Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hidden Valley

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being an explorer. In fact, I remember the day when I sadly realized, like the scene in The Truman Show, that everywhere had already been discovered, and there would be no secret continents hiding in a corner of the ocean. Instead of continents, my explorations would have to remain where they had always been: the 80-acre forest that surrounded my childhood home, owned by the old widow Mrs. Obadiah who refused all offers to sell family land.

Though there were lovely glens where the river (read: creek) would cascade (read: trickle) over boulders that were family favorites for woodland adventures, I preferred to find my own havens, precisely because they would be my own. I found a place where the honeysuckle vine hung as a thick blanket over overhanging branches to create a sweet-smelling hollow. I found an old trail left by loggers that made me feel like a character from The Lord of the Rings on my way through Mirkwood Forest. I found an old stump that kept more bark than tree and shaped itself like a throne, and I imagined it the throne where God would sit during his similar strolls through Mrs. Obadiah’s forest. And my crowning discovery was when I found the stumps that stood at the top of a cleared hill in the middle of the forest, giving me the sensation of standing on a mountaintop. I named it Hidden Valley.

The first time I stumbled on my private mountaintop was exhilarating enough to keep me coming back with a strangely sacramental assurance that God was really present at Hidden Valley in a more tangible way than he was on my walk there, and it became a favorite pastime for me to tote a lunch there, sharing a meal with the God I knew would join me for the simple reason that he had once before. The very contours of the ground declared the glory of God, and the sloping valley (such as it was) proclaimed the work of his hands.

Soon after my discovery of Hidden Valley, I dragged my childhood best friend out to see it on an afternoon when she was unfortunately tired, hungry, and about to go home. She didn't want to cross the long field to get there (a prairie in size, as I recall), but I described the view vividly enough to convince her to come.

"There," I said when we arrived. "Stand on this stump to get the best view."

"This is it?" she asked incredulously, her tone betraying her utter disappointment, as if I had promised wealth and delivered a penny.

"Uh..." I hesitated, noticing that my mountain seemed to shrink before her gaze, and feeling suddenly quite foolish. "Maybe not. I must forget how to get there. We can go back home." I had suddenly developed a desire to be anywhere other than Hidden Valley whose magic had become temporarily invisible, even to me, knowing that I did not possess the power to make the magic return.

"Well, we already came all the way out here," she conceded with needless graciousness. "We can look around for it if you think you can find it again."

"No," I struggled in a brief panic, forced to lose face by admitting this was the place I had described so superlatively. "This is actually it, but it looks different now. I think some trees must have fallen and blocked the view." (It probably commends me that I was such a bad liar. It evidently didn't occur to me that we would have to see fallen trees for them to be obscuring our view, not to mention that trees are more obtrusive when standing up.)

At any rate, I never took anyone else out there, and the sacramental magic of the place from that time on remained more in the memory of what it had once looked like than in my future views. It was as if God had once removed a veil to reveal the splendor of his creation that he wondrously created and even more wondrously restored, and I knew the secret afterwards even if the veil had returned.

According to GoogleEarth, there is a subdivision now in the places of my childhood explorations. I suppose that must mean Mrs. Obadiah is dead, and that I might have been the last person to experience that hill as a place of wonder where God's glory may choose to dwell for an afternoon. I like to hope at least that some family's driveway is paved over it so that some kid can get the raw exhilaration of riding down it on his bike and thereby experience a bit of the wonder I felt, if that is not a profane use of what is surely sacred ground. And two decades and 700 miles removed from my afternoons at Hidden Valley, I pray that God may lift the corners of the veil again from time to time, and that my desire to save face never allows even a friend to put it back. In the mean time, I will keep looking for him in the meadows he has strolled with me before.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish I saw your hidden valley.
I believe it was gorgeous.