I was in the middle of a three-day camping trip with 50 other people from my church whom I know and love and I felt alone.
It was Saturday; the second morning of our camping adventure and a new wave of friends joined us during the night. I arrived on Thursday afternoon along with three families with kids and one other singleton. Now, in addition, there were married couples without kids, couples at various stages of their dating relationships and a smattering of singles.
I was sharing an old-school canvas tent that I nicknamed Big Top, with a rotating cast of single ladies because most could stay one night but not another. When I woke up on that second morning I walked down the hill passing the tents containing the 50 some odd members of our group, out of the camp site and down the road to the day use picnic area.
A teenager from the group and I discovered this relatively unused facility when we were exploring the area surrounding the camp ground the afternoon before. The expansive picnic area surrounds a wide meadow filled with tall grasses. Located in the far southeast corner is dilapidated picnic shelter. A standalone fireplace with uncovered tables stands sentinel in the southwest and just off the meadow is a large shelter with an owl carving above the center fireplace. My teenaged friend and I wandered along the perimeter of the site finding a few other tucked away and disregarded tables before returning to our large group camp site in time to meet the new Friday night arrivals.
Saturday morning, remembering its vast solitude, I walked to the shelter housing the owl carving and sat on its low wall overlooking the meadow. I wanted to be alone because I felt so out of place among the 50. The night before, as we gathered around the campfire, my jokes, stories and musical outbursts – basically all the things I identify with as me – seemed out of place and out of sync with everyone there.
I couldn’t face that again this morning so wearing a borrowed black ROXY hoodie and green flannel reindeer pajama pants, I stared out into the field – alone. While I sat there in silence, I heard the wind blowing through the stalks of tall grass, birds calling to each other, cars driving down a distant roadway and then, faintly, something else…running water.
Now this was the second year my group camped at Bear Springs and the first year yielded no evidence of bears or springs or running water. This morning, alone in the silence, toward the end of a rather dry summer, I heard running water.
I hopped down off the wall and traipsed through the nearby woods and underbrush toward the sound. After stepping over fallen trees and walls of ferns, I saw a small stream of water almost entirely hidden by overgrown grasses , bushes, flowers and trees. As I walked on a fallen tree out over the stream, I saw a naturally dammed pond with a single female mallard feasting on early morning gnats as she floated along.
Looking out over the purple and pink wildflowers interspersed amongst the lush green grasses, I laughed loudly and then I cried.
Alone is the state I try to avoid at all costs but I had to be alone to get here. It was in the silence that I heard the sound of that life giving water. I had to take off on an unmarked path, alone, to find it. And my triumphal discovery would not be adequately appreciated by anyone else.
I’m on a journey alone and most of the time I’m super bummed about that. But alone is how I can hear the voice of the water calling. Alone is how I am free and able to seek after it.
In truth, I’m not really all that alone. I could be brave and run blindly through the forest because I knew that there were 50 people back at camp who know me and love me even when I feel out of sync and if something were to have happened would eventually come looking for me.
I can be brave because even though I’m on my particular adventure to my personal destination alone, I know that back at camp and around the country there is a crowd of people cheering me on.