I have always loved the song by the Drifters called Up on a Roof. The first few words begin with:
"When this old world starts getting me down And people are just too much for me to face I climb way up to the top of the stairs And all my cares just drift right into space..."
With the summer temperatures, climbing up on a roof would probably be pretty difficult. But, I am very fortunate to have a solution "when this old world starts getting me down. "
Two very dear friends, David and Kerry invited me to come spend a few days camping on their property in the upstate of South Carolina recently. I needed to get away from the computer, iPhone, Facebook, news and all the baggage that has spurred ignorance, hate and sadness. If you are afraid of nature or have become so far removed from it that you feel different, frightened or superior to the natural world, then it is best you skip this essay. If not, I hope you enjoy this story of my healing in nature.
By the time I left for my trip to camp at David and Kerry's property a few days ago, my stomach was in knots. I was depressed and really very unhappy. I knew that I needed to get away and alone in the wild for a few days and as I drove down the dirt road leading to their home, I felt the anticipation of a new journey ahead. Greeted by their two dogs, Jossee and Kulla, I strapped on a camera and decided to start exploring the property. It was nice to have two friendly dogs to tag along with me. I knew that they had traveled these paths over and over again and I would have four legged guides as long as I could keep up their pace.
I watched the two dogs run ahead of me as I stopped to photograph the many colors and textures along the trail. They were in their own world and I was in mine as I positioned the tripod legs, bulky camera and light hood in place to take a film photograph.
As I focused under the light-blocking hood, I could hear the panting of the two dogs as they circled back around to find out why I was taking so long. They were there waiting for me. Making sure I was alright and giving me a chance to hopefully capture some magic on film.
The vast amounts of color and texture were wonderful to view. There were brightly-colored red and orange leaves lying on the forest floor, coming full circle and slowly decomposing into the thick brown remains of their brothers and sisters from last season. There were almost iridescent green mosses which, when viewed closely were made up of many tiny stalks with petals like that of a pine. I must have seen over a hundred different mushrooms and fungi pushing upward through the soft brown floor and feeding off the remnants of fallen trees. Some wore bright colors of orange, red or yellow. They stood out like the one yellow raincoat in a sea of blue and gray along a gloomy city street during a fall rainstorm.
After walking a few miles, the day was about over and in a few hours it would be dark. So, I set up my tent in an open field and drank about a gallon of water! Within a few minutes Dave and Kerry were home and invited me to use their outdoor shower and then join them for dinner. After a wonderful meal and an evening of good conversation, I made my way to my tent around 10:30pm. As I walked to my tent, I noticed distant flashes of lightning to the northwest. The thunder was barely audible and rumbled gently at this point.
It was good to stretch out inside my tent and listen to the night sounds as a slight breeze picked up outside. Occasionally, I'd hear an acorn from one of the white oaks nearby fall to the earth, tearing through leaves before hitting the ground. Oh, the pain of an acorn. How I remember the acorn fights we had as kids and the sting when one hit bare skin.
I drifted to sleep quickly, but was awakened by the intense and very bright flash of lightning. "One-one thousand, two - one thousand, three-one thousand...and there was the thunder. It was not a gentle rumble anymore. It was very close and the sound was sharp like a knife's blade, crisp and clear. A beginning and a clear end to the sound. The ground below me shook with the power. I thought to myself, "well, soon I will find out just how well this tent is made!" Large raindrops started to fall onto the top of my tent. The trees outside creaked and cracked, their leaves being blown and whipped from side to side from the gusts. Inside my tent the lightning flashes became more and more intense and almost immediately following each flash was the loud clap of thunder. I could tell when it was directly overhead, the rain now pouring down and making so much noise that I couldn't hear the trees anymore. "Well, my car is not far away, if this vinyl and aluminum shelter collapses, that is where I am headed," I thought to myself. But soon, it dissipated and became gentle again. The cracks became less detailed and soon all I could hear was a restful rain and low rumbles. It was time to sleep.
Day two was going to be a marathon hiking day. I scarfed down some banana bread and a cup of Earl Grey tea before strapping on my backpack loaded with cameras and a huge water bottle. David had shown me highlights of the trail system covering their 95 acres and I really wanted to see the landscape. So, off I went as the day began.
The deep woods of the Carolina high country almost have an entirely distinct climate. They are rainforests in many ways with afternoon storms soaking the landscape and creating a very temperate and moist atmosphere. The air is thick and heavy in these woods. It smells of organic decay, of trees and moss, of greenery and fresh water. You feel the need to breathe it in deeply. To saturate your lungs with nutrients and cleanse your senses.
There are numerous small creeks which flow throughout the property. Miniature versions of once larger streams from thousands of years ago. Streams that carved out landscapes and made hillsides and mountains as they cut away and eroded the soil. There are places along many of these small creeks where the actual stream of water is underground. You can stand nearby the sandy trail and listen to the water churning just feet below, like a city sewer drain after a heavy rain. Sand and small rocks cover these areas and as I knelt to look closer, I noticed tiny stacked stones which resembled little skyscrapers, formed when the water gently cut around them after a late day storm.
After a few hours, every thread of my shirt was soaked with perspiration. My shoes felt tight and my feet were sore. I followed the hidden stream to where it resurfaced again and there, before me was a beautiful rock formation which created a two foot water fall. The water gurgled as it swept over rocks and dropped onto others. Green mosses formed a soft carpet along the slate colored rocks and a delicate and fine sand with flecks of silver sediment looked like the perfect place to dip my weary feet.
"Oh, my god that feels good," I said in an exhausted voice. The water was ice cold and it swept over my hot feet, delicately massaging the pale, white skin with water from deep underground. Five minutes turning into thirty. Thirty turned into sixty. It was mesmerizing. Time was not important. It was like the water running over my feet was pulling out the heat - the anger, the sadness and the pain. It was all washing down stream, washing away as my feet became numb and my soul healed.
That night I met with Kerry and David again for dinner. We laughed and shared life experiences over beer and wine while the crickets and night insects outside gave our conversation competition.
Unlike the night before, the sky was mostly clear. An almost full moon lit up the inside of my tent and a couple barred owls called back and forth as I drifted off to sleep.
On my final day I decided to take a short walk with the dogs and then head to the small falls again. One last time before leaving. This place was now like an old friend who you could trust inexplicably and who would give the best of advice. Again, I sat there for nearly an hour with my feet in the "holy water" from deep underground and with the purist of origination.
The entire trip to David and Kerry's property had helped me immensely. It was the medicine I needed and could not compare to any prescription drug. There were no side effects and caution labels in fine print. I could take as much as needed and the overdose would be my sanity.
At 2pm I was to meet Kerry at Lake Jocassee for a private pontoon boat tour of this scenic and very undeveloped patch of water. Little did I know the best was yet to come.
Kerry knows this lake as well as anyone. She knows what is behind each small inlet. Where the waterfalls are and the sandy beaches. As we motored across the lake, I listened to her telling about the rivers which once flowed through this area. About the town that was moved and how the opening scenes of the 1972 film Deliverance showed the actual construction of this lake. About how graves were removed, but the stones were left as sort of a memorial that only divers would see.
We traveled down a fairly narrow channel at one point. Up ahead, I could see the white water flowing down the side of the hill. As we got closer and deeper into the channel the temperature dropped. It felt like there was a spirit in the room. Navigating the boat we went to the right of the waterfall. Like a large doorway of gray rock, Kerry maneuvered the boat between the opening. It was dark and high bluffs of stone stood around us like we were entering a temple. Then, we cleared the stones at the entrance and to my left was one of the most breath-taking views I have ever seen. The plunge pool was visible and a roar of water along with fractured water droplets filled the air. I started shooting image after image. I felt like a soldier in combat trying reload his firearm as the enemy advanced. Rushing to reload my film camera and reading the light for my exposure. The light was hitting the whitewater perfectly and the scene was inspirational. After about 15 minutes of shooting I felt like I had captured the moment and told Kerry, "I'm good!" She replied, "well it is time for you to pose under the spray!" "Who me?" I replied with hesitation. My legs were tired from hiking and I had not been swimming in ages, not to mention potentially, very deep water. But, I figured that I may not get this chance again, so I pulled out my wallet and car keys, set them in my dry bag and slipped into the water. Down I went in the cold pool and as I rose I pushed off towards the roaring lion ahead. Kerry got some nice shots of me and after returning to the boat I was beyond ecstatic. I felt like a kid again and emotions which I had not felt in years came to the surface. Kerry swam over to the spot too...with much more grace than I for sure.
We saw more waterfalls and swam a few more times in the lake that day before heading to dock. It was a trip to remember. Like I had been healed by a preacher; a dunk below the surface, a nose full of water and my sins washed away. That day, as I drove home, I sang to my music archive again. I smiled at the old man walking his dog along a sidewalk in a small town. I watched how the golden hour of light made everything look beautiful. Life is good if we give it a chance and have very, very good friends.