My time on the Great Wall was a splendid one, but, yes, eventually they all came back. Getting back down to where we started was also a bit challenging. As I slid down the rocks for the umpteenth time and attained scrapes and bruises and splinters I didn’t really care. I was in my moment and I was enjoying it.
We made it back to our backpacks and camping equipment. A donkey was hired to carry the heavy equipment up a valley to where we would set up camp for the night. To those of you who used to follow me on my Kashgar adventures you might remember my absolute fascination with all things donkey. He came from over the hill with his owner. The best part was that he came with a bow. A bow! Our donkey had a bow! How the donkey managed to climb steep narrow pathways with a bunch of heavy equipment on his back is beyond me. NorthFace bags on a donkey in the middle of a village in China. I felt like a walking catalog advertisement. There was joy in those moments.
We arrived at our campsite and began setting up our tent. Now Chris (remember, backpacker through mountainwilderness of western China Chris) could have done it all himself. He could have set up the tents and the fire and everything else. But, instead he showed us how. He allowed us to participate. He probably could have done it so much better, but he allowed us to have a try. He was a teacher and he was patient. I admired him for his leadership.
The problem, however, was that the water source at our campsite was all dried up. Some of the guys had to hike further to find water and bring it back. Water was indeed precious. Filtered water, even more so.
Somehow I was put in charge of cooking the pasta dinner. I’m not sure how that happened, but all of a sudden I was being shown how to do this. When I was a child my absolute favorite thing to do was play in the woods. I was often playing “pioneer woman.” As a pre-teen Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman was my hero. At 31, I’m still playing ‘pioneer woman” and loving it. Though, cutting onions with a small swiss army knife and making pasta while preserving precious water…all by flashlight…with a whole bunch of other people “helping” with their suggestions was a new one for me. I’m pretty sure, though, that Dr. Quinn was very proud in that moment.
As we were cooking the sauce, one of the guys noticed that there was a big stick in the pot. A root of mushroom? No. A large piece of onion? No. A tree branch? Oh, no, no. Chris’ Swiss Army knife was cooking well and fine. Melted plastic and metallic flavoring…yum! Somebody dropped the swiss army knife in the pot of sauce and didn’t realize it until 10 minutes later. Oopsie. Cleaning pasta sauce out of the crevices of a cooked melted swiss army knife under the darkness of night with precious limited water…well, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.
S’mores over an open fire. I’ve never seen a group so excited about s’mores. There was talk about the Brits and the Americans fumbling over funny vocabulary. Singing songs to the One who created the stars and trees around us. Sharing life.
Eleven girls in a 10-person tent. Nine guys in the other tent. It was “cozy.” In the cool of night I was really wishing for nose muffs. They make earmuffs and mittens and hats. But, nosemuffs is not something that has caught on. I need to patent that. It was indeed a long night because I was so conscious about rolling on top of the girls squeezed next to me. A major pinched nerve at 6:00 in the morning, however, meant I couldn’t stay laying down. Trying not to wake up the other ten girls, but also wincing with pain, I squirmed out of the tent into the cool morning air. Nobody would be up for two more hours. So I took my notebook and sketched. I wrote. I read. The only sound was birds who were just delightfully happy about something. I really wanted to know what they so were delightfully happy about.
The rest of the day involved exploring some more, taking pictures, throwing the Frisbee. The donkey came back. This time it was a different donkey. Time to break down camp and head back up the valley. Lunch at the farmer’s house was awaiting us. A farmer’s meal in a village in China never tasted so good. A few went to play Sardines (like Hide-N-Seek, except in reverse) while I sat on the rooftop taking in the scene around me.
Back in the van we made our way back to the city. Traffic like you wouldn’t believe. Conversation that still has me smiling. Dinner at a favorite pizza joint. And the trek home.
I found myself back in the office the next day. May is insanity month in the land of my work. Didn’t feel too bad that last week in April, but then I go camping, come back and WHAM. Oh yeah, it’s definitely May now. But I didn’t care. In the chaos around me as I was back at my desk and working multiple government systems in multiple languages across multiple departments I was at peace.
You see, God is God of the details. He’s God of the valley and the mountain. He’s a God who raises age-old foundations. He is a God who gives song to those happy birds and grace to the feet of that donkey. He is a God that cannot be confined in temples, but chooses to reside in the heart of those who receive him. He is a God who reconciles all things to Himself, including the creation before us. He is a God of peace who stretches as far east and south and north and west. He is a God who hears. He is a God who lets us in and invites us to come and rest.
Bugs, bruises, shortness of breath, frozen noses, cramped legs, pushed way out of my comfort zone.
There’s no place I’d rather be.