Years ago I went on my first river-rafting trip. It was also the first time I’d ever gone formally camping. Once while hitchhiking across country I had slept in a sleeping bag in the high desert of Arizona but had never taken gear, set up a tent, built a fire and all that. I liked the rafting but abhorred the camping.
“I normally get paid to work.” I grumbled.
I was uncomfortable and put out but soldiered through because I knew it was good for the family. I went back every year for five or six years out of a sense of obligation to the group.
My wife went on a couple of other trips to different rivers but I refused other than the yearly church trip. Then, one October we went to a river down south in the fall. This was a “different animal”.
The Chatooga looked like one long landslide of granite had tumbled into the rushing, cold, gray water. Four hours we lived among huge boulders with forest rising on either side.
We rode seven-foot drops while soaring hawks watched from above. We stood at the foot of 100-foot falls as they took photos of us. Each of our group is grinning ear to ear from under the white plastic helmets they insist that you wear. The element of danger creates a bond with the folks you are with. You have to work together or you can get hurt.
I sense Indian spirits astride their painted ponies, camouflaged by the turning leaves. Half the day is in the shadow of the cliffs and forest with welcome breaks in the warming sun. I feel as if I am being bathed in nature as wind caresses my skin and the rust colored leaves dance on the air.
Back at the rustic old wooden center of operations with its welcoming porch we regale one another with our spills and bruises, watching slide shows of ourselves engulfed by boiling white water. We laugh and joke at our faces forever frozen in moments of truth as the river has it’s way with us.
Back at camp we prepare a meal and gorge until we all meet by the blazing bonfire. Everyone laughs while some listen to the college football games, all basking in the warmth of the fire. I note the chill of the starlit night as I take mental photos of these grins of camaraderie.
I've come to the tent that I did not mind setting up. I've lit the lanterns, put on some warm socks and lie here listening to voices outside as they fade with the dying fire. Some will talk until the wee hours. It used to bother me but now it’s ok. I’ll fall asleep to the sound of folks at ease with themselves.
A few weeks back after work one evening I groused to my wife,
“I dread this trip.”
“REALLY?” she said surprised.
I knew even then there was something amiss in the comment. Now I know why. The truth is I stopped hating camping a long time ago. The truth is I feel close to God here. He’s in the river. He’s in the wind and the mutating embers of the blazing fire. Most of all He’s in the people all around me, here in the woods, under the towering trees that reach ever higher into the infinite night sky.