A “Free-Range” Childhood


The Board of Directors of Christ in the Wilderness met for the annual visit to the retreat center in Stockton, Illinois. We start every meeting with a prayer but for this extended time, our prayer experience was also extended. We read collectively, we listened, and went around the room to read individually. The guided meditation was wonderful. At the end of that portion of our time, each of us shared what was going on as we reflected.

I’m not usually good at visualization and guided meditation but Sister Maria’s voice just pulled me out of myself. The most vivid part was about apples. The suggestion was to sit under the tree and taste the apple, but I was in the tree, plucking an apple, smelling the freshness as I bit into it. It was a scene from my youth.

We lived in a house on Ogden Avenue just west of Belmont Avenue. Back when it wasn’t a Mazda dealership. The backyard boasted two large willow trees, a vegetable garden, a kennel for three hunting dogs, and an orchard with apple, plum, and cherry trees. Normally fearful of heights, I had favorite perches in each of those apple trees. Our neighbor to the north had a huge lot as well, surrounded by blackberry bushes that marked the boundaries to a forest that ran along both our lots.

We were free-range kids back in the late 50s. We roamed beyond the forest that surrounded our house often to the border of the Morton Arboretum a couple of miles to the west. As I’ve seen one Facebook meme state: Lightning bugs were our curfew notice. As I pondered this and shared some of it with my fellow board members, I realized that this experience was foundational for my later love of hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas. I’ve written about the value of the Blue and Green previously. Should I be surprised then that I find myself on the board of a retreat center that owns 80 acres of lovely farmland wilderness and three┬ámiles of trails?

CITW may be a very small slice of solitude and silence when compared to hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier National Park or the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon, but it is sufficient on a retreat. Just as the guided meditation was able to take me back to those free-range days of a very happy time in my youth, the hermitages and trails offer the same way back to the blue and green therapy my soul longs for.