I remember this time last week, looking out my window and noticing how Fall was subtly beginning to show in the leaves. Now, I look out and see it overtaking the woods. Nearly every tree has changed color in some way. Where we had seen a sea of green with slight touch of red and yellow, we now see red, yellow, and brown with touches of green left over. Only the oaks and the evergreens are holding on to the green coverage that has been standard issue since mid Spring. It is a new world here, and even though you see it every year and know it’s coming, there’s still some excitement for this visitor who we haven’t seen in almost a year.
Earlier this week, I couldn’t stand to stay in the office and created the task of putting fall pictures on our website. This gave me the chance to do some hiking at camp, which I haven’t done in months. I took the Lowe Trail, which winds through the ridges surrounding camp, dips into the valley to cross the creek, then follows another ridge up to Wilderness Camp. There are times on this trail that you forget you are West Tennessee. You stand on the side of a high ridge, and the tree line breaks just low enough for you to look out over it–as if someone designed it to give you a scenic view–and you look across the valley to another ridge covered in orange, red, yellow, and green. If you know your geography, you’ll know that below you, in the valley, is the Tent and Trailer area. There may be people camping down there right now. This type of terrain seems like it should be farther east. When you think West Tennessee, you think cotton fields, marshes, and other flat land. But, there you are, having climbed what feels a bit like a mountain, looking out for miles, hawks and buzzards flying at eye level.
I remember when I first began building the Lowe Trail. I had dreamed of a longer Wilderness Trail for a few years, and I finally set out to chart it. When you build a trail, it’s first important to know the land where you are putting it. Trail building will be tough if you get lost just trying to chart the trail. So, I just took walks in the woods. This is a joy for me that goes back to my childhood. I lived in Jackson for the first 11 years of so of my life, but then my family moved out to Hardeman County on 50 acres that had belonged to my grandfather. I, all of a sudden, had swaths of woods in my back yard, and I would spend my afternoons after school, going out into the woods and getting lost so I could find my way back. At the time, it just seemed like something to do. I didn’t realize that it was shaping me as a human being. I love to go out into Wilderness and find my way through it. One of the most exciting things for me to do is to go out into something big and unknown and leave knowing it a little better. So, I set out to get to know the unexplored woods of Lakeshore.
In the early days of Lowe Trail planning, I found a general area that I thought was very scenic that would make a good walk. It followed the same general direction as the actual trail does today, but I was still getting a fell for every hill and hollar, all the turns and drop-offs. I found my way from a place near the High Ropes Course, through the woods, to Wilderness Camp. I felt like I had figured out where I wanted this new Wilderness Trail to be. I thought I had it committed to memory. But, before I began blazing the trail, I felt like I needed to retrace my steps from the other direction. Then, if I found my way back through to the same place, I could be sure I had a mastery of where to go. So, I set out to follow my trail, or, at least, what I thought was my trail. As I set out, I noticed that the air was changing a bit. The wind was picking up, and the sky was getting darker. I could tell a storm would be on us pretty soon, so I resolved to move a bit faster. I climbed a ridge or two, and made the turns that I thought I remembered taking on my first trip through. The wind picked up even more and the sky turned to a dark gray. I know that it was going to unload on me any second. The wind really picked up, and I knew I needed to take off running. At this point, I realized I wasn’t completely sure where I was. I knew, though, that if I could just get a view of the river, I would know exactly which way to go. With the weather getting wilder by the second, I realized I needed to kick it into high gear. I took off running. The camp dogs: then Miles, Shadow, and Penny were following me, and they were very faithful. I sprinted up a hill, knowing that if luck was on my side, I would top the hill and see the lake, then know where to go. When I topped the hill, I saw a large field, no water in sight.
At this point, I felt the first drop of water on my head. It was the first of many. The sky opened up and began to pour rain on me. I didn’t know what direction to go, but I knew that whatever direction it was, I needed to be running. So, I just started running, no idea what direction I was going in. The dogs followed along, getting soaked right along with me, probably rolling their eyes behind my back, because they knew exactly how to get home. I ran over another hill hoping that as I topped it, I would see the High Ropes Course, Tent and Trailer, or even the Administration Building. All I saw was valley and another hill on the other side. I was in flight mode now, my clothes were completely soaked, and I just kept on course, running down the hill, then up the next hill. On the side of this hill, I noticed some fallen barbed wire that I had to climb over. “Where on Earth am I? I’ve never seen anything like this. How did I get myself so lost?” Climbing the hill, the view of a roof began to come into view. “Oh great. I’m about to trespass. I’ve wandered into some other neighborhood. I’m going to have to knock on some stranger’s door and ask them to take in a completely drenched stranger from out in the woods.” As I climbed the hill more, I realized I recognized the building. It was my house.
I’ve gotten to know the woods much better since then, and it is always a blessing to get to know a place intimately. You recognize the trees like old friends. You remember spots and what happened there with which friends. You remember the work projects to make the trail walkable and recognizable. You remember who was with you at different stretches. Who swung the pick axe. Who used the hand saw to trim the fallen trees. You remember the conversations you had as you built this thing from something else, side by side, sweat falling off your foreheads, dirt under your fingernails. Then, you remember those times that you walked the path all alone in the cool of the morning, hearing the birds, looking at the trees swaying in the breeze. They are changing always, but you know them. You’ve watched them grow old.
We are seeing it happen again, for another year. What will we change now? What will we soon shake off? What will grow in it’s place? As we walk in this wilderness, sometimes together, sometimes on our own we will find many things. Some days, we walk a familiar path that we know like ourselves. Some days, we will feel lost, even though we are right at our own doorstep. Let’s hope that wherever our adventures lead, we find some place we feel we can call home.
This week we host a Women’s Emmaus Retreat, Eva Methodist Church, and Alpha Sigma Phi. We pray for blessings on all these and all of you.