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Return to Jackson

Note: This blog first appeared at www.souldegree.com.

By my calculations, we are into Week Eight of this thing. My daughter and I noted that no member of our family of five has been out of the greater DC area in all that time, except for a slightly harrowing journey to JFK airport by me in Week One.

Although we have not left the DMV (as the locals call “DC-Maryland-Virginia), we have done our best to get into local wilderness areas. This past weekend we visited a spot about 45 minutes away with the curious name Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. For all of us, time in nature--the more wild, the better--provides a salve for the soul. It helps us reset ourselves. And, in a time of some boredom, nature provides fantastic opportunities for fun.


I was not always a nature buff. I grew up in suburban Jersey and was far more familiar with malls - Menlo Park Mall and Woodbridge Center, to be specific - than I was with any trail, the sight of bear or even deer scat, or how to pitch a tent. My family was very sporty--avid devotees of soccer, baseball, field hockey, swimming, and more. We spent a lot of summer days at the Jersey Shore too. But we did not camp. We did not hike. We did not seek out nature. I think it just wasn’t something in my parents’ experience, or on the radar of us kids.


That all changed for me the summer I turned 16 years old. With the encouragement of one of the best teachers I’ve ever had--Mrs. Bart in chemistry and physics--I signed up for a wilderness program that began in Iowa City and culminated at Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Prepping for the trip, my mom took me to buy a backpack, hiking boots, a sleeping bag, and a tent--things about which we were completely clueless. I still vividly remember setting the tent up for the first time in our living room, following the instructions line by line, with no intuition to guide me. The tent was a blue North Face. It was before self-supporting tents were a thing, so I had to hold it up with guy lines attached to the sofa and coffee table. I thought it was awesome and remember hanging out in it a long time before eventually I had to take it down and return the living room to its regular uses.


I was introduced to so many marvels on that trip. It was as if I were on an IV that dripped a love of nature into my blood, connecting my heart, my mind, and my soul to the wild world around me. From the sight of a deer buck leaping across the horizon at sunset in South Dakota’s Badlands to a frigid dip in the waters of Heart Lake in Yellowstone; from snowball fights in July in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains to a lazy canoe journey down Nebraska’s Niobrara River, all my senses were engaged with miracles they had simply never felt, seen, heard, smelled nor tasted before. (All natural Snow-Cones!)


The culmination of these experiences, the final burst of all things superlative, the thing that sealed the deal that I would, for a lifetime, be in love with, find connection in, and work to protect Nature was four days backpacking in Grand Teton National Park. Hurricane Pass. Alaska Basin. Death Canyon. These are names and places that are etched into my soul. The hike through them, the nights sleeping under their stars, the crispness of their mountain air, transformed me. Those days and nights are the foundation point of every trip I have taken into the wild. They are the fount from which my efforts to instill this same love in my children springs.


It is with the greatest delight that I share the news that Soul Degree has just confirmed a retreat this October to Jackson Hole. Scheduled for October 14 to 18, we will be hosted at the extraordinary Broken Arrow Ranch, which in the summertime is used by CityKids, an organization offering wilderness and youth development programs for kids from Washington, DC, who would otherwise not have such an opportunity.


Like you, we don’t know what the pandemic will hold for us come October; nonetheless, we are making plans for an incredible five days and four nights under Wyoming’s skies and stars and hope you will reserve a space with us. Please know that your health and safety of course come first and that if we have to cancel, or if you don’t feel comfortable attending given the pandemic, your deposit is completely refundable or transferable to another Soul Degree retreat.


In the meantime, may you and your family be well, stay healthy and at peace, and find some time to marvel at the gifts of Nature.