Can’t See The Forest

Out here in the high desert of northeast Nevada, the views go on forever.  We look out our front door and see the Ruby Mountain range extending north and south as far as we can see. The rolling foothills undulate in the foreground. Behind us,  to the west, we watch the sun fall behind Lamoille summit, about 8 miles away, and beyond that another 25 miles, Adobe summit. We truly have 360 degree views.

But out here, the trees, if present at all,  are scrubby juniper and some quakies (Aspen).  The land is alkaline, and the flora…well, meticulous about its choice of rooting….

Back in my hippy days, I spent a couple summers working as camp cook for a commune in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Having grown up in Michigan, I found the woods of Virginia to be like home:  tall, thin trees, growing so closely that little sunlight penetrated.  In the Appalachians, magnolia trees comprised the understory, perfuming the air in springtime.

That was in 1969 and 1970, and at camp we formed close bonds.  Those of us who had maintained contact through the years agreed to meet for a week at the farm back in Rural Retreat, Virginia back in 1999. DH had never been to the east coast, and so he was anxious to accompany me to my thirty-year “hippie reunion.”  In the intervening years, I had become a physician (a job which requires annual continuing education courses)  and so decided to combine the trip with a continuing medical education conference at Greenbriar resort in nearby White Sulphur Springs, WV.

So, for a week, DH and I lived at the commune:  We slept in a cabin on wood bunks, shared the communal pit outhouse, took turns cooking and were assigned KP duty. We hiked to “White Rock,” a granite outcropping at the top of  one of the nearby mountains.  Now, hiking in the east is unlike hiking here out west.  The trees were so thick that we could see only……trees. Until we reached the top of the mountain and “White Rock,” there was no “view,” and from the summit we could see:  tops of trees.  Out here in the west  the hiking trails ramble through woods and fields and rocky cliffs: sweeping views are always just steps away.

This commune is a place for spiritual study, and so we spent time in insightful thought and exercises.  One evening at dinner we were to pay attention to our tablemates.  We could not ask for anything, but rather, we needed to wait until someone at our table noted our need and offered to provide it:  We could not ask for the butter; we had to wait until someone saw, and responded to our lack of it. I am ashamed to say, that I failed more often than not, to notice the needs of my fellow diners.

We left the commune and traveled to Greenbriar.  A luxurious resort with marble floors, afternoon high tea, exquisite landscaping and…..high prices… was culture shock.  Having slept on wood pallets, and taken communal showers for a week, we were now embedded in another world: of $300 dinners and $500 golf rounds. And we were distinctly uncomfortable.   The clothing we wore had been geared toward the commune life, and having spent a week living in very humble surroundings, and still somewhat disheveled from a week of rustic camping, we certainly looked out of place at Greenbriar. This was not our style of life, and though the resort was full, and I met daily with my peers in educational lectures, we were essentially invisible to other resort residents. In a forest of people, we were unseen.

What did I learn?  Whether it is noting the needs-or even the proximity- of your fellow travelers through life, or hiking through the woods,  sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees…….