When someone says, “Go to your happy place,” where do you picture yourself? For me, it’s the top of North Mountain. If you’ve ever hiked there during a visit to Shrine Mont, whether as a camper, counselor, or on a church retreat, you’ll understand when I say that there’s nothing quite like the view. You know what isn’t my happy place? Three quarters of the way up the trail to the top of North Mountain. Trust me- it can be a challenge, but it’s always worth it. Suddenly the path flattens out, and after clambering onto the rocky outcrop you’re struck the sight of an endless verdant landscape tumbling out in hills and valleys and the blue-hued mountains fading into the horizon. Far below you, you can see the tiny white patchwork of Shrine Mont buildings nestled into the side of a hill.
Last week, I made a weather report over the radio to all camp staff. Sitting in the camp office and equipped with the infallible data of my phone’s weather app, I advised anyone listening that there was about a fifty percent chance of rain in the next couple of hours. Seconds later a response came, fuzzy with static: “This is Explorer’s Camp up at the top of North Mountain. It looks like you guys have got, like, a one hundred percent chance of rain in the next five minutes.” Sure enough, five minutes later I was looking out the window as everything outside became thoroughly drenched. Explorer’s had seen the storm cloud moving across the landscape before it even hit us, while the satellites informing my phone app had failed. That’s how vast the view is from the top from the mountain.
It gives you a whole new perspective, literally and figuratively. When I hiked to the top of North Mountain today with St. George’s Camp, I could hear that reflected in the words of the campers I talked with. They all seemed to agree that while the hiking was “exhausting,” the whole world just feels “different” once you reach the top. Moments when we feel small like that, looking out on a vast landscape, are a visceral reminder that we are, each of us, one small yet irreplaceable part in a much larger system.
Explorer’s Camp, who also hiked to the top of North Mountain today, has been focusing on seeking God in three ways: through each other, through themselves, and through His creation, or nature. They’ve been using the image of a tree as a metaphor for that idea, where each of the ways we can see God is a new branch. It’s only when you take a step back that you realize that the branches aren’t really separate after all. You, me, the green rolling hills of the Shenandoah valley- we’re all part of one tree. It’s only in places like the top of North Mountain that you can see in true clarity the interconnectedness of all of God’s creation and our spiritual connection with the world around us.