UU Women's Connection

Going to The Mountain

I had been thinking of the story about the Prophet Mohammed asking the mountain to come to him, as Councilors began discussing details of their trip to The Mountain Retreat Center over Labor Day Holiday. It was our annual retreat and vision quest that would take us on a two day road trip through Nashville and on to the mountains of Western North Carolina for the weekend and then bring us back home by the same two day route. The drive would include an overnight stop in Nashville going and coming.

We visited Diana's bucket list check off, Vanderbilt University's Parthenon which housed a twenty five foot stature of the Goddess Athena, holding the six foot statue of Nike in her hand. Built during the Nashville, Tennessee exposition in the late 1800's, the sight was a jaw dropper. Didn't know Nike was a goddess. She was in Athena's hand because she was to place the Goddess' head dress on her head. Can't remember what Nike was the goddess of, but joked that she must be the goddess of "just do it."

The last leg of our trip to the Nantahala National Forest where The Mountain is situated atop Little Scaly Mountain was through winding roadways and hairpin turns up the retreat center's private one way drive, that let us have a preview of how the Mountain would turn us back on ourselves.

We arrived in time for happy hour before dinner, wine and popcorn with a Jewish folk dance group on their annual retreat who would share their braided Challah loaf with us during their Friday Sabbath feast. They were full of energy and endorphins from their vigorous exercise and happy romping that led me to believe that this weekend would be no ordinary experience.

Our mentor for the weekend, a volunteer named Harriet, who had given up her home along the Hudson River in New York State to travel, volunteer, be part of this scene and many others in what seemed a courageous life of foot loose and fancy free travel with everything she owned in her car. She began volunteering at the Mountain with its elder hostile beginnings. Now seasonal resident naturalist, mountain dulcimer aficionado and talkative happy hour host she arranged for our first evening activity--Instruction about and demonstration of mountain dulcimer and incidentally, Little Scaly's black bear population.

Nodding and eyes closing after our long trip from Nashville, Diana and I listened to dulcimer music and bear stories. On the walk to our cabin and in anticipation of a great night's sleep we followed the small flash lit path to cabin three. Claire and Debbie were in cabin two, a little farther down the darken path. They and our cabin mate, Cathy, had opted for early sleep and were safely tucked in their beds. Couldn't help but think of the bear stories and admonitions about throwing even biodegradable food anywhere but in building bins, made me think of the terrifying stories of grizzlies that I had heard in Alaska last year. It also reminded me of childhood story of Three Bears and Goldilocks search for "just right."

On the walk to our cabin we looked for our dim pathway lights that led us to the front door of our cabin. Now, where was the switch to turn them off so we could save electricity in the Mountain Retreat Center tradition? Diana went outside to look for the switch and ran back squealing. Visions of bears in my head, I squealed too and we both hit it for the cabin door. A spider, you say? The size of a Buick? Okay at least it wasn't a black bear. I'm laughing in this kind of "I can't stop laughing way". I do it when I am nervous or uncomfortable. I'm beginning to recognize that my fears in this high, dark, unknown, place, are fueled by childish fears of the dark,the night time walk to aunt Dorie's outhouse when I was a grade school visitor, the Goldilocks story and Harriet's tales about people who "invite the bears" by dropping banana peels and such.

The wind howled, the cabin responded with moans and groans, acorns from the Dwarf White Oaks dropped to the cabin roof, frequently rolling down hill. Cicada sent their anticipation into the night air at a deafening pitch. Bears were searching for berries, but banana peels would do. No sleep for me tonight.

Pema Chodron, Principal teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia recommends we go to places that scare us. Not just to confront fears -- but to become comfortable with our uncertainly. I am humbled and opened and a little scared that first night at the Mountain, but now The Mountain comes to me offering acorns and spiders and black bears and mystery of night and nature.

Finally light broke to the east and I arose to meditate and read, watch the sunrise across the Mountains and Blue Valley below. During the day the view was all trees and green, a lake in the distance and more mountains to the horizon. There was no evident sign of civilization, but we were told that Clemson, South Carolina lay beyond the farthest range. At night the populated areas were lit but not enough to drown the message of the Milky Way.

The deck situated by our meeting room in the Great Hall, revealed the mountain's wonders to us as well -- a soaring hawk, seen from above his flight; the clear night sky that gave a glimpse of the Milky Way and a shooting star; an apple tree laden with ripe apples that we sampled in an apple crisp on our first night at dinner; an undergrowth of 20 foot Flame Rhododendrons; Spanish moss hanging from bonsai shaped 200 year old White Oak trees and jewel weed beside sun dappled paths. There was reminder after reminder that the Mountain is about peace and diversity and welcome. No longer just for elder hostile, now The Mountain trains young people and others about moving out into the world with grace and peaceful purpose.

Everywhere there was wonder and the mystery of the unexpected: Glittery mica laden stone out cropping at the retreat center, flat enough for a couple of benches. It was called "meditation rock." The clever uphill walk made me feel like I exercised three times every day on my trip up the Mountain to the dining hall. There was a Fall Art Fair in Highlands and visits to quaint shops to buy gifts for loved ones back home. Excellent Retreat Center vegetarian food and a gourmet lunch at Wild Thyme made the time a food success for me. The hike down to Dry Falls, not really dry, but bringing cold mountain water to the land below had a path that led us behind the careening falls, where we felt the mist of water on our faces, and saw the wonder of moss and fern and giant Carolina Fir hanging from the same mica laden rock.

On the way home my companions and I discussed how we could serve the women in our organization and spread the word of joy and hope and service to a needy world. Now back home I have time to let it sink in and feel gratitude to all these mysteries, adventures and fears, and to my traveling companions who made the trip about friendship, sharing and a purpose larger than our own.

There comes a time when the bubble of ego is popped and you can't get the ground back for an extended period of time. Those times, when you absolutely cannot get it back together, are the most rich and powerful times in our lives.  -- from Shambhala Mountain Center's Learning to Stay, 2003