, stubborn at the end of the day. Sparrows carve quick circles in the heated summer air, the dark green of their backs gleaming in sunset. With each careful dive they are collecting & gathering & building their homes; they are doing their most important work.
Summer has always been a season when I feel deeply rooted in this place, with these people, building my own home, piece by piece. This act of being together is our own most important work. Welcome, summer!
(inspired by this post from one of my favorite internet ladies, Gale of She-Explores)
You have run so many laps around that track that you know the view from every meter mark like it’s the only thing you’ve ever seen. You’ve spent hundreds of afternoons running, running, running, through freezing rain & under bright sun, stretching in the parking lot and lounging on the high jump pad. Your teammates have pushed and encouraged you and your coaches have taught you perseverance and guts. Running is everything, or at least it feels that way.
It’s been hard, lately, hasn’t it? I know you resent your widening hips, the way your legs don’t turn over as fast as they used to. But you are still out there, trying. I know you cry when you don’t run the way you’d like to, and you won’t listen to anyone who gives you encouragement. That’s something you’ll struggle with for awhile, but try to receive support. You are so hard on yourself and too hard on your body. You have worked so hard, for so long; give yourself some grace.
I want you to be proud of yourself. Remember that it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to run more slowly some days. It won’t always be this hard.
One day, you will love lacing up your shoes again. You will find joy in running through new places, in using your legs to explore. In a few years, you’ll run miles and miles along a canal in a city across the world. You’ll follow deer trails up mountainsides, pushing through the trees and reaching the peak. Running will be relief again, sooner than you think. Your legs will always carry you, I promise.
Try to enjoy the last few months of running around that track and through the fields above the high school. Breathe deeply, laugh with your teammates, run for the feeling, not for the success. You will learn to love it again, trust me.
-k, age 25
This Lenten season I’ve been trying to put my words on paper more often, and have been revisiting some old pieces of poetry to rework them and get my mind working again. This is for my parents.
My father burned 4 trees this season, the winter
unrelenting in its fury. The wood stove seizing any life
left from the logs, forcing heat out of bark and sap,
moisture cracking out of the crevices, echoing
inside the cast iron berth that hulks under
the mantle’s gaze.
You can smell the woodsmoke before you can see
the house. The trees funnel everything- the smoke,
the racket of spring peepers, the light at the end of day.
Sun and moon rise over the same mountain, cyclic,
like life in this hollow. Summers spent tending the earth,
winters spent burning pieces of it- the land keeping us.