Every year my family and I take several camping trips right here in Oklahoma, but once a year we make our sacred escape.
As you are reading this, I have just returned to my editor's desk. As I am writing this, I have just returned from a weekend of wholly healing fellowship with people we love and communion with some of the natural wonders of this state.
Our November retreat is one we have been organizing for that past five years at Osage Hills State Park in Pawhuska and includes our dear friends and their families from the four-state region and beyond.
Our immediate family, extended family, and circle of adopted friends decided not that long ago that we wanted to share songs, fires, food, and the awe of creation together. Those of us here in northeast Oklahoma settled on dates and started searching for a group site to make that happen.
Camping and hiking in Osage Hills quite a bit over the years, we selected it for our event and managed to secure that first weekend in 2013. Since then we have rented the group cabin campsite each November near the southern edge of the park overlooking a breathtaking vista with small waterfalls below.
Each year we carry the initial cost for the site and meals, and every year our friends and family from the region and as far north as Minnesota and as far south as southeast Texas help us recoup that expense through a humor-filled live auction during the event.
The items we auction come from among us – Exquisitely handcrafted decorative pieces, knitted scarves, jewelry of natural stones and sand casted metals, wood worked into bowls, candle holders, and a storage chest. Travertine and slate tiles carved into game boards and from the blacksmith's pot hooks, fire pokers, tools and more have all been offered up over the years. Without ever having said it out loud we've all instinctively donated items that require our time, talents, and love.
Laughing our way through the auction, we always meet our costs with enough earned to put down a deposit for the next year. There are no profits, and it is a beautiful thing.
This annual escape has helped to keep marriages whole, our children secure, our friendships deep, and our individual faiths robust. It renews and rescues us the way only time together in nature can.
We sharpen each other and leave there blades reinforced to cut through the stress of the mundane and the winter months until we meet again more regularly in spring and summer.
If this sounds romantic, it is. We are collectively in love with our bonds, the land of Oklahoma, and their entwined future. We are our deeds, and that means being world-affirming and good stewards to each other and the earth. It is all of us being our best selves.
It is also at risk because deficits in the state budget may soon force the closure of Osage Hills and 15 other state parks in Oklahoma.
While we would no doubt find another place, we do not want to. The preserved and nurtured beauty of Green Country is at the heart of what we do.
Between our joys, we mournfully weighed the possibilities this weekend. We all gave spirited toasts to the hills, streams, and big sky that has embraced us year after year.
Our sacred escape is to be present together in the environment that supports all we hold dear, and the land sings to us that we are not mistaken.
What greater joy could there be?
Leadership as dedicated to our red dirt lands as the red blood in our veins, because Oklahoma's parks and natural spaces are that vital.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.