Where in the whole mythic world does an epic adventure take place? Between a farm house in Kansas and the city of Oz? Between the comforts of Hobbiton and the horrors of Mount Doom? Ordained by at least one brave boy, I hereby submit the following location: Between Home the Land Built and The Secret Spot.
‘Twas day two and the pressure was on; me that is. My dear friend Heather had not only brought her two boys Riley 11 and Ryan 9, but a friend as well, Josh 11. And intentionally or not, she brought some pressure with her. This was Josh’s first sleep-over outside family. I so wanted our Land experience, which Riley and Ryan had experienced many times, to go well for Josh. And we’d had a good day one. Pulling down wild apples with the telescoping claw and basket of the apple picker. Stripping, crushing and flinging the potpourri like seed of the prairie’s grey-headed coneflower. Scouting potential sites to build a fort. But that evening, as our stick-pierced hot dogs blackened over the fire, the pressure mounted yet again.
In spite of their conflicted mother, Riley and Ryan wanted to quit Boy Scouts.
“Where will you find such outdoor experiences?” Heather asked. “Such adventures?”
Both boys seemed to respond in unison. “The Land!”
As I gazed upon the fire-lit faces, I felt both honored and overwhelmed. What would day two bring?
After the morning frost melted, we hiked through prairie---the autumn-blazed grasses far higher than the boy’s heads---to the place where all three boys decided to build their fort. Linda and I had always called this southeast edge of the ridge the Secret Spot. Here, where prairie meets pasture meets oak woodlands, an eminently visible old cedar hides the rock outcroppings beneath with well-extended lower arms. We’d always meant to take better care of its secret, but other priorities called us away, much to liking of all the grasping buckthorn, raspberry and prickly ash.
But Riley, Ryan and Josh had a plan. They lopped and pulled and sawed a clearing. And soon, voila! There was the Secret Spot I’d remembered, better actually.
But they weren’t nearly done. Rolling loose stones into a ring, they soon had a fire going. And a grate. And hotdogs.
From the bottom of the old cedar to the very tip top, they sawed off the thin wood until all that remained was a ladder of strong limbs. And climb the ladder they did. To the very tip top. And added a rope hoisted can for hauling knives. And a tabletop where Linda and I can one day enjoy a treetop meal.
Best of all, perhaps, they created a sign. Cut into an old board with a knife, red-stained with the juice of wild grapes, the sign still greets me when I return, which is surprisingly often. The call of the Secret Spot is hard to resist.
That night, back at Home the Land Built, Heather asked each boy if they could share a one word impression of the day. “I’ve got one,” Josh shouted.
I know Riley and Ryan shared amazing words too. But what stuck with me, and will stick with me as long as I live, is that one word. Until that moment, I’d never heard anyone so describe, with any sincerity, our joined experience. Yes, Josh had already voiced that he’d remember the Land experience for the rest of his life. “Better than any video game,” he assured us. But now the journey from Home the Land Built to the Secret Spot resides alongside the mythic great.
I never considered that I might be holding back my thoughts, my feeling for The Land. Yet these three boys awoke something in me, something similar to yet far beyond Mud Mountain. Mystical and magical as the Connection feels, perhaps there’s more. Much more. Perhaps I’ve only glimpsed the wonder. Perhaps I have not yet begun to surrender myself to possibilities of the Land.
I’m hiking to the Secret Spot. Now. And if you feel so moved, come, join me. And definitely bring the children in your life and the child in you. Here on the Land you never know what journey awaits.