Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Summer Vacation

The dog days of summer have arrived. This area has been blessed with great weather this summer, so we were bound to pay eventually. Fortunately, the weather stayed amazingly nice through our vacation at SUUSI (Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute) at Radford. It was downright chilly at night, my three hikes were all very comfortable, and when it did rain it was brief and welcome.

This was our second year at SUUSI. It was our first staying in separate dorms, and I have to say, I am very proud of Rebecca. Even though she had a 1 a.m. curfew and most of her friends stayed out/up as late as they possibly could (some stayed in the common room all night long), she had the good sense to get to bed by midnight most nights. Good to know she has her own mind and doesn't feel the need to follow the crowd. I hope that remains to be a part of her character. She had a great time, cultivated some old and new friendships, and was completely thrilled with participating in Teens Way Off Broadway. She even took a Making Truffles workshop (they were yummy!) My dorm experience was great: my room mate and I got along famously, our suitemates were nice and very considerate...I barely noticed we were sharing a bathroom with them. We stayed in a quiet hall, so sleeping was never a problem. And most nights we could sleep with the windows open, thanks to the cool temperatures.

I enjoyed my time immensely. I was in a very mellow, calm mood, which made for a very positive experience. I worked in the nursery for part of the time, and really enjoyed holding the babies and generally helping out with lots of other amazing volunteers. What a well-run operation (SUUSI in general, and the youth program in particular.) I also participated in the Fun Run (run by friend Bill Brooks) and finished, approx. a 13 min. mile. Good enough, but I wouldn't call it fun...

The three hikes I participated in were all enjoyable and unique in their own way. The first was to the Falls of Dismal. Beautiful area, but a very short hike to the falls, so several of us went on to hike on a path above the falls and saw some beautiful scenery and had some nice conversations.

The next hike originated at Mountain Lake, the site where much of Dirty Dancing was filmed. There was a fog on this morning, which made the temps very nice. We hiked a fairly steep path (had to rest several times) up to Bald Knob, which I believe is one of the highest points in this part of Virginia.
Unfortunately, our view was obstructed by the fog, but still an exhilarating accomplishment. We went on from there and hiked to Bear Cliffs. This was a gorgeous area, and I was fortunate to be walking with a woman well-versed in botany, which helped in identifying many of the plants along the way.Bear Cliffs is a fairly treacherous area, with deep chasms and large crags of rock. Most of the rock is very slippery, and two in our party took a fall. Not an area to be treated lightly.

Amazingly, one of our party had just turned 80 in February. While his going was slow, he accomplished the hike and we were all supportive and encouraging. Good for him!! The highlight of the nature portion of my SUUSI experience was the Travertine Falls Silent Hike. The hike was conceived by one of the Nature staff, Dave Shellman. He had experienced a hike last year during which one participant talked non-stop. He thought it might be nice to lead a hike that was based on silence, immersing the participants in their surroundings. Well, it was a huge hit. Everyone who signed up did so specifically because it was billed as 'silent.' We determined the parameters (no talking zone, time to meet back, etc.) and were on our way.

Oh, the things you can see when you have the freedom to be silent, stop, sit, go back, and contemplate. Truly a wonderful experience, and the bonding seemed even more deep without the talking. Thanks, Dave.
The rest of my time at SUUSI remained fairly open. Outside of set dining times (which were very accommodating) I had no real agenda. I attended a few theme talks and worship services, always a great experience and very grounding, I attended several of the concerts (great talent there), and did a little shopping at the SUUSI store and Artisan's Bazaar. In the afternoons we would gather in the quad for community time, sharing our thoughts on the day, the services, the weather, and just generally enjoying each other. Our circle invariably grew, as folks stopped by to say hello, and we all made new friends this way. We would often gather back in this area after dinner, and on a couple of occasions talked and laughed (oh how we laughed!) into the night.

And several nights I would end up at Serendipity, for cocktails and dancing. One night as I walked home, I came upon a labyrinth that had been set up by a participant, lined with white lights. I dropped my shoes and walked the labyrinth, enjoyed the coolness and moisture of the grass, and welcoming the tranquility of 1 a.m., after the thumping of the music and dancing. Lovely way to end the night.

When it was time to come home, Rebecca and I were both ready. We loved the week and we look forward to next year. But home is a good place to be. I've always felt that vacation is good for that...helping me to appreciate home. There's no place like home. See you next year, SUUSI...thanks for the wonderful week and unforgettable moments.

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