Breathing with the Trees

We just returned from a week of camping in Northern Michigan.  I love the trees in the campground where we stay.  Walking among them, listening to the wind rustling their leaves, standing aghast at the blue sky to which they point, is worship.

Two years ago I wrote this blog post about our trip to Interlochen, Michigan, where we have gone camping for the past six summers.  My parents took me camping here when I was a child and now we take our kids.  It’s a Sabbath tradition that I adore.  This is the one week of the year when I truly unplug, look up, and consider the beauty of the world in which we live.  Trees like this just help me breathe better.

On our drive home from Interlochen, I read “Instructions for an Evening of Your Life” by Sarah Bessey.  Even though Sarah advises her readers to find a body of water to sit by, this post resonated with me after my week of camping in the trees.  Bessey writes:

Become acquainted with the silence in your own soul, you might be surprised by the sound of you. Sometimes you might rise up in gratitude and thanksgiving, other times the pain you’re finally allowing yourself to feel might be overwhelming, sometimes your soul feels like worship and sometimes this feels like encountering a stranger – do I know you? Then sometimes it might simply feel like a good friend you haven’t seen in far too long and you’ll think to yourself, why don’t I do this more often? 

We all need moments, vacations, sabbath time, to get reacquainted with the silence in our soul and the sound of ourselves–the more often the better.  Otherwise, the beauty of the world and the beauty that is “me” will go unappreciated and unnoticed.

Spirit Waking in Michigan

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For the past three summers, we have spent a week camping at Interlochen State Park in Northern Michigan. Opened in 1917, this is the oldest State Park in Michigan and, in my mind, the most beautiful. The sites are extremely well-maintained, the bathrooms have recently been renovated (and are cleaned daily!) and–the best part–every night you can hike an easy trail over to the Interlochen Music Camp to hear some incredible performances and buy ice cream at the Melody Freeze. My parents took me camping here when I was a child. It was a favorite memory that I hoped to recreate for my children.

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We just returned from this summer’s trip and I can honestly say I love everything about this place:

I love the slap of the camp store’s screen door behind my two wild-haired towheads, giddy over the superman ice cream cones dripping in their hands, a ring pop in their pocket, and maple syrup still smeared on their cheeks from morning pancakes with Pipa. (My parents camp with us!)

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I love the smells of campfire smoke, pine sap, bug spray, sunblock, iron-tinted water, and Fells Nap soap that washes away swimmer’s itch as well as all the end-of-the day grime.

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I love bugs trapped in plastic water bottles, bike rides and scavenger hunts, running full-speed down the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, and no Wi-Fi.

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I love how the wind shuffles and shifts the tops of the white oaks, silver maples, and white pines–a canopy of green that shelters us from the sun and the heaviest drops of rain.

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I love the raccoon, captured, in the beam of our flashlight, pillaging our neighbor’s trash. Chipmunks and black squirrels whose maniacal chirps echo through the woods. A pair of woodpeckers who wake us up at dawn, teaching their young how to jackhammer the trees for food.

(No critters cooperated for the camera.)

Even the rain, I love, because it forces us inside to play board games and put together puzzles. The drops sound like tiny pebbles on the fiberglass roof of our pop-up camper.

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The natural beauty of this place, as well as the freedom to be naturally me (no mascara, no frills, and no photographs) is exactly what I need this time of the year.

I recently read an interview of the poet, Derek Walcott, who describes why he wakes up at half-past three in his Caribbean home to write.

“That hour,” says Walcott, “that whole time of day, is wonderful in the Caribbean. I love the cool darkness and the joy and splendor of the sunrise coming up. I guess I would say, especially in the location of where I am, the early dark and the sunrise, and being up with the coffee and with whatever you’re working on, is a very ritualistic thing. I’d even go further and say it’s a religious thing. It has its instruments and its surroundings. And you can feel your own spirit waking.”

I’m sure we all have our places of “spirit waking.” Interlochen is mine. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is because this place is so connected to my childhood. But, beneath those trees, taking in those sounds and smells, observing my children having so much fun in nature, I feel my spirit waking. Only here do I begin to let loose the chords of work stress that entangle me and stop checking my email so obsessively. It is a religious thing. A summer ritual for which I am extremely grateful.

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