Unplugged zealot

So, I’m back home after four days of camping, and because it had been so long since we’d camped (3 years), we were a little out of practice. At some point, the sheer volume of things we forgot to pack – food items, tools, shoes, a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, a comb and bug spray, to name a few –  became comical. It was hot, dirty and dusty. There were mosquitoes and bees (which our dog kept trying to chomp mid-flight). There was an air mattress that wouldn’t hold air, and a flashlight that wouldn’t stay lit.

And yet…

There was a path at the back of our campsite…

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which led to a rock “patio…”

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with a view.

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One night we sat on that rock and counted shooting stars, and I felt small and awed and cradled and whole.

There were card games, a guitar, shared songs. Every night there was a campfire, around which we made s’mores and told our family’s camping history in stories that always began the same way: “Remember when…”

And there were trails…

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along rivers…

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that led to waterfalls…

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and secluded places so teeming with life they felt like precious secrets I’d stumbled into.

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There was a whole day out on the lake that I can’t show you because when I went to take the first picture, I discovered my batteries were dead. But honestly, by that time, I was an unplugged zealot, happy to look at the world straight-on rather than through the lens of my camera.

And I guess that’s the magic of camping for me. For a few days I leave my devices at home, and I snuggle up to nature. I feel the earth more solidly beneath my feet, and the sky (especially at night) seems closer. In the absence of my regular day-to-day noise, I get to hear the music the world makes, and in the absence of my day-to-day concerns, I get to feel my whole being respond to that music… the wild in me dancing with the wild all around me.

It is, for me, akin to church, a reminder that I’m part of something big and untamed and beautiful and ancient.

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I’m curious. Besides church itself, what in your life “feels like church” – sacred, true, and validating right down to your soul?


On a different, but related note…

A couple of weeks ago, my beautiful friend, Andrea Lewicki, told me about a program she’s launching called Quartz Annual. “It’s a box of treasures delivered to your mailbox every quarter,” she said.  “Each box will include writings, original art pieces, and found curiosities. It’ll be about inspiring people, moving them, delighting them.” She asked me if I’d write a piece for the first box and I said yes without hesitation. I was already delighted.

Just before I left for Shasta she told me the theme: “At Home In The Wilderness.”

Perfect, right? I don’t know exactly what I’ll write yet, but I’m excited to do it and I know whatever I write will come straight from my very full (and wild) heart. You can read more about Andrea’s offering here.

(Next week, what 30 Days of Creation taught me.)


  1. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on August 8, 2013 at 7:21 am

    What a beautiful post — and beautiful trip! I feel exactly the same way about being in nature; you’ve captured it perfectly. Other times I get that “church” feeling are when I meditate (sometimes) and even occasionally when I snuggle with my cats. I’m sorry y’all forgot a bunch of things, but often those make the best “remember when” stories later down the road. 🙂

    • j on August 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

      So true! Most of our “remember when” stories were about mishaps!

      Sometimes when I’m writing or drawing, I get that church feeling. I think it might be inherent to the act of creation.

  2. Anna M (@helgagrace) on August 8, 2013 at 7:53 am

    The tops of mountains and the quiet groves and the red red rocks are the closest places I can get to feeling something sacred.

    Wordsworth says it best for me:

    “Therefore am I still
    A lover of the meadows and the woods,
    And mountains; and of all that we behold
    From this green earth; of all the mighty world
    Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,
    And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
    In nature and the language of the sense,
    The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
    The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
    Of all my moral being.”

    • j on August 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Yes, exactly – “the anchor of my purest thoughts…”

      THAT’S what I couldn’t find words for. I’ve never read that before. It’s beautiful, Anna, thank you for sharing.

  3. Estrella Azul on August 8, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Looks gorgeous, j, such lovely feelings transcribed and completed further by your pictures!
    For me, it’s pretty much the same. I feel most “at church” when sitting in the sun, gazing into the distance from a rocky beach, overlooking the waves which seem calm at the surface. And at the same time, I also feel this way when traveling to different countries and cities. I guess it’s all about being able to do so with ease, unlike in the past when one was lucky to have a horse to ride from one place to the other. Man-made or nature-made, it’s beauty that grips me and unleashes feelings of awe, gratefulness, validation.

    • j on August 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      “… it’s beauty that grips me and unleashes feelings of awe, gratefulness, validation.”

      Well said!

  4. rhapsodypoetess on August 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Wow, I bet that was a great trip. Those pictures are so beautiful–they remind me of the pictures of when my husband and I were hiking in Hawaii. Our tour guide lead us to a waterfall that was hidden in those woods. First time I had seen one in real life–and it was great.

    Empty spaces feel sacred. Libraries. Those seat things made on windowsills which look out over a scene. Empty churches. Cemeteries. All these things feel sacred and make me very aware of myself. It’s a fine line between being relaxed (and sleepy) to being observant and quiet. These places give me room to think, to be inspired, to take a moment and *breathe*.

    This reminds me of your doodle about your religion. It’s quite fitting with this philosophy and this post about being free in nature.

    On a related note, I’ve had my fair share of camping mishaps. Spend a weekend in the woods with some friends of ours. We lost a bunch of our gear in the river once on our way back and despite my excellent swimming abilities, I almost drowned because the dingy I was in flipped over.
    Nothing like a good adventure, I always say. 🙂

    • j on August 8, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      I just love your lists, Karin. And I think it’s interesting that you specifically said empty churches are sacred. There is something in the quiet of them, I think, when they’re empty. When they’re filled with the intent that brought them into being.

      I want a t-shirt that says, “Nothing like a good adventure.” 🙂

  5. Andrea Lewicki on August 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    “One night we sat on that rock and counted shooting stars, and I felt small and awed and cradled and whole.” Love!

    There are days where I just need to be outdoors with the trees and all the living things. I love watching the movement of it all, the trees dancing with the wind, the insects going about their lives, the eagles cruising thermals high in the sky.

    I think one of the reasons I feel so at home in WA (even though I grew up a desert girl) is that the forests are so close. I can hang out with the trees whenever I want just by walking into my backyard.

    When I went on my 2-week wilderness retreat during one of the more turbulent times of my life, I felt like the trees were standing with me, letting me borrow their strength and showing me how to sway. That’s a big part of why At Home in the WIlderness is the first theme of Quartz Annual, and I’m thrilled that you’re part of it. It just feels right, you know?

    • j on August 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      I don’t see eagles enough. I wonder if they’re more plentiful where you are. I imagine that’s true because you have more habitat for them.

      “I felt like the trees were standing with me…” What a lovely thought. I think they were. I think maybe they always are.

      And yes, it feels right. SO excited. xo

  6. Nancy on August 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Dead camera batteries…does that remind you of anyone you know??!!

    Love these pictures. Ditto Andrea — “small and awed and cradled and whole” might become my favorite-ever sentence which you’ve written.

    My experience of church was growing up in a church-going family, and feeling small and awed when I sat in the beautiful sanctuary with soaring ceilings, gothic arches and sparkling reflections from the jewel colors in the stained glass windows that were on all four sides of the building. The words, to be honest, often didn’t fill me with awe, but the formality and ritual of the space did. For that reason, I also h ave to agree with rhapsodypoetess. Empty spaces, especially those that are meant to hold either physical or spiritual artifacts (can an artifact be not physical?) always strike me as sacred, as do churches and cathedrals (which I view now as architecture much more than a place of dogma). The woods and deserts do as well, and you know how I adore the ocean and shore.

    when I’m in the present moment, in full acceptance of my reality and my imperfect perfection, my heart is sacred. My home feels sacred when I’ve done something, even mundane, with great intention and ritual. As I continue on my journey in this lifetime, I am very cognizant that the sacred dwells in me and I in it — I don’t have to be in a particular place to feel it. I wish you could see the smile on my face as I typed that last sentence!


    • j on August 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      That was my experience too, growing up Catholic. I love your phrase “the formality and ritual of the space.” For a long time, probably, in part, because of my Catholic roots, I resisted ritual, but as I get older, I find I myself drawn to it. For instance, burning ceremonies – though I could let go of my baggage a million different ways, there is something in the act of writing them down, folding up the paper, and casting it into the fire that makes me feel the seriousness of it – the ways in which what I’m doing can be life-altering if I’m reverent and true to myself.

      So yes, certain rituals do make me feel that same sense of sacred possibility.

      “As I continue on my journey in this lifetime, I am very cognizant that the sacred dwells in me and I in it — I don’t have to be in a particular place to feel it.”

      That is (and you are) beautiful, Nancy. <3

  7. lunajune on August 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    walking in the trees
    feeling one with the breeze
    listening to the water rush
    between the rocks
    this is my bliss
    far away
    or tucked right here
    in the heart of the city
    under the canopy
    with the birds and the bees
    I come completely alive
    thank you for taking us with you :~)

    • j on August 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      You’re very welcome. I’ve been trying to decide if there are places tucked in the heart of the city that might feel sacred to me. Certain libraries, definitely, and parks that feel like oases of green in an otherwise gray landscape. Gardens.

      Then I remembered that picture Chad took of the SF skyline as seen from across the bay on Treasure Island and I thought, “Oh yeah… there is incredible – even magical – beauty in the heart of the best cities. 🙂

  8. E.K. Carmel on August 9, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Love this post and the gorgeous photos! That’s exactly how I always feel when I’ve been in the woods and away from the craziness of my “normal” life. *sigh* We haven’t managed it this year and I miss it. So glad you had a chance to!

    • j on August 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      I’m so glad we managed it too; it didn’t look like we were going to. But it came together for four days and it was lovely. Like finding treasure.

  9. Pam on August 9, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Wonderful post. I’m delighted that you a had a sweet time.
    My favorite photos are the waterfall shots. Gorgeous!

    The places that make me feel both small and infinite are mostly places near the ocean. Either right on the beach or on hills or bluffs above the water where I can feel the salt air and see the waves and the lacy patterns the foam makes on the shore. Woodsy places are also good for my heart, but the ocean places always lift it.

    • j on August 10, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Waterfalls are always sort of magical, right? Like the planet’s jewelry on display.

      I love “both small and infinite.” The ocean makes me feel that way too, something about it’s vastness and reassuring rhythm. I feel it most when I’m standing on the shoreline, and it’s hard to believe that the water rushing over my toes is connected to the water as far out as I can see, all the way to the horizon.

  10. Alarna Rose Gray on August 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Wow, what a beautiful disconnect…definitely sacred. I hope you are refreshed and revived from your trip. It’s nature – and camping – that does it for me, too. That, and there are certain songs or kinds of music that have that ability to transport me to the sacred. That feeling of being connected to something much bigger than the here and now.

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