Mountain Retreat

trees.jpgFriday afternoon, my wife Muri and I packed our suitcases in the car and headed to Lake Arrowhead.   It was time for my Autumn Men’s Retreat at Arrowhead Ranch, and … as it turns out, our friend Sue has a log cabin home a few minutes away from the retreat center where Muri could visit while I retreat with the guys.   The retreat center is remote, Sue’s cabin is remoter.  Though it is only a few minutes from Arrowhead Ranch, it is up the hill on a winding not-quite single lane road through the pines.  I’m not sure I’d want to drive alone, I remember thinking as we followed her there.  More on that later.

Arrowhead Ranch is set in the woods above Lake Arrowhead and is sometimes used as a science camp for kids.   The cabins are small (my sister-in-law once commented that my cabin looked like an outhouse) and furnished with agingcabin.jpg furniture and too soft beds.  The meeting rooms are intimate only if you dim the lights to mask their size and ignore the institutional seating.  I have always preferred spartan surroundings for the retreat, a preference not shared by everyone in our group, a disagreement which led to a schism in our group this year … some bitterness and attendance way down.   As a man who is (both my own and by my wife’s description) not the retreat type, I begin each retreat with some apprehension that year’s will be the one I’ll hate.   With the controversy, I was more concerned than ever but it started well.  I often say I know that my retreat doesn’t start until I’ve cried once … that happened in the first meeting, although I have no recollection of what precipitated the tears.  I usually hit a mid-retreat slump Saturday afternoon and this year’s was worse than usual because so much of the sharing seemed to focus on healing the schism in our group rather than on personal growth.  A nap late in the afternoon and two evening meetings brought me around, and as always, the Sunday meeting, devoted to spirituality, reminded me why I’m there.

Perhaps the signature event of this retreat took place after it had ended and most of the guys were gone.  With some trepidation, I started up a narrow mountain road to join my wife and her friend Sue.  It looked like the same road I’d traveled on Friday but was not.  It ended at the entrance to a smallamphitheater stone amphitheater.  I thought there was space to turn around in the amphitheater but once I’d enter it, there was not.  I was trapped.   Given that my old neck makes it hard for me to turn and see through the back window and that I drive an old car without one of those new-fangled rear-view cameras, the thought of backing through the narrow amphitheater stone entrance seemed impossible.   You’re a little old man trapped in the woods, the forty-year old in my head muttered helpfully.

Now, I don’t know why I didn’t go for help. Maybe it was embarrassment and maybe I couldn’t imagine having to walk back up again.   But what I did was very slowly back the car out of the amphitheater, stopping every few feet to get out and see that I wasn’t going to hit anything, then execute a painstaking Y-turn using a small belt of treeless woods on the uphill side of the road.  There were bumps and scraping sounds … and once, the tires would only spin in the loose pine needles.  I dreaded to see what damage there would be to the car.  Thirty minutes later, I managed to drive back to the right road and  find Muri and Sue waiting anxiously.  The only damage to the car was a bumper panel that tore loose … it popped right back in.   But I was exhausted and had managed to sprain something in my left foot, so I was limping badly.

Every retreat leaves me in a contemplative mood, recalling the moments I was inspired and the moments that I wasn’t the man I wanted to be.  My adventure in the amphitheater feels like an extension of the retreat experience, although I haven’t figured out its message yet.  I certainly don’t need a reminder that I’m getting old.   Maybe it is a metaphor for life … if you find yourself at a dead end, you can always turn back, even if it seems impossible.   Some retreats reveal their message right away, others only after some time.  This was definitely one of the latter.



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2 Comments on “Mountain Retreat”

  1. The old campers’ cabins always seem smaller when you return. With all the chaos and anger in society these days, heading to the woods was an excellent choice…I always manage to escape the people. (HAHA)
    The whole point of going to camp as a kid was for new experiences and to be resourceful ..although if you return limping…
    Glad it all turned out good.

  2. barrythewiz Says:

    I like the “there are no true dead ends” interpretation. And don’t let that 40 yr-old in your head be calling you an old man. I know better!

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