Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Backpacking with the Saints

Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. So this past summer I was more intentional in getting out on our trails and enjoying our wilderness. My daughter and I hiked along the East Coast Trail from Flat Rock to Torbay (arriving just in time for Sunday service at St.Nicholas). My son and I backpacked from the Goulds to Bay Bulls, and spent the night near the famous “Spout”. He and I also backpacked from Trepassey to St.Mary’s through the Avalon Wilderness Area, spending the night at the beginning of Peter’s River. These were wonderful experiences of being present to my family, exercising my body, and soaking in phenomenal Newfoundland scenery. I did two more significant wilderness excursions this summer, but with an added objective: to backpack in solitude with a saint! I was inspired to try this after reading Belden Lane’s “Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice.” My first solo hike with a spiritual master was into Dunphy’s Pond in Terra Nova Park. The bear pole to hang food from and the clawed up bear box at the site were somewhat unsettling. After getting my camp set up, I took my journal and Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” and made my way to the side of the pond. The deep silence of the forest was incredible. It was only interrupted by the occasional song from a loon. Hanh’s book is a simple instruction on how to watch our breath as a form of meditation. So I’m watching my breath, surrounded in deep silence and thick forest, not a soul around for miles…and I can’t get the thought of a bear stumbling across me in my little tent out of my mind. So much for mindfulness! I packed up and left! My next attempt at solo backpacking was from Brigus South (on the Southern Shore) to Roaring Cove. This was a beautiful experience of being alone with God in the wilderness. I brought Thomas Merton with me and his book “Thoughts in Solitude.” After the sun went down, and I settled into my sleeping bag, Merton was a great companion for my meditation into the night. With the sounds of the sea roaring, the river rushing, the cool and expansive night air on my face, Merton, and the creation around me, reminded me of my own smallness in God, yet my absolute oneness with God and all of creation. Backpacking with the saints has opened new doors for me to experience God in creation.

The wilderness
is calling

my soul

out of 
the noise
and routine
of the city,

the silence
and uncertainty 
of the wild.

calls on 

to wander
in solitude,

to see afresh 
or for the first time,

the beautiful wonder
of creation,

to be recreated 
with an awakened 

to the brotherhood 
and sisterhood

of all that is.  

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