The seven women who participated in the second Black Hills Hiking Retreat in South Dakota were as diverse in age and hiking experience as they were united in their openness to forming a prayerful community centered on discerning God’s presence in nature. Led by Mary Frohlich, RSCJ with logistical help from Diane Roche , RSCJ, the group included Kerri Clarkin, a teacher from New Orleans, Ginny Hamel, from Boston, Margie Nunez-Ismael and Consi Panzer, both teachers at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami, and Shell Olson, RSCJ, on home visit from Japan, where she teaches at the International School.
The group met in Omaha where Laura Hickman, the principal of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart welcomed them with a pizza dinner and a tour of the school, followed by a good night’s sleep at the local RSCJ community. The next morning the group began the 10-hour drive to Spearfish in cars generously lent to the group by the RSCJ community in Chicago and by Lucy Hayes, RSCJ, from the Omaha Area.
For the next eight days the group explored the rivers, lakes and mountains surrounding the rustic family-owned Filmore Lodge, where they cooked and slept. In order to experience a taste of “Desert Spirituality,” they drove two hours to the Badlands where, despite 115-degree heat, they managed to explore the Medicine Root Trail. There they discovered sage, prickly pears and small wildflowers able to thrive in the harsh environment.
Participants were encouraged to pay attention to their bodies and adapt the hikes to meet their level of strength and stamina. Occasionally a small group would stay home to explore the trails around the fishing and swimming ponds and to read, paint or nap.
Prayer was also adapted to personal rhythms. Some rose early to sit and meditate as the early morning mist rose off the meadows outside the picture window. Each hike included a time of personal reflection and journaling on the trail. At night, the group gathered for a “harvesting” of impressions and insights from the day which sometimes included poetry or music. One night we were serenaded by a family of coyotes, yipping and howling at the full moon. Some people collapsed into bed at 9:00 while others stayed up past midnight to look at the stars and share life stories.
On the long drive back to Omaha on the last day, people who had said nothing the first day were chatting easily with everyone. Those who had enjoyed talking now felt comfortable being silent. Everyone was astonished that we had managed to make it through such a series of physically demanding activities without so much as a case of poison ivy and that it had been so easy to fall into a rhythm of shared life that was both simple and profoundly renewing.
The next hiking retreat has been tentatively scheduled for the last week in July, 2012. If you are interested, email Diane Roche at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.