Last Friday, we packed up the kids and drove to Vermont for a weekend of hiking and spiritual retreat at a grand old house called Thendara.
The group we joined there — a motley crew of anglican/episcopal/catholic friends of all ages — has been gathering for years to hike, reflect, worship, and enjoy big pancake breakfasts and post-hike dinner parties. We hadn’t been on a hike with this group since having kids, so were grateful that Vivienne and Hugh were welcomed to join in the fun, too!
Many in our group had been to Thendara before, but Ryan and I had not. What a house! When we first arrived Friday evening just after dark, we could hear voices but couldn’t find anyone. We wandered from room to room, peeking through doorways and around corners until we realized everyone was out on the back porch.
What’s more magical than a big old house you could get lost in? Vivienne’s imagination certainly kicked into high gear, and she squealed with delight when she discovered that our assigned bedroom had a “princess bed” just her size tucked into the dormer.
Our hostess, Elizabeth, regularly opens her home up to friends for weekend retreats such as this. At one point, as we were talking about the house, she said, “Well, when you’ve got this many rooms, you’ve got to fill them with friends!” I love that.
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set out for the day’s hike with about a dozen others from the group.
We took both kids on the hike, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 miles, with a 2,000 foot ascent. I think maybe we made everyone a little nervous insisting Vivienne could do it, but we just knew she could. She’s such a good, plucky little hiker, and though she’d never done anything on this scale, we believed she would rise to the occasion.
And did she ever! That 5 year old practically skipped right up the mountain and back down again, even in the rain. I think I said, “Slow DOWN!” a thousand times, for fear she would careen right over a rock or slide down a muddy incline. She wasn’t without her stumbles, but she was so brave, and she popped right back up again.
Hugh bopped happily along in the backpack (many thanks to my energetic husband for bearing that burden!), and took a good long nap nuzzled into the back of Ryan’s neck.
At the top, we missed out on the views due to heavy cloud cover, but it made our little en plein aire service especially ethereal. We read the Sermon on the Mount and sang How Great Thou Art with appropriate mountaintop gusto. Singing this verse in context was especially moving:
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
I should probably admit here that I am not a big hiker. I mean, I do enjoy it, but amidst all the busyness of life, it doesn’t usually make it to top of my list. I was reminded this weekend, though, that there’s something deeply relieving about wholly committing my mind and body to climb, one step at a time, up a mountain. Giving myself permission to be only here, in these woods, noticing each small thing. To reach the top and rest; to celebrate my effort and have it be enough.
So, it felt good to sit on that mountaintop with the people I love. And it felt like a gift to come back down to earth together and pick up where we left off — with baths and bedtimes and a big, lively dinner party with friends.