The Simple Things

“What moments do you think will stick with you the most after you leave here?”

It was an interesting question.  And as I thought about it, I realized that the things that would stick with me the most would, in the whole scheme of things, not seem to be a big deal.  They’re simple things really.  Moments that I would never mark on my calendar or look forward to with bated breath, but that I would never want to give up either.

Like the time I went to Gethsemani.  I came there to visit the monastery.  But the moment that sticks out for me is not the prayer service, or the trail of statues, or the visitor center.  It was sitting atop a hill in the grass, talking with Anna.  The sun was shining, the grass was twisting in my fingertips, and words were climbing through the stillness.

Or the many early morning chit-chats in the office.  Clarence tossing a joke into the air above his desk, Peggy laughing across from him, Carrie passing back some light-hearted scolding.

Or the day at Camp AJ when Carlo and AJ convinced Kelly, a somewhat reserved camper, to do an interpretive dance with them at the talent show.  I smiled so wide my face hurt and laughed so hard I cried.

Or the canoe trip at Camp Shawnee when we stopped along the banks of the water where a group of trail riders were gathered.  Horses milled about under the trees nibbling at bits of grass while we stood in a circle and listened to their owner’s stories.  We came just to pet some horses, but were given some pieces of history rolled in Southern hospitality to boot.

Camp Shawnee Retreat 2015 7

Or sitting on the worn-out porch swing in the mixture of warmth and chill that is an autumn day, listening to Mary tell stories about her younger days, picking tobacco in the fields.  I slowly chewed my turkey sandwich while pictures of years before I was born planted themselves in my mind.

Or the night of the super moon.  Priscilla, Debbie, and I bought glow sticks and lugged a telescope to camp to watch the moon break through the darkness of the hills.  The clouds threatened to block our view, so we did what you do when you need it to rain and you’re worried it might not – a rain dance.  Or in this case, a super moon dance.  Three pieces of humanity twirling, laughing, living on blacktop.

Or joking with Danny from Gray Hawk Lumber Supply.  Mailbox tucked under my arm, I walked towards the counter where Danny awaited me.  “Alright!  That’s exactly what I want to see!  She’s definitely sticking around now.  Can’t leave once you’ve put in your mailbox.”  I laughed and shook my head.  “It’s not for me!”  I never thought when I came here that I would miss seeing the guy who works at the hardware store, but I will.

Or the time that we were looking for a Halloween movie to watch on Netflix and couldn’t find anything good.  So we settled on “The Magic Puppy.”  The writing was terrible, the camera work was bad, the acting was highly questionable.  But the company was good.  Erin handed out little pizzas while Emily, Paige, and I guffawed at the t.v. screen.

Or the hike with Anna and Shelby on the first day that we found our way to the top of Pretty House.  We wound our way around the rock and found the ascent.  As I walked between the trees and undergrowth at the very top, I saw a the break through the trees at the edge of the rock.  “Oooo, guys, I think this is going to good!”  And it was.  An awesome view with awesome people.

I’ve been pretty negative lately.  At that point where I’m ready to head home, but still have a little over a month yet to go.  I’ve been tending to focus on the wrong things – the annoyances, the ugliness, the questions.  But I know that’s not right.

Because God is always there, in the simplest of things.  On the grassy hill, in the morning office, at the top of the rock, buying a mailbox at the lumber supply.  I just have to take the time to pay attention.

And then I have to take the time to enjoy it.  Because I’m only going to be here, in this moment, right now.  And I need to make the most of it.



Where Love Lingers

I headed out, intending to enjoy the winter day as best I could by wandering at my will about the trails at camp.  I had donned my slippery black rain pants and all of my winter gear:  a green ‘boggan emblazoned with the logo of the farm co-op at home, a coat be-speckled with caulk from a housing project a year gone, and a puffy gray vest sent in the mail on my last birthday.  A trek up the mountain landed me on my favorite trail at camp:  Ralph’s Ridge.

As the snow crunched under my boots and the sun tasted the powdered sugar branches, I was reminded of another wander about camp this past fall.  I had used my Friday off to head out with the year-round camp staff to scope out good places for trails.  We had hiked on and off the trails, leaves crunching beneath our shoes and sliding out from under us as we explored this rock and that cave.

Mike, the curly-haired, Cincinnati-capped Camp AJ enthusiast, was, as always, ready with an idea to make life more interesting.

“You know what you guys should do?  Find an old rotted-out tree and knock it down with your bare hands.  It’s very satisfying.  A buddy of mine and I used to do it.”

Paige and Emily had embraced the idea, finding trees of the proper level of decay and invading their space to the point where they were ready to give up and move on – back home to the earth.

I hadn’t knocked one over that day though.

But I had thought about it.  And I thought about it again as I walked along the trail this winter morning.  And as I thought about it, I got a pleasant surprise.

There right before me was the perfect tipping tree; rotting and ready to rejoin the earth.  I grinned and leaned my weight into it.  It fell to the ground with a satisfying crack.  I dragged it off the trail and went on my way.

Ralph’s Ridge soon ended and I found myself on Rambler, a much steeper trail.  A steep slope and snow is not really a good combination unless you want to ski.  But I had a solution:  if I was probably going to end up falling on my butt – I might as well start on my butt.  I sat down on the snow and propelled myself down the trail – turning the hiking trail into a sledding party of one.  It may not have been the most adult thing to do – but it was definitely a very camp thing to do.  Might as well do as the kids would do.

I thought of camp kids again when I crossed the creek.

There along the edge of the creek a huge icicle hung from a rock, touching its toes to the ground.  I stood next to it and compared heights.  Yup.  It was definitely both taller and wider than me.  Behind the big icicle, smaller icicles curled out of the saturated soil next to the creek bed.  I picked one up in my hands and wondered at how they came to be.  I couldn’t help but think about how much the summer camp kids would love this experience.  Yes, I thought to myself, Camp AJ magic really does exist, even in the winter.

Fast forward one week.  The snow is beginning to melt.  I walked to camp through the trees, trying to avoid getting slushy snow up to my ankles and down into my socks.  As I broke away from the shadows and found myself at camp, I was eager to see that the snow had completely melted from the hill around the main building.  Tired of the constant risk of soggy socks, I sprinted up the last remaining stretch of snow to the driveway.

And stopped.

The air around camp had lost any hint of winter slush.  In fact, it didn’t smell like winter at all.  It smelled like summer.

Perhaps it was caused by the blacktop driveway soaking up the sun.  Perhaps it was caused by the lack of trees around the building.

But I like to think that it was more than that.

As I wandered around the building, I suddenly felt very close to summer camp.  I sat on the sun-warmed rock where Chris had once pretended to be a troll drinking a disgusting potion during the counselor hunt, and tried to sooth the quiet ache inside.  This breath of summer in January was making me campsick – at a time when I didn’t want to be campsick – because, come summer, I won’t be here.  And that’s just as I want it to be.  But I’ll miss it nonetheless.

Camp smelled of summer that day because it breathes the air of the time when it is most alive.  When it is full to the brim of kids with aches and joys and fear and courage.  You see, camp is one of those special places.  One of those magical places – one of those places that has been filled with so much love in its lifetime, that the love never really leaves.

At Camp AJ, love soaks into the earth and echoes off the rocks.  It swings its legs from the branches of trees and slides down mountains in the snow.  It whispers in the wind the secret of finding joy in the smallest things – like an icicle – or an old rotted tree.

I’ve heard it.

I’ve felt it.

I’ve smelled it.

Here where love lingers and waits for old friends and new; an island of summer in a world full of winter.

Camp AJ in the winter