Grey morning light slides into our room through the margins in our window shades. I breath deep. Air rushing into my lungs, chest expanding, my muscles remember yesterday’s mishaps. Having not skied in nearly five years, the mishaps were minor really (I speak for myself only- Emma seemed not to miss a beat).
…But back to the grey. A soft diffused light, dense and lingering hangs in this picturesque New England valley. Steeped in freezing temperatures and woodsmoke, the air encourages a leisurely morning pace. Below, snow rests on the ground, roofs, branches, and iced-over streams and marshes. Above, clouds hang statically and unbroken in a soupy ceiling.
I am struck by the diversity of beauty. It is easy to be drawn into dynamic scenes full of resounding highlights and mysterious shadows- saturated in “Maxfield Parishesque” colors. But there is beauty in this flat, monotonously grey New Hampshire morning also. Perhaps it is an experiential beauty, one that needs to be perceived with all of the senses.
So my question that I mull over this morning… the encouraging curiosity that works itself out in my thought life: if I delve only into those things which attract my very surface senses, am I learning to cut myself off from experiences of beauty like this? Will I become attracted to flash and glitz or will I practice perceiving and appreciating beauty of the subtle?
My feet pass over fragments of mountains, splintered and frozen, fractured and moved by a river of ice, left in a colossal pile of confusion and beauty. The blue morning light baths the mountains in a chill as we ascend- brokenness underfoot. Breath, step, step, breath. We turn our headlamps off and look to the east. Warm sunlight appears on the horizon.
Half a world away, I think about Emma just ending her workday. Perhaps setting the table with a board game or dealing out a hand of any number of different card games.
I return to the mountains, this land of ice and rock. “What an environment for visiting and never making a home,” I think to myself. What a landscape for crushing and uplifting. As we walk through the dawn, I continue to contemplate the shear lack of physical sustenance this land has. Like Vegas everything to sustain life needs to be carried in. And unlike Vegas, we carry the necessities into this place on the backs of horses and men.
And yet, this place fills me. The looming walls teach me humility. The elevation teaches me an appreciation for oxygen’s gift to the body. The light that shifts with the weather fills me with the fruits that beauty bears in our spirit.
It is no surprise though… that life would come in a place so physically inhospitable. Since I have been following Jesus, I’ve found life and beauty in the most unexpected places. Even in the grisly scene of the cross there is beauty… there is a road to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father… salvation for our broken and needy souls.
Now… just 3500 more vertical feet to further contemplate the paradoxical way in which God uses adversity and desolate landscapes to fill my soul.
Look to the mountains; listen to their groaning. Feel the granite press into our toes as we tread intentionally across its textured face. Breath in the wind. Taste its humidity on our lips, and smell the dust and cedar. What a beautiful gift to experience this creation so fully, so thoroughly in our bodies. Live and see that it is good. Give thanks and feel that it is good. Rest and know that it is good.
It’s cold… not debilitatingly so, but the first plunge does steal my breath. I come to the surface for warm air, and my feet fumble about to find footing in the stream bed below. “It’s not so bad,” I call back to Emma and Jacob and Dreama. After all, if I tell them how cold it really is, they might not follow. Eventually, one by one, we all slide down the granite and splash into the pool below. A similar look of shock, followed by a smile, covers our faces upon surfacing. We even manage to coax Ricky in for a couple trips down the slide.
A smile is a kind of silent speech- and how loudly it often speaks. As I look to the smiles on the faces of all those gathered to slide down this polished granite, I think of Jesus’ words; “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” While words aren’t my focus as I look around, the smiling adults and children plainly wear joy upon their faces. Through faces I see an overflow of their hearts’ posture. Family and strangers alike delight in the thrill of sliding through a cool creek in the summer sun. Joy… what a gift from which to be nourished.
As our vacation nears it’s end, I reflect upon all the experiences that we have soaked in these eight days. The macro experiences that have coursed through each and every day and the micro experiences that came as a glance- bursting into existence and then catalogued into memory. I see it all as treasure- moments with my Lord, moments with my wife, moments with family and strangers that we have had the opportunity to meet. Jesus tells his followers “the good person out of his good treasure brings forth good…” I say that the greatest good treasure is knowing and walking alongside the Lord. And along this path, there are treasure deposits with which to be filled (from which to give)- not riches or prosperity or freedom from discomfort, trials and pain. These treasure deposits are experiences and perspective that produce love, joy and peace. They produce patience, kindness and gentleness. They produce good.
I see the good this week of adventure has produced- the life and vitality it has poured into our marriage. The good fruit is proof of the good treasure. I am humbled by the good treasure given to us this week- this good gift from God.
Waking up in hard times… site 56 in Hard Times Loop at Lake Powhaten Campground to be precise. And contrary to the name of our loop, peace is the home of our hearts this morning. Emma shuffles across the gravel tent pad in her down booties and sweatpants, her hair a frenzy atop her head- a beautiful sight to behold. We both move leisurely around the morning campfire- still happily digesting our anniversary meal from last night.
Two rounds of coffee, scripture, prayer, another round of coffee. We unfold the map and stare. The topography of the Blue Ridge rises and falls across the glossy surface of the map. I drive the roads in my mind as I scan potential options- nearly experiencing the wind and vistas.
Stuff the sleeping bags, deflate the sleeping pads, pack the tent, organize the truck, depart Hard Times. As clouds build, our truck climbs the asphalt curves to the Parkway. A chill is in the air as we drive- windows down. For all of our Appalachian wanderings this week, these next miles are the most familiar to me. I point out routes on granite slabs in the distance and reminisce. I think of climbing partners and groups that I’ve lead in these mountains. Each overlook brings into view a patch of terrain saturated with fond (and not so fond) memories. Emma hears my stories; patiently, she indulges my reflections. We stop at lower falls, a swimming hole that flows with summertime memories for me, and soak our feet in its frigid waters.
Another steep and winding mountain highway leads us downhill and off the parkway. As we make a hairpin turn, I point out the spot where I wiped out on my bike some years ago and collected some gravel in my elbow. We wander the streets of downtown Brevard, hoping to see an albino squirrel but don’t.
Early evening finds us in the shade of the porch at Dolly’s Dairy Bar (one of my all-time favorite ice-cream establishments). The decking creaks beneath the rockers of our chairs as my ice-cream threatens to melt. After no more than a handful of minutes of porch time, my parents turn in the the gravel parking lot. We rise out of our rocking chairs and make our way down the steps and into the parking lot- saturated in an outward calm that betrays our inner feeling of excitement.
20 minutes later now, we are setting up camp- erecting a tent that we’ve used on family camping trips since I was in diapers. I stand for a moment staring at this old 30 lb piece of canvas held up by aluminum and anchored with steel- loved and cared for. It’s utterly impressive how this tent has been cared for. But I guess it’s just what we do… care for the things we hold as valuable. We can look at people’s possessions and can pretty immediately surmise, with some accuracy, how much they treasure this or that object. The same could be done with my “stuff.”
And relationships are no exception to this rule. While people aren’t possessions, you can tell when a person is cared for by another, loved by another, treasured by another. They radiate. And what a sweet gift it is to be able to love another person, to value them, to treasure them… to cause them to radiate.
“Happy Anniversary,…” the first words we each hear and say. The hard gravel is a dull discomfort beneath my left hip, having turned slightly off of my sleeping pad at some point in the night. Oddly enough, I don’t reposition myself… I just wait in the few moments of stillness before I slide out of my sleeping bag, exit the tent and fire up the stove. Normally, I would be planning my return to the tent, but instead mill about collecting kindling for a morning fire- a true sign that this will be a leisurely couple hours. Emma joins me on the Navajo blanket set right at the edge of the humble little fire. A mellow crackling of damp and smoking twigs provides a complimentary soundtrack for our coffee time.
An hour passes, we clean up, organize the truck for the day’s adventures, and we pull away from our temporary home- carrying the smell of campfire in our hair. We investigate several touristy attractions, turning around just at their pay-stations. Set against an abundance of free and perfectly satisfying beauty, we find it too difficult to pay what is asked for these attractions. We stop for cider along the way- which we gladly pay asking price for. Fresh peaches, preserves, and apples lure us into roadside stands. I even find a business selling coffee for 25 cents. For hours we ride the curves of asphalt streaming adjacent to cool mountain creeks. Coasting downhill and gassing it uphill, windows down, the breeze fills our car with a sense of freedom.
We grab an early dinner at a little place called the Tupelo Honey Cafe. Deep fried corn on the cob, tender pulled pork, greens, and okra fried just right intoxicate our senses. Our conversation is quiet, joyous. We reflect on the past year- all that God has given us, allowed us, and invited us into. What an adventure this marriage is; what a mystery it touches upon. Remembering is a necessary element of faith. As we remember moments that capture and articulate our faithfulness to one another, our faith in one another for the future is emboldened. In this way, the past informs our desires for the future- not only in direction but also in form. Not only where do I move forward, but how do I move forward- in weakness and fear or in strength and humility?
We constantly examine the things around us- trying to determine their integrity, their faithfulness. I look to Emma every day and see her anchored sense of integrity, her unwavering faithfulness in marriage. I remember little displays of each- each memory compelling me to find new expressions of love, new depths of affection.
We remember how God brought us together, and how He has nourished us in these early years of marriage- merely the very tip of the mountain that is His integrity and faithfulness. We remember His love for us, for this world, and we press in with all of our souls’ weight- longing to step forward in His strength and humility.