SJ Escape 2017

About once a year, I abandon my daily cares and responsibilities and run away for about three days. Because of our big road trip last year, I didn’t get an escape. I was seriously due for one this year.

In the past, I’ve ridden the train and slept at B&Bs. I still love the train, but realized at some point that having to get up early for breakfast and socialization was not actually ideal for me. I don’t like getting out of bed, I don’t like people in the morning, and I don’t like breakfast. Why was I doing this to myself?

DJ has been suggesting for about three years that I try out Corhaven, a spiritual retreat center. I could drive there. I didn’t have to follow anybody’s schedule. And there was a creek there. So this year I made reservations.

When DJ went on retreat there, he requested to meet with the priest (it’s Anglican) for counseling and confession. Me? I just wanted to have space to think without interruption. I didn’t want an engineered spiritual encounter. I’m accustomed to dodging triggers at “retreats” and “Bible studies” like Katniss in the arena. As far as I was concerned, God could show up if he wanted to, but I wasn’t going to study the Bible and have praise and worship time to get him there.

So I packed up essentials like my laptop, Milano cookies, and my phone… oh, and a change of clothes… and headed off for Corhaven. Before I left, Sparkler came flying out the front door to give me my traditional  Escape Companion  (that’s two links from two previous Escapes).

Meet Estella Greta Grace:


It wasn’t long into my trip before I sent a message back to the kids. Somehow half my coffee disappeared once when I was in a store. I was very puzzled by it:


Meanwhile, Estella Greta Grace sure was chatty and energetic for a while.

I decided that I’d go on one of the several cavern tours that are available here. As soon as I drove in, I could tell I was on vintage ground. Its heyday was probably the 30s to 40s, the era of little ceramic gnomes set up in a comic tableau, before Disney’s animatronics swept away interest in still-life. (Of course, animatronics are now considered clunky and funny by digital standards.)

I was right. The cafe was “a 1957 original.” But the elevator we took 60 feet down to start our tour was built in 1931. And the entire park opened in 1922.

Sure enough, the little gnomes greeted us underground:


And warned us not to break the law.


All the rooms had grand names like “The Cathedral Room” or “The Diamond Cascade.” It was an interesting tour through time. Not just the vast span of centuries it took to create the formations, but also a glimpse into a much closer past when experiences were harder to come by, and these caverns must have seemed truly otherwordly.

All that to say, the cavern tour was fascinating even to twenty-first century people jaded by too much adventure. The park did a good job of making its walkways and lights unobtrusive, so you really got to see the formations around you. Except no touching. I hated the no-touching rule. I love the feel of rock in my hand, and these rocks glistened with crystals and minerals. But evidently oils from the skin can cause the minerals to decay and discolor, so I obeyed. Mostly. Maybe I brushed my fingertips across one dripping rock once. But only once, honest.

As I messaged my kids, I’d invited Estella Greta Grace to come with me, but she said she didn’t want to. Too bad, because she missed some very interesting formations:


But she might not have been dressed for the temperatures; it was a steady 50 degrees in the caverns:


Trying to wrap my mind around the timespan in these caves, not to mention the fact that rivers once forged pathways and carved out chambers, was almost impossible. Geologists estimate that a single nodule of rock can take up to 125 years to form:


So a mid-sized stalactite has been around for much longer than any world we ever knew:


And I didn’t take any pictures of the hundred-foot ones.

Everything had a weird melted-alien-plastic look to it. But it was solid rock. At least, that’s what the guide said. I didn’t touch any to make sure.

On the way back to the elevator, the guide pointed out the original access to the caverns from 1922:


A tour in 1922 was probably a lot more exciting, really. “Watch out for that drop-off, ma’am, you could lose a kid there, haha! How’s your ankle, sir? Probably not broken. Now, those of you aren’t actively keeling over after the stairs, follow me up to this next room. But don’t talk too loud. Rocks are kind of shaky, don’t want to encourage them, haha!”

Back in the car, I told Estella Greta Grace all about it. She said she didn’t miss much. Party pooper.

On to my escape. It turned out that DJ was right. That happens pretty much all the time in our marriage. In fact, it was his idea to get married in the first place. But Corhaven was exactly what my tired, closed-in soul needed. The woman on staff showed me my room and the bathrooms (in two separate buildings — that was a fun 3am bathroom run), gave me just enough instruction that I knew my way around, directed me to a binder with more information, and then vanished until I needed her again.




It turned out that God didn’t have to “show up.” He was already there. From finding rocks in the creek, to sitting outside at night watching the fireflies, to reading bits and pieces of books I’d never tried before — everything I did, God was with me. It was a deep, quiet, profound refreshment.

I trekked up the path to a restored slave graveyard, which had been forgotten for 150 years until Corhaven bought the property and found the graves. I also picked up Maya Angelou for the first time, and wish I’d read her sooner. I’ve been thinking a lot about the racial wounds of our past, and now I see that there were voices crying out all the while. I just didn’t know to listen.

These two books gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t finish either one. I read enough that I had a lot to think about, then put them down.


I always asked Estella if she wanted to come along with me on walks, but she was a slacker.


She could have at least kept an eye on my Milanos to see how they kept disappearing. I have this trouble on every single escape, come to think of it.


However, I always had a very affectionate and enthusiastic companion in Yates. He lived for the moment that I walked toward the gate that led to the woods:


“Haha! Look at me! Egg drop soup!”

“Get out of my lunch, Estella.”


I stayed two nights at Corhaven, then took a leisurely drive back home along Rt. 11 — which I knew very well from my Sunday rambles a few years ago. As I left, I assured them, “I will see you again.”


And I got home to a clean house and a family who was very happy to see me. DJ and I spent a good half-hour catching each other up on what was, objectively speaking, three rather uneventful days — but full of ordinary-life goodness.

I unpacked my stuff and got ready to settle back into real life. And discovered that Estella Greta Grace had gotten into my coloring stuff:


I guess she had a good time, too.


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