The joys of 'roughing it'
Barbara came down from our monastery in Atchison, Kan., to where I live in Kansas City, Mo., and we took off from there to the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. It took an hour just to get through the Friday evening traffic jam headed out of the city. We spent a while in the car talking about the pressures of our jobs. We were still in work mode.
But after we got past the snarl-up, the rural Missouri landscape began to spread out before us, and those pressures faded away. We were entering a different zone.
We finally arrived at our campsite about 9 p.m. The only light came from a couple of RVs on the site next to us and from a few campfires here and there. The stars were magnificent. We could even see the Milky Way. We could not see the lake in front of us, but we knew it was there because we could, in the scant light, make out an ethereal grayish mist rising where the water was.
Two young men from the RVs next door walked over with their lantern and asked us if we needed help. I hesitated, feeling like I should be careful of talking to strangers … But we did need help, and they seemed friendly. They pitched our tent in the dark in no time. After they left, I thought of Chapter 22 of the Rule of Benedict, "On the sleeping arrangements of the monks."
In that chapter, Benedict tells the monks to take off their knives before they go to bed "lest they cut themselves in their sleep." People entering his monastery would have come from all sectors of the fragmented society that existed after the sack of Rome -- slaves, nobles, Goths and other Germanic tribes. On the outside of the monastery, they would have been wary of each other. Sr. Judith Sutera points out in an article I read as a novice that taking their knives off was a way of disarming tension and saying "in here, in this dormitory, there is peace."
Barbara is more outgoing than I am, and thanks to her, the next night we accepted an invitation to dinner from the people next door. The RVs turned out to belong to an extended family that had been camping together there all week. They were very gracious. We sat by the fire and had an interesting conversation with the granddaughter, who is a fiddle player. The whole family gathered around the table while the grandfather said a blessing.
The most important things in our little universe now were fire and clothing, water and food and other people. And coffee. I hardly slept the first night. It was in the 30s, and I had borrowed my sleeping bag from someone without testing it first. It was not made for low temperatures. All night I could feel the cold seeping up from the ground. I needed a jolt when I got up.
We hiked during the day. We visited a cave. In the mornings we sat on a log by the fire, ate cereal out of plastic cups and wore bulky winter hats and every shirt and sweater we had brought. Fashion was not a concern. We were "trying to rough it" - as Barbara said when our neighbors offered us a hairdryer - but we knew civilization wasn't far. Once we left the huge park we were within a 20-minute drive of the Osage Beach shopping strip: Applebee's, Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreen's. We stopped at Target and got a blanket for me, some more propane for the stove and a couple of lattes. (There was a Starbucks in Target.)
On Sunday morning, it was cold and drizzling on and off. I was rinsing out our pots and pans under the little water container I'd filled up at the spigot. All the reading I had planned to do on this trip, I hadn't done; you couldn't sit anywhere warm and dry and really concentrate. I found myself marveling that people in the Middle Ages had produced poetry and illuminations even while they were toiling without benefit of electric heaters.
Then I looked up at the lake in front of me, at the gorgeous fall leaves on the hill across the water. A blue heron waded in the shallows. It had stopped drizzling, and the scene was illumined with a ray of light.
Seeing that made everything worthwhile. It made you want to worship God.
Benedictine Sr. Antonia Ryan is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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