We got away yesterday for a night of camping--the first time in a few months. Camping is a loaded word. Everyone has their own definition of what that means. For some it's a fully-loaded camper with cable hook-up and wi-fi. For some it's carrying everything on your back into the woods where no other human is around for miles. For us--being in our late 30s with two elementary-aged children, it's car camping. We drive to a State Park, back our car into a site where we registered to camp at in the park office, and pitch our tent. Sometimes we get a hike-in site where we walk a little ways to our site--often with a cart for our stuff. We occasionally do something more rugged. Rarely will we go to a commercialized campsite (I did it last summer with the boys on a super hot day so that we had a swimming pool).

Yesterday we went to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park just south of the Twin Cities. We were headed down that direction for an open house of some friends who moved to Northfield this summer, so it worked well to camp the night before.

As we reached the south edge of the Twin Cities for some reason I realized at that point I had forgotten to pack the tent. I have no excuse for forgetting it other than I don't do well when I have to pack everything on my own. For some reason I didn't think to have Beth help me the night before get everything ready to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything (I guess it could have been that we had an open house at school that night, so there wasn't much time).

This isn't the first time I have forgotten to pack the tent, I hate to admit. The last time we were in the market for a new one anyway, so we picked up one on sale at Wal-Mart to use for a few years. This time we did not need another tent (and we really didn't want to turn around and drive back to our house). Thankfully, our friends who were having the open house had a tent we could borrow (which ruined the surprise for the boys of seeing their friends--they didn't know about the open house).

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I need time in nature.

I get renewed outdoors (even if I feel more tired after a long day in the sun). It is often a spiritual experience for me--it's a place I commune with God.

We all hiked yesterday as a family. Just on a short (thought rated "most difficult") trail down to the "Hidden Waterfall." Which of course, wasn't that hidden as the trail led you right to it.  The water was low, so it wasn't overly spectacular (though still pleasant) and it had a potential
risk of some bacteria, so we didn't play in the water like we thought we might since it was a hot day.

We did hike along Prairie Creek downstream and found another waterfall--which was probably more hidden that the main one. We did let the boys wade in places where the water was moving pretty well. They liked exploring, my wife loved the rock formations and strata, and I enjoyed being outside with my family. 

It was a bit cooler in the valley where the river wound. A lower elevation, the shaded canopy of the big woods, the element of moving water.

As we hiked we noticed a lot of sticks, weeds, and other natural debris wrapped around trees along the river. Apparently in July the park had seven inches of rain in three hours. I would have loved to have seen the waterfall then. It had to have been an amazing torrent. Seriously, the debris was several feet above the creek's current path.Today the creek was a small trickle in a lot of places. We walked across it back and forth as we hiked downstream.

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This morning after breakfast was cleaned up we borrowed a GPS unit from the park office to try out one of their geocaching activities. Collectible cards with birds are hidden in each of the state parks. The boys didn't want to at first, but they discovered it was fun--even if it was on the same trail we had done the day before.

We tried out a different trail for a little ways. It was one Nils had wanted to explore the day before (probably just because it was called "Beaver Trail" and he expected that might mean seeing a beaver along it). They didn't make it too far down the trail before they wanted to turn back (I think the swings at the playground were beckoning), which was fine as I was given the opportunity to hike by myself the rest of the trail.

It wasn't too long. It wasn't too difficult. There weren't any breathtaking vistas.

But it was good. Basswood, oak, elm, maple towered overhead. Ferns and wildflowers carpeted the undercanopy. Sunshine illuminated leaves in trees. Acorns and dogwood seeds occasionally dropped to the forest floor. Rubbing branches made creaking noises.

Signposts along the path pointed out the direction of travel. It wasn't really necessary. The path was clearly marked. If another path branched off, a map was present to guide you on the desired trail.

I've wandered through woods off the path on occasion. Generally it's when I know I need to travel a certain direction or elevation change to reach a certain destination. It's not as easy going. And if I need to find my way back on the same route, I know to occasionally look behind me to get an image of the return path.

When walking a designated path (which is generally recommended--we actually couldn't go off path in parts of the forest because of a rare lily that only grows in three counties in Minnesota and no where else in the world),  there isn't much to worry about. You can just enjoy the hike. As long as you can read a map and identify if the path loops back to your starting point or not, you're generally in good shape.

If only life was so easy. If the paths were marked out. If it were clear where junctions in the path led.

You've probably heard the Bible called "life's road map" before. As if all decisions you need to make are clearly marked out. As if the direction you need to travel is clear all the time. Sometimes it is. Often it's not.

God doesn't place big, blue arrows along your path in life. That's not how He works--not always at least. I think with life it's more important to be in touch with God. The Bible helps. So does prayer. They're connection points in developing that relationship.

I still struggle. I struggle to fit in time in the Word and make it meaningful. I struggle to pray in ways that feel like I am sharing with God and hearing back from Him. I struggle with that whole relationship thing more often than I like at this point in my life.

The nice thing is, God keeps creating opportunities to get back on the right path when I'm off it. And maybe at some point I'll get that relationship thing done well enough to hear His voice when He says to "go left" or "stay the course."

I think being in the woods and hiking actually helps with that. 

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