"Feeling the earth between my toes."
It was pouring rain,
the way it does in movies, and we sat in a car full of mixed moisture, and the air was heavy.
"I don't know guys... do you still want to go up?"
Emily had driven myself and one of our youth nearly 50 miles down I-90 in search of a hike to "wash our spirits clean", as John Muir would say, but this rain seemed brutally unforgiving.
However, this particular youth is not one to back down from a challenge.
"Well we're here aren't we?" He zipped up his jacket and bounded out of the passenger seat. Emily and I swapped shoulder shrugs and followed him across the parking lot.
Not long after, we found ourselves surrounded by a glorious green, and the rain left us. God is here, I thought.
Approximately 200 feet into the hike, our youth commented that his shoes were uncomfortable. About 204 feet into the hike, he removed his shoes and stealthily stashed them behind the nearest rock. After giving a yelp of gratitude to the surrounding treetops, he leapt up the trail, freed up by the comfort that no-shoes provided.
For the entirety of the trail, we made quite a trio. Two sets of sneakers and one set of bare feet climbed switchback after switchback, breathing deeply and making sure to stop every now and again to gulp water and remind ourselves that our bodies were blessedly removed from the concrete and exhaust (in all definitions) of city living.
"What's your favorite thing about being in nature?"
I postulated this question to the group between breathes, thinking I was quite clever to initiate such profound group conversation. But our youth responded with only a thoughtful silence, so I resolved to let the question evaporate with the remnants of the rainfall.
No less than 2 misty miles later, the trail came to a rocky scramble; we climbed over boulders and cracks, ascended the ledge, and lost our breath to the view.
This morning I had been preoccupied with the fact that I didn't have enough dirty clothes to justify doing a full load of laundry, and now I was standing 2078 ft above the Sound, feeling God's timely nudge to step out and let the wind pull at my clothes and mess up my hair.
God apparently nudged our youth much earlier - he was already out dancing from rock to rock, his distinctly gleeful shouts no doubt meeting the nearby mountains.
We unpacked our sandwiches (we were out of bread so we used dinner rolls, a fact you didn't need to know but now you do) and settled like kings overlooking Rattlesnake Lake, some closer to the edge than others**.
From my seat on the rock, I took in my surroundings - our youth was maybe 50 ft further down the rock face, peacefully inhaling and exhaling. I wondered what he might be thinking about, and I wondered why it is that I feel God so tangibly in these moments. I truly believe God meets us in nature. Of course He is with us always, but there's something different about a meeting, the intentionality of it perhaps, that makes me feel blissfully enveloped. Munching on my turkey roll and breathing thinner air, I was blessed by both conversation and silence on that ledge.
As we skipped back down the trail to the parking lot, I asked our youth again what his favorite thing about being in nature was. After a few moments of intentional consideration, he answered "Feeling the earth between my toes" and once again leapt ahead of us through the trees.
I love that answer. I thought I was a nature-enjoyment expert, I thought I knew everything there is to know about finding joy in God's creation. But not once have I tackled a hike barefoot. Not once have I been mindful enough to realize that shoes are still between me and Earth, even when I think I'm completely immersed in nature.
It's such a blessing that we get the opportunity to take our youth on adventures like this, outside of the city, away from the Ave. In these spaces, we get to be in fellowship with these young people, and we often have the privilege of getting to know their hearts and stories. But we also learn from them. It's in these exchanges that hope and healing are present, on both sides.
I am grateful.
*Written by Kaylyn Springer*
**Kaylyn and Emily were an exorbitantly safe distance from the edge, while our youth fearlessly ventured further out, uncovering ways to get closer and closer to the space between our mountain and the next. We have some very brave youth...