We had come through the mountains and their pockets of directionless fog; tried and failed to keep time on our journey, only to abandon all sense of it upon reaching our destination; and we had unexpected and rich experiences, manifold and undeniably important.
I looked up and I was there.
Less than thirty-six hours had elapsed since I arrived there on the grounds of Camp Shomria in the Catskills of New York alongside my fiancée. We never could have prepared for what we would encounter at this self-proclaimed site of adolescent anarchy and secular Judaism.
Sure, we had brought ample provisions in the form of bags of jerky, tins of sardines, and plenty of warm clothes & equipment in anticipation of a soon-to-be-cancelled camping trip in “glamorous Vermont.” But no matter what we had brought with us, or how intentional we had been in opening our minds and hearts to this retreat/seminar/whatever-you-call-it-experience, we simply could not have foreseen and planned for what was to come.
We found an entire community on the heels of hoping to find a new friend, maybe. It had been a shamefully long time since we’d made a new one, and now we have dozens of them scattered across the land. There are good folks “in our corner” who are living in New York, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and South Dakota. They come from Russia, from Israel and Jamaica; they have partners, babies, dogs, cats, and other animals too. They have their own dreams and fears.
We met two farming couples, bonded by the principles of permaculture and the shared experience of having learned from a man full of grandfatherly wisdom & youthful enthusiasm. The same man whom my fiancée and I now feel like we should learn from.
We observed some sort of mythical forest person who identified everything growing out of the earth, ate it, and spit it out behind him.
Family-style and family-building meals were cooked, served, and consumed; campfires were tended to; business and lifestyle ideas were exchanged; and bonds were formed.
All of that came together in a single place, within the span of four days. What we experienced together was not exactly concrete. No, it was far more relatable to soil or water or air. The composition of these experiences, relegated now to our racing minds & fast-beating hearts, is changing. It is living and breathing—it needs nourishment to grow and prosper.
To tell the truth, I feel confused right now. I am confused by the sudden reality that I do not feel at home, though I am indeed sitting in my home. I am disoriented by the sea of thoughts, the storm of emotions, and the resultant flood from my latest experiences on this curious, life-sustaining planet we live on.
But when I looked up, I was right there—fully present and observant.
I was on this planet, literally, on its outer crust that occupies less than one percent of Earth’s total volume. The less-than-one percent that is dusted with inches-deep topsoil upon which we depend; which houses the ecosystems in which we live. I lay there on that hallowed ground, thoughts still percolating from an hours-long group discussion that I would count among the most inspirational that has occurred during my twenty-three year lifetime. I stared in wonder at the night sky above. The stars were brilliant—more luminous than I have ever seen. The Milky Way reveled itself to me for the first time.
I had tears in my eyes.
My newfound people—brought together from the ether of the Internet and into this remote, but very real place—were filtering out into their respective cabins to go to sleep. But there I was: awake and alone with the world and the space in which it exists, and very much not alone at the same time.
I surrendered to the moment, just as we all surrendered to the unforeseen gifts of our brief moment together as a physical community in Liberty, NY. The power of what I saw when I looked up was beyond any description. So too is the impact of the sense of community; of ecological justice and environmental stewardship; and of hope that I have experienced as a result of a few days spent in the mountains with some very inspired people. Even in void of suitable description, it all remains with me in complete detail.
It is part of my landscape now. It is part of who I am and what I desire to be. It is what I have been looking for.
- Mark Spigos
Eco Practicum "Everything But the Kitchen" Participant