Notes from the Wayside - July 2023

Wayside Shrine in Góra Zdzichowo Forest in Łazęki, Poland
For the last ten years my husband Matty has tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade me into going on a camping trip. Although we are an outdoorsy family with a passionate love for nature and are often out romping around barefoot in the wilderness, camping was just a threshold I would not cross. To my city-bred sensibilities, sleeping in a tent in a place where there are wild animals (and even more frighteningly, wild humans) seems like a very bad idea. I feel much more comfortable behind a locked door with access to a thermostat and a toilet that flushes.

So you could imagine Matty’s surprise when I handed him the flyer for “Echoes in Time”, a weeklong ancestral skills conference for families held in the forests of the Willamette Valley, and insisted that we must go. Echoes offered the opportunity to learn more about the skills that sustained the human race for generations, such as shelter building, foraging for edible and medicinal plants, basket weaving, wood carving, and fire building. It was also a chance to connect with other like-minded people who seek a simpler and more holistic way of life for themselves and their children. The whole thing had “Ludwig Family” written all over it.

The catch?

No electricity, no running water, no flushing toilets, no cell service, no WiFi. For a week.

The accommodations?


There have been a number of times in my life when I have been stirred into action by a sudden idea or inspiration that is not easily explained by logic or reason alone. I recognize these moments very clearly when they happen and have learned over time to trust them; they are a “God thing." And the uncharacteristic decision to go to Echoes in Time, in spite of all my rigidly held squirminess about camping, can only be understood as one of these God things. So on June 25th, Matty, confused and delighted, packed up the car with all of our newly purchased camping gear, and we headed off into the forest in search of adventure.

What we discovered there was much more than an adventure, and words are hopelessly inadequate to describe our experience at Echoes in Time. It was something like finally arriving home after a long and lonely journey; we had found our place, and our people, at last. Matty and I enjoyed the simplicity of rising with the sun and going to sleep when it set, walking barefoot and sitting on the ground weaving or carving until every inch of us was brown with dust, and noticing birds and stars we’d never seen at home. The kids, of course, were thrilled to run feral for the week, and while here in Troutdale I feel too nervous and clucky to let them play outside alone, at Echoes I thought nothing of allowing them to go gallivanting through the woods unsupervised with their friends. There was safety there, where everyone was looking out for everyone else, and nature was not a stranger but a loyal and trustworthy friend.

Occasionally throughout the week Matty and I would talk about ways we could bring some of the Echoes experience back home with us. And I noticed that we would always refer to that reality (that is, our day-to-day life in Troutdale) as our “real” life. The “real” world was not the one where we sang songs around a fire or sat shelling peas with strangers for our dinner, but the draining, fast-paced, busy one, where we had our jobs and pets and appointments and bills and all the other trappings of “real” life.

But what struck me after a week of tribal living at Echoes was how unreal everything felt when we got back home. Somehow it all seemed wrong. The isolation of suburban life, where I spend most of my time alone in a house with my children instead of surrounded by a community of mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and teachers, felt cold and lonesome and exhausting; the millions of micro-decisions I have to make every day—what to wear, what to buy, what to eat—didn’t feel like freedom, they felt repressive, compared to gratefully eating whatever I was served and putting on my one “clean” outfit while the other dried in the sun; staring at a laptop, TV, or phone screen instead of the sky, the tree canopy, or the movement of the river, took me further and further away from reality. No, Echoes wasn’t an escape or vacation from the “real” world; somehow it was more real than what I usually call my “real” life.

I imagine that Heaven, also, will be an experience of entering into a far more real way of being than we have ever known. Many of us habitually envision Heaven to be an ethereal, diaphanous spirit world that is somehow less substantial than ours; but I feel sure that Heaven, the Kingdom of God—He who is the great I AM, the Ultimate Reality—must be the realest domain there is. It is our own too-small world that is thin and flimsy and unreal by comparison.

To live in Heaven we must become deeper, weightier, and more substantive, not further from our humanity, but closer to it. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “To enter Heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth”. When we die, we don’t cease to be real, we become more real. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith, the ultimate triumph of God, that when Christ conquered death on the cross, death became the mechanism through which we all can become more alive. Heaven is not full of dead people, it is full of living people: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. [I am] not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). In Heaven we are fully awake, fully alive, and fully real.

Echoes in Time, of course, was not Heaven. I did not enjoy the freezing cold nights in the tent, and I missed chocolate. But I do know that I, along with my husband and children, experienced true holiness there, and as a family we grew more human together. It was an adventure that made us more alive, and more real. Who could have guessed that the road to paradise is paved with composting toilets?


Annie - July 19th, 2023 at 1:34pm

That was a cool story. What an adventure. There is so much beauty, peace, and freedom in nature. Thank you for sharing this.

Jennifer - July 19th, 2023 at 1:41pm

Tara, What a wonderful family adventure! Thank you for sharing!

Sarah fox - July 19th, 2023 at 5:41pm

Thanks for writing this beautiful script. I will be forwarding to many of my peeps who will truly enjoy! The description of echos imitates the “real living” experience of how my family feels when traveling the world and with chocolate of course.

Rick - July 19th, 2023 at 6:54pm

Thank you, Tara, for inviting with you into a wild place, not only getting us there but letting us learn from how to get there interiorly, describing the kinds of "conversions" that need to happen before being able fully to arrive, and as T.S. Eliot put it, "to know the place for the first time." I was reminded of John Muir who wrote: "Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail."

Anna - August 2nd, 2023 at 10:53pm

The timing of this is so wonderful to me. I'm reading your reflection, Tara, only 3 days after I've returned from Yosemite National Park, experiencing some of the exact feelings you have so beautifully put into words. And now I'm skimming the comments and have stopped to reflect on this beautiful quote that Father Ganz has provided only to realize the trail I was on this weekend was named after John Muir. I love the ways that the Lord weaves our lives together even though we are miles apart at the moment. :)

Dan Fox - July 19th, 2023 at 10:46pm

Such a wonderful experience for you and your family! You put into words what Sarah and I discuss often and try to capture with trips in our RV trailer and living in places like Nicaragua and Mexico, there is more to community and life out there than what we often find ourselves living in the daily hustle and grind.

Nancy - July 20th, 2023 at 1:43pm

Heaven is full of living people. I love that. We are surrounded by a community of saints that have left their earthly bodies. Thanks Tara.

Carol Klobucher - July 20th, 2023 at 3:28pm

This was wonderful. I loved the reference to C.S. Lewis. Also reminded me of The Great Divorce!

Thom Walters - July 20th, 2023 at 6:07pm

Thank you for sharing your experience and reflections and capturing what I passionately embrace as well: Heaven (or whatever one might to want call that expanded dimension) is something that is more substantive, expansive and abundant than what we experience here. We really are here to connect with, deepen and more intuitively manifest our humanity. And the way you experienced sacredness in nature—I’ve always thought nature was the best form of church or worship. That which connects us to the Divine.