End of Summer

On top of Lembert Dome.

It’s been a nice summer.   Sacred Rok had four camping trips, two in Yosemite Valley in May and June and two at Tuolumne Meadows in July and August.

On our last trip, we had seven teens from Merced County foster care.   We camped at Tuolumne Meadows Campground.  I got to share, with those from the group who got up early, my ritual of greeting the sun with my campfire.  It was good to see Rafael smiling and enjoying the fire and the sunrise, something that he might not forget for a long time.

Every day we took a hike or walk, and had a chance to swim in the river.  We hiked up Lembert Dome, we walked by Pothole Dome to the river, and we walked to Cathedral Lakes.  We also walked over to Soda Springs where the kids tasted the soda water.  They were fascinated by the mineral taste, and the tiny carbonated bubbles rising from the reddish stone.

At Soda Springs, one camper filled an extra canteen to take home for her foster mom to drink.  On our last night around the campfire, Juan shared that he learned something about how people are scared of water and nature.  He recounted that when he bent down to fill his water bottle at Soda Springs, there was a family nearby who watched him in shock.  They couldn’t believe that he would actually drink water straight from the spring.  It made him realize how distant people are from nature.

It meant a lot to me to hear Juan say, at the campfire circle on our last night, that this trip had been the highlight of his life.  It’s been a pretty amazing time for me, too.  The experiences we had with the youths were both ordinary and extraordinary, and that’s the beauty of it.  In these days of the commercial promotion of extreme experiences, it’s great to realize that calmness and connecting to our indigenous nature is where it’s at.  That is the extraordinary.

The kids loved the chance to slow down and learn about nature their own way, by experiencing it.  They loved the food – Katie’s egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast on a cold morning, or banana pancakes, all made with care and love.  Slowing down, walking, swimming, sunning, breathing, eating – all such ordinary experiences -- truly amazing when you have the chance to appreciate the experience, opening our senses to let nature be the healer.

I want to think of ways in which the appreciation of these episodic moments can be extended and continued to create the being – that is a long-term challenge that we face even as we enjoy and are thankful for the ceremonies of nature that the kids experience on our trips.

This week, the weather in Tuolumne turned cold.  The fall weather brings with it a reflective time, a respect for the change of seasons.  With the experiences of this past year, Sacred Rok is now starting to mature.  We have a nice cadre of young people with whom I have cultivated friendships that I hope will continue to grow.  Leading up to next summer, I will have day trips with small groups coming up from Merced, continuing to develop our appreciation of education, nature’s way.

At the same time, we are working on the inherent tension between our way of doing with the external expectations of being clearer about objectives, curriculum, and teaching.  We believe that structure often works against natural discovery and connecting the experiences to the soul.  Sacred Rok for me is an on-going experiment in how these elements of learning and living can be woven together to inspire a deeper understanding of being human and our responsibility to the earth.