Yahweh ordered His Chosen People to observe certain fasts and feasts. One of the latter was called the Feast of Shelters, and in it, the Jews would pack up and go live in tents for a week at the river-side, feasting and praising God for the harvest of olives and grapes. This Labor Day weekend, my siblings and friends and I were blessed to experience a camping trip that in many ways resembled the holy-day of antiquity.
After spending a day of packing, we all loaded up to drive three hours down winding mountain roads to the Ocoee River. The weather promised warmth as the mountainous beauty on our left and the sparkling blue of the river on our right delighted us. We stopped at the Thunder Rock camping site, where we built our temporary home in the midst of the beautiful hilly terrain. After we were settled in, we all embarked on a hike through the Smoky Mountains. The splendor of our surroundings amazed us, proclaiming the beauty of God inherent in His creative Fiat. The trees clapped their hands in praise of Him. The rocks cried out with joy at His goodness.
We wound our way through the sylvan scenery, climbing a steep trail of rustic dirt, wild stone steps, naturally-occurring bridges, and fallen tree trunks. Throughout we skirted the cliff to our left, while to our right the mountain wall guided us. As we trudged through the beautiful greens and browns, we morphed into Arwen and Eowyn and Legolas and Aragorn, traveling through the woods outside the Shire, finding large mushrooms and oak leaves and healing barks.
Once back at camp, I had the opportunity to reminisce on Laura Ingalls Wilder as I experienced the joys and sorrows of frying potatoes, grilling chicken, and steaming squash over an open fire. Then eating the food out-of-doors. Then walking a ways to the hand pump to wash the dishes and lay them out to dry on a rock. I must admit I enjoyed every minute of it.
The next morning we went rafting down the Ocoee River, in gear and a raft that was much safer and more convenient than the raft Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer got to use. It was lovely. Our guide was very pleasant, and the weather perfect. The blue sky, the silver water, the green foliage and mountains on either side, the grey rocks, the white foam, the warm golden sun. The energy and vitality inherent in the fast flow, the rowing, the spraying, the splashing, the swimming, the near-capsizing experiences. As we wound to the end our guide allowed us to jump in the water and float, with careful instructions to get out before we got to the rapids. I didn't understand quite rightly, and was floating quite carefree along when suddenly I realized I would lack the strength to swim against the current and into the dock. So I struggled to the bank, grabbed a tree branch, and dragged myself onto the rocks before the current washed me away. Needless to say, it was a great deal of fun.
We came back, and sat by the smoldering ashes all afternoon, talking, resting, sleeping. When the sun had crept below the trees, we stirred from our nests for another scrumptious feast, and then a beautiful time gathered around a roaring campfire. Two mandolins and a guitar accompanied our voices as we sang hymns, and then listened to the instruments make their own music. The twilight sank deeper around us. The fire burnt orange in the lavender dusk. When the sun had quite sunk and our supper was settled comfortably, a couple of us took the lantern across the way to our pantry (or the trunk of the car), where we retrieved our s'more ingredients. The boys carved sticks for everyone, and soon we were all seated in our chairs, concentrating on the precarious pastime of roasting marshmallows to a place of perfection without catching them on fire or letting them fall off the stick. And then, oh, the sweetness of that golden marshmallow combined with chocolate-almond spread, melted dark chocolate, and graham crackers! Delicious.
The next morning we all awoke chilled to the bone. We groggily moved around the camp-fire, bundled up in our hoodies and fuzzy socks, rekindling the fires and getting breakfast started. The sun came out from the horizon, melting the chilled dew from the grass, imbuing our pale, cold selves with golden warmth. The fire began to blaze, the potatoes and french toast sizzled in the cast-iron skillets. We became warm and vivacious as we gathered around the picnic table for the last feast of our delightful weekend. It was good.
Afterwards we took our seats around the campfire for a time of prayer, scriptural study, praise, and observance of the Eucharist. As we partook of the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit felt so closely present in the rustic beauty of that mountain forest. Afterwards we remembered afresh the power of the love and fellowship that only Christ can give as we all worked to pack up our sleeping bags, tents, kitchen, and other various and sundry items. The lovely homeliness of our temporary home slowly crept back into the boxes and bins in the back of the van and the pickup truck.
But before we could drive away, we all felt that we must have one more ramble in the loveliness of the wilderness. So, little brother led us down the dirt road to his favorite rock-climbing spot. He climbed up the mossy, rocky steep, and then we all climbed up beside him. The ascent was fairly easy and very fun, but the descent was quite a different picture. After hanging on for dear life to a tree trunk, a root, and then having exhausted every foothold, I had to consent to sit on older brother's shoulder and be carried in order to reach the ground quite safely.
After this adventure, we ran, skipped, and then attempted to click our heels on our way back down the dirt road. To end our celebration, we spent a lovely half-hour on the river-shore, sitting on the very edge of the rocks, folding our pant-legs up, and plunging our feet into the rushing waves. What bliss and splendor we found in the warmth of the rocks, the cold fury of the water, the fresh breeze, and the invigorating sun. We felt how truly wonder-full is Elohim's creation. And yet this beauty we see only as through a looking-glass darkly. Let us look forward to the time when we shall see clearly, face-to-face, the Beautiful Imagination of the God who is Love.
And thus our Feast of Shelters came to a lovely conclusion.