Returning to the Woods

My lungs were burning angrily and my loud panting breaths sounded like those of someone who’d already hiked miles as I turned off the short road from the parking lot and headed into the woods. Our host had built a structure of sticks to point us to the path that he wanted us to walk. Lost in my body’s early struggle, it took me about a hundred steps to realize this was not the trail that I’d expected. My feet were not on the steep, narrow, made for goats Archer’s Trail that I’d fought my way up before. Instead, there were tire ruts and gentle inclines- we were walking up the road! I’d been to this wilderness camp nearly 25 times by now, and had spotted the road up the mountain no more than once. Relieved, my out of shape self settled into the walk. My huffs now dared to have a touch of confidence, I was certain I could handle anything that a 15 year old truck could also climb.

Making my way up the road to the lodge, the beauty of this hike at dusk pulled me into a daze. I had almost not come to this event. Upon receiving the invitation, I knew that I wanted to. Come on, a spelling bee in a mountain lodge on a January night, yes, please! I read, and then nearly sang the words of the invite aloud to my partner before practically skipped out the door on my way to work. I was gleeful at the prospect of such an evening and thrilled by a chance to revisit this place where I had so many wonderful memories. I could already smell the smoky comfort of the wood fire that would warm the lodge. I was wonderfully aware that without campers to care for, I’d be able to lose myself in exploring the displays of skulls, western history, archery tools and other artifacts that covered the walls of this deliciously rustic lodge.

Before hours of celebrating the possibility had passed, the critics who dwell inside me hopped up onto my shoulders and gave their thoughts about how I should respond. I remembered quickly that they’re heavy and opinionated little gits. “You can’t go to that, you don’t know how to spell. Remember, you missed the word cologne back in your eighth grade spelling bee?” offered a doubter holding a clipboard close to his wee little puffed up chest. Letting his words sink in, I felt my buzz of excitement begin to subside and was again the student standing in front of my school cafeteria being told my answer was incorrect. At that moment, the others chimed in, “You don’t know anyone who will be there. Or if you do, they’ll be from you-know-where and won’t that be uncomfortable for you...” “Psst. Hello, have you finished making that movie for him yet? That’s why he invited you, Snufflebrain. You’re just going to disappoint him.”  Running from all the thoughts this simple invitation had stirred up, I ignored it for a couple of weeks. Finally I responded on the day of the deadline, with a grateful acceptance that I typed rapidly as to avoid waking my inner critics from a rare nap.

The road turned again and I was rewarded with my first sight in nearly two years of the familiar lodge. The burning in my lungs eased as the path below me became flat and easy. Walking past the pump where I’d watched dozens of children learn a new way to get water during past camping trips, I smiled. Images of spilled water, tears, victory dances and at least one good spirited muddy battle flashed before my eyes. As I arrived at the lodge, I reached out to touch one of the trees that support the metal roof of its porch. It was no middle of the woods mirage, I was back! And the smells coming from inside were better than I remembered. Leather, exposed wood and the scent of a fire all offered the promise of warming my body after its subfreezing walk.

As darkness fell over the woods, bouncing flashlight beams approached from many directions and other participants appeared.
Names were shared, distances of travel compared and then the lodge door opened inviting us in from the dark. Shedding coats, scarves, gloves and all of our other cold weather battling gear, we let our eyes adjust to the light and warmth of the welcoming lodge. People continued with their introductions as we fixed ourselves mugs of tea with water from a kettle sitting on top of the woodstove. Then Mark, our host and a well respected naturalist and wilderness educator, called us to our seats and explained the rules of the night’s Spelling Bee and Vocabulary Contest.

As soon as Mark’s calm voice filled the cabin, all those memories of standing nervously in front of people having to spell words correctly began to melt away.  It became clear to us that this was to be a night of laughter, wit, challenges and a mostly friendly competition of words written and checked by only ourselves. I crossed my legs, settled back into my woven wood chair, sipped my cinnamon apple tea and breathed deeply. Peace. Even better, peace perfected by the sound of British accents. I smiled, thankful that I’d ignored the doubters inside me and come to this magical evening. 

Wondering what some of the words in the contest were?

The spelling focused on often misspelled words, including:
penitentiary, questionnaire, nuisance, transferable, idiosyncrasy, and weird

The vocabulary was wickedly challenging. For most of us, it was a chance to learn new words or gain a better grasp of the meaning of words we’ve occasionally encountered. Here are a few examples you might like:



No comments:

Post a Comment