Our spring retreat was in the backwoods of West Virginia, right on the border of Kentucky. Our caravan made it through two states, an active coal mine and up a mountain to the Big Laurel Learning Center. Our director Kelly Caddy has a close relationship with the program which she first experienced on her own college mission trip years ago. Big Laurel is run by two nuns and an Americorps member. They provide sleep away summer camp programs for the local youth, afterschool tutoring and community outreach to the holler and the surrounding community. The nuns are older, but rugged and motivated as anyone I have met. They host mission trips to help run the campus, which sprawls about 2 miles with a retreat house, home for the sisters, two bunkhouses, a camp activity center, small barn and expansive gardens. Only the daffodils were in bloom at the time, but seeing any sign of life was fulfilling to me. This experience was unlike any other retreat, which is typically structured programming and quiet contemplation. I spent my day structured by meals and the small chores I was assigned to in addition to the big projects that needed to get done around the mountain. Joy and I fed the horses twice a day and I also helped an elderly man with special needs take his medication each afternoon.
Travel was mainly via Mule or ATV, time was fairly irrelevant (an unfamiliar but refreshing Franciscan value) and living was simple. Water conservation was crucial, as the sisters and Americorps Chris depend only on rain water for their supply. I showered only once on our stay. The vibe of Big Laurel brought back a lot of Road for Hope and Maine nostalgia.
Sarah and I ahd the ATV in the afternoon, so we took full advantage. First we visited with our elderly friend Phil and helped him with his eye drops and taking his pills. He was raised in that community and was taken under the care of the sisters when his mother passed away. They moved him to a small house nearby their home so they could be able to help him. He kept a clean house, loves pepsi and riding his ATV. He has paralysis on one side, but is able to walk, chop wood and function well with his ‘good side.’ he bragged to us about overcoming adversity as a kid, showing the kids that he could chop wood one handed after they teased him for his disabilities. I know its not respectful to call a grown man cute, but man he was adorable.
Friday Night we went to a local dance at a community center in Kentucky. Blue grass,modern and classic country played from the open mic all night/ Some of the women at the hall taught us how to line dance. Beyond the electric slide I was lost, but it was a ton of fun to dance and spend time with our community.
Saturday night we had a bonfire with the community near big laurel. The fire went for hours as we chatted, made tons of smores and reflected on our experience and where we are at in the program year.
This weekend flew by for all of us, but we left with laughs, memories and a sense of peace.