Last weekend I went with two friends to Conkle’s Hollow in the Hocking Hills of Ohio. “This place is sacred,” I said to my companions as we started on the trail.
The path at Conkle’s Hollow is flat and goes alongside a stream bed into a deep wooded valley. The first section is lighter with wildflowers and sunshine; the next section is shady with ferns growing everywhere as one begins to glimpse the rock cliffs on both sides. At one point, a few boulders as big as a car are in the streambed, covered with green moss. Looking up, you can imagine how they tumbled down from the rocky wall above. Now they contain the majesty of silence and stillness that defines this place.
This trail is so popular (and so flat) that it is paved in concrete for most of the way: a sidewalk into the deep wooded hollow. In the last section, however, the pavement ends and the trail becomes rock and sand, the shallow stream now underfoot as the walls of the canyon get higher and closer. At around this point, the three of us are passed by a party of children: we count nine young ones with two dads. The girls are all dressed in long skirts and the boys in shorts or pants. The kids are allowed to race ahead while the dads bring up the rear to make sure none are lost.
“That’s the strategy I would use.” I say to my friends, “Keep the kids in front. This is a dead end and you’re not going to lose any kids up the walls of these cliffs.”
Soon we come to the end of the trail: the valley ends in a shallow pool of water where water falls at the head of the canyon from 80 feet up. This is August, so the waterfall and the stream are very low. Caves in the rock walls are cool and mysterious. The air itself is cooler and wetter than the other parts of the path. The children scamper and run while the dads watch. They splash through the shallow water in sandals and sneakers. I find a spot where water trickles from above and step into it, wetting my hair. My friend takes a moment of silent prayer beneath these droplets of water, a gift from above. I remark that the waterfall feels like the divine above (the masculine principle, Father Sky) and the green valley feels like the divine below (the feminine principle, Mother Earth).
The shouts and laughter of the children accentuate the holy silence of the place, everyone blessed by water, earth, sky, and one another.
May all be blessed by streams, by friendship, by the delightful presence of children playing.
May every public park, every waterway, every path and every sidewalk be a place for people to greet one another in friendship and peace, knowing that we all share this one green earth and one common humanity.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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