Morning has Broken!
Thursday, August 31, 1989
In the early morning hours as I shifted position in my sleeping bag, I have enjoyed seeing the progressive lightening of the eastern sky. Even before that, I have observed that Venus precedes the sun by about 60 degrees, so I can judge the time left till morning.
The uncomfortableness of sleeping on the ground has enhanced the joy of the morning. Sleep really comes in catnaps, so I have plenty of time to observe the sky. The nights seem long, so I am always anticipating the first signs of morning.
This morning was the best of all - the solitude and my solo location on the ridge among the trees overlooking the valley and mountains heightened my morning experience. The sky lightens, then grows pink. This pastel shade is in contrast to the beautiful blue shade of the mountains and the green of the trees standing over me.
Even before the sunrise, I hear the soft whooping of the wings of the Clark's nutcrackers as the make their rounds in twos and threes. They fly into the tops of the trees to survey the surroundings - favoring the sharp tops of the dead trees. The silence is so profound you can hear the click of their feet clasping on the wood of the branch. Satisfying themselves that there is no food here, they fly on with the gentle whoop-whoop-whoop of their wings. They made the same kind of cross-country reconaissance flights last night - I must have seen a couple of dozen of them in the same kind of pattern. I enjoyed seeing the nutcrackers at work in a more primitive setting. In the past I have just seen them scrounging at the tourist areas. I was amused at the thought that they were really out of luck with us - eight humans - likely food sources - strung out along a mountain ridge and none of us had a scrap of food!
The time of the sun peeking over the ridge was a time of exhilaration. It quickly lit our ridge. The only thing inhibiting my reverie was concern about Mark - I knew it must have been a long cold night without his sleeping bag. I was just warm with optimum use of my sleeping bag. I was troubled by thoughts of his low body fat and the possibility of hypothermia. His solo site was below on the rocky ridge and I had seen him a couple of times yesterday. I moved to the extreme high corner of my area and I saw him walk out and lie down in a sunny area. I was relieved that he was moving about and could return to my morning reverie.
With the peeking of the sun over the top of the mountain, my little wooded plot came to life as a flock of little birds, maybe chickadees, came foraging through the trees chirping and twittering their morning songs. A little brown squirrel climbed out on a limb about 40 feet from me and began the sequence of short whistles that is his morning song. With a body probably 3" long, he squeezes in his whole body to make his squeak or whistle.
A woodpecker lands on a tree 15ft from me and I am inspired by the fact that I don't seem to be inhibiting the waking-up celebration of the woods around me. The highlighting of the needles on the pines and firs, the golden light on the ponderosa trunks behind me, the blue mist of the valley, surrounded by the sounds of the little birds celebrating the morning. Who could ask for a more magnificent cathedral. All the world around me seemed to be worshipping the Creator. Praise the Lord!
The experience of yesterday's solitude was not a tremendous gripping high, nor a trance-like meditation day - the image I often form of a day of fasting and prayer. It was a calm, soothing, cleansing, thoughtful day. I didn't miss the food at all - after the fact of the fast was accepted it was like my body said "OK, then I won't bother troubling you with hunger."
One unique thing that I experienced was that tears came easily. I thought a lot of Brenda and tears welled up at the thought that she was not here to share this. I thought about the richness of Mark's experience thus far, and I cried about that. I reflected on Brenda's wisdom and love in making this possible for us and tears welled up again. I'm certainly not ashamed of such tears and they enriched my experience of solitude. An now I am crying again while writing this.
Yesterday I observed two types of squirrels on my little half-acre. I saw several striped ground squirrels with long tails that zipped around on the ground like Speedy Gonzales. Then toward dusk I heard this squirrel scratching up the trunk of the large pine 20ft from me. The squirrel poked his head around the tree and, startled at seeing me, zipped up to a limb about 10ft off the ground and proceeded to cuss me in loud shrill squeaks for a long time. He was obviously quite miffed at my invasion of his territory. His body was about 4" long and he had a long slender tail and long erect pointed ears similar to the Kaibab squirrels at Grand Canyon.
With the tremendous high of the morning celebration of the waking up of the forest, I began to think about getting back together with the group. The morning passed pleasantly until mid-morning when I expected Peter to come and get me. After that, I didn't feel like getting into any more writing or anything - I had my sleeping bag put up and everything together for the pickup I expected any minute. But that was not to be - as the morning wore on I watched the shadows shorten toward noon and remembered that Bobbi Ann had told us distinctly twice that the pickup would be before noon. I watched the shadows shorten through their minimum and even measured my shadow length to confirm that noon had come and gone. That irritated me a bit because we had been kept in the dark about future agenda so far, but at least they had not given us incorrect information.
Since this was an adventure, the thought entered my mind that they might not be coming to get us - that they might in fact have left us on our own, trusting to our group impulse to get back together and spend the night on our own. They knew we were fully capable of doing that now. I was just deciding that I would wait to 3-4 to honor our commitment, but then initiate the gathering, when Peter showed up to take me in. He came to me and started heading back into camp toward Mark's isolation site. I asked him about Tish and he said she had come in on her own about an hour ago. He asked that I pick up a couple of stones or pine cones for our sharing session and that otherwise we were to proceed in silence to the campsite and remain in silence until our sharing session.
We made our way down the ridge to Mark's site which was mostly rock with only two trees. He saw us coming and started picking up his stuff. "I was afraid you had forgotten us" he said to Peter as he approached. Peter did not explain, but informed him of the silence on the way back and we headed for Jeff's site. We found Jeff asleep in his sleeping bag. We waited with some impatience as he gathered his stuff since we were anxious to get back.
When we got back to the campsite we were the only ones there - Tish was out somewhere nearby. When we set our stuff down I went over and hugged Mark - I was really glad he was OK. Jeff was standing nearby, so I initiated the move to go over and hug him. I had a bit of hesitancy about it but his response made it evident that it was the right thing to do. He hugged me tight and I felt him stifle a sob. Then he went over and hugged Mark.
Since we were still waiting on the others, I went down to the lake and stuck my head in to wash my hair and face. We got some water and helped prepare the kitchen area and by that time we saw Bobbi Ann bringing her group in.
We gathered in a circle in the partial shade of a couple of trees. Peter explained to us that our two rocks were tickets to talk - we were to toss a pebble into the center of the circle and then everyone else was to listen until we were finished. He asked us to do two things - to tell what was most significant to us about the solo time and to show and explain our "picture of God".
There was a moment of silence and then Tanya tossed a 2 pound stone into the center and said "Not to delay things, I will go ahead." This struck us all as funny since everybody else had small pebbles. We kidded her the rest of the trip about throwing in a boulder at discussion time. It was also a kind of kidding about her forcefulness and outspokenness as she entered our discussions.
She shared about her picture of God - Trinity, alpha-omega, flowing to man and back to God - she thinks through things carefully and in detail.
Jo threw in both his rocks and described his picture of God which included Aslan the lion and some of the same elements as Tanya's - a flowing from God to man and back to God as well as man-to-man. Then he admitted that the solo time was not a thing he liked, and that he didn't think he could have borne it without Ankie - they had done their solo time together. They had made the request for this before the trip because of still dealing so keenly with the grief over the loss of his wife and her mother. Their covenant was to spend the afternoon in solitude after an initial sharing time, and then to come back together for the night.
My heart was pretty full at this time and I felt it was time for me to share - I threw in one of the pine cones I had picked up as my "tickets".
"This solo time came as a complete surprise to me, as has everything else on this trip. But solitude is in no sense threatening to me - sometimes it comes as a welcome friend. I was raised on a farm in Arkansas in a very rural area and sometimes I would roam the woods alone. I would also walk out in the fields at night under the stars to think about things."
I also interjected "The separation from my camera was the only thing that gave me any sense of privation." That brought laughs and broke the negative feeling that I felt was settling in after Jo's comments about his pain in the solo.
Then I tried to say verbatim what I had just thought about and written :"One unique thing that I experienced was that tears came easily. I thought a lot of Brenda and tears welled up at the thought that she was not here to share this. I thought about the richness of Mark's experience thus far, and I cried about that. I reflected on Brenda's wisdom and love in making this possible for us and tears welled up again. I'm certainly not ashamed of such tears and they enriched my experience of solitude."
I felt the group's response and I really felt the Lord was leading in my sharing with this group. I proceeded almost verbatim with what I had written starting with "The morning was the best of all .. " to my "Praise the Lord!", at which time my head was bowed and tears were running down my cheeks.
I felt a very warm feeling from the group after I spoke. It drew the group together, and certainly I think the group felt they understood me better - it broke the ice to make them feel they could get to know me, and represented one of the turning points in the week. Bobbi Ann was very appreciative and responded that she thought my words and particularly my tears showed that I had made some progress toward my stated goal of being able to share my feelings more easily. Tanya said she hoped I wrote those words down and there was a murmur of appreciation around the circle - certainly a high time.
I am still "pondering in my heart" this special time. I felt in a way that I rarely feel that I was being used of God to bless this group - I had received an intense blessing in the morning and it was exhilarating to try to share that blessing. The words I said were words that I had carefully and prayerfully composed in the morning, and I had rehearsed them in my mind. I tried to speak calmly and distinctly and tried with everything that was in me to share what my heart was feeling.
I got comments the rest of the week that showed that others had been touched. Peter said to me that afternoon that he had said to someone that I should have been a pastor instead of a professor. He asked me if I had ever dealt with that and I assured him that indeed I had struggled with it during my college years. I told him that I felt that God had given me gifts in the technical area, gifts in teaching, and that I felt I could minister better as a teacher. Tanya had joined the conversation and we discussed the fact that pastors were expected to minister, and sometimes there was a unique opportunity to minister if people knew it wasn't your job and you weren't expected to minister. The situation had opened the door for further meaningful sharing with Peter.
Ankie threw in a stone and said something like she was glad it was meaningful to Tanya and I but that it had been a painful experience for her. Hunger had bothered her, she was sick to her stomach in the afternoon, that she didn't like solos.
Lai Kit also shared that the solo was painful to her in that hunger bothered her very much. She shared her drawing of God and it was really a work of art, showing her talent as an artist. She had drawn a large rock showing that God was her rock, the sun as source of light and a drawing of a nest with a mother bird and chicks to represent God's tender care for us. She also had a more modernistic part of the drawing with separate drawings of ear, eye and mouth to represent that God still listens to us, sees us, and speaks to us. The entire drawing was immersed in a sea of small hearts indicating God's love. She had had a positive experience in reading and reflecting on scripture.
Jeff also shared about the impact of scripture during his solo. He had tried reading and found it hard to concentrate and had decided to memorize scripture. One of the things he talked about was memorizing the 23rd Psalm and finding that the words became part of him as never before.
Mark shared his picture of God and talked about his cold experience without a sleeping bag. He wore 7 layers of shirts, 3 layers of pants, my heavy boggan cap and two bandanas, three pairs of socks and boots. His main problem was that his feet got cold. He did jumping jacks, squat thrusts, running in place - but by the time his breathing had settled down enough to maybe go to sleep, he was cold again. He had worried about Tish because she had less clothing than him. He had read Corinthians and Revelation.
Tish said she had probably walked 10 miles on her site - essentially walking all night. So neither of them who chose to take the physical challenge were really convinced that it was a worthwhile thing to do, except that Mark felt it had helped him to appreciate the simple things of life that we take for granted.
Finally we were ready to break our fast. Bobbi Ann had cooked up a big pot of oatmeal with raisins and a pineapple cheese pie. We stood in a circle with our spoons and had a communal meal from the two containers. We polished both off in very short order.
We had some free time and Mark, Jeff, Tanya, Ankie and Jo prepared to go swimming. I walked over to Jo as he was about to take his hearing aid out to swim. He said "Did you have something to say to me? I won't hear so well when I take this out." Really, I was just wandering by, but on impulse I said "No, I had something else in mind." and I grabbed him in a big hug. He responded with a hand squeeze and I could feel that he was crying. "I love you, my Christian brother!" I said, and I was then near tears too. So again I felt that the Lord had led me to do something that was meaningful to someone else and I felt most blessed.
Before supper we gathered again with the purpose of sharing the 10 things we loved (liked) about ourselves. Jo shared, then a couple of others. After sharing, the group responded in affirmation to the individual, filling in "things he missed" or things they liked about him/her. Mark shared his list and the group really responded warmly to him, touching both him and his "old man". Jeff responded about his helpfulness and told that he had been impressed with Mark at the very beginning when he saw him pick up the heaviest items of the group gear to put in his pack. Ankie, I believe, affirmed him about his maturity, saying that he was so much more mature than other 19 yr olds she knew - alluding particularly to his unselfishness and helpfulness. Almost everyone had something to say to him. Bobbi Ann finished up by saying "I don't want anybody to take this wrong, but I think you have some of the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. And I think you will make some girl a wonderful husband." I pitched in at some point in a humorous vein with "One of the things I like about this kid was a problem for us when he was a kid. We would buy him toys and he would wander off down the street and give them to somebody. He has always been sensitive and generous. He has been easy to live with."
Tish has difficulty in the group sessions and I was very proud of how the group reached out to her and affirmed her.
I shared my list of 10 things and was also warmly affirmed, and it was very meaningful to me. Lai Kit said that she felt that I was very solid and dependable, someone she felt confident in trusting. Ankie also expressed that sentiment. Tanya expressed her appreciation for a good, wholesome man who loved his family. All of the affirmations seemed genuine and it really made me feel good. Peter said that the thing he liked about me was that I could approach things like a child - open and with curiosity and excitement.
We broke for supper and continued afterward. When we finished we built the only campfire of the week. We stood around it and sung songs and told stories until probably 10 o'clock. I really liked the singing. Jeff and Ankie really had good voices, as well as Peter and Tish. Bobbi Ann didn't sing but seemed to really enjoy the singing.
The idea of Christian community has been one of the most important ideas and experience of my life. I was deeply appreciative of the community we had formed in these few short days. I tried my best to get a photo of each member, so here is a brief album of that effort.
John (Jo) Shuitema
Jo is a native of the Netherlands and told tales of surviving the Nazi occupation there as a teenager. Although he was mourning the loss of his wife about a year earlier, he seemed to find the fellowship and the physical experiences quite meaningful.
Ankie shared with her father the grief experience at the loss of her mother, and the poignance of their fellowship out here heightened all of our experiences. They were a delightful pair, taking in everything with enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit.
Jeff was born in the United States but was proud of his full Japanese heritage. An administrator with one of the space-related industries, he showed a gift for organization and coordination of the group. He and Mark really hit it off well in the sharing of the duties of the camp.
Lai Kit Chan
Lai Kit is from Hong Kong and is a Berkeley educated graphic artist working in the San Francisco area. She had never even been camping before, let alone taken on a wilderness trip like this one. She took in everything from rock climbing to rappelling with a great spirit and a light of excitement dancing in her eyes.
Tanya, a Russian-born and raised engineer rounded out our very international group. Outspoken yet compassionate, she was one of the initiators in our sharing sessions. Her experience in the Orthodox church coming out of Russia was very inspiring to me. Living in Moscow until age 29, she had many fascinating stories about life in Russia.
Tish is a very athletic and adventurous young lady. She had been on a 21-day wilderness trip in Death Valley and had some rappelling experience before. She and Mark were probably the ones who most looked forward to the physical challenges of the adventure.
Mark Nave and Rod Nave
Mark really related well to the group and I was delighted to see him have the experience of community with a group like this. He loved it all - I loved it all except the rock climbing.
A mountain lady in the finest sense of the word, Bobbiane was completely relaxed, at home, and delighted to be out in the wilderness. Her pack was heavier than mine, yet she skipped along through the woods like it was a walk in the park. With a Master's degree in counseling and a real interest in getting us to share our lives with each other on a deeper level, she was a good facilitator of the group discussions.
With college degrees in Wildlife Biology and Philosophy, Peter hopes to use both in ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ. Friendly and supportive and completely accessible, he and Bobbiane were great leaders of the experience in the wilderness. Peter and I are both great fans of C.S. Lewis and great lovers of the wilderness.
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