by Janet Single-Schwall

I wanted to share about the day in nature that my husband David and I were privileged to have with Venerables Semkye, Samten, Chonyi, and Damcho. We picked them up after breakfast on September 29, 2014 and headed to the ancient Ross Creek Cedar Grove near Troy, MT. The drive was about 2 1⁄2 hours along Lake Pend Oreille, rivers, and beautiful mountain scenery. The Ross Creek Cedar Grove scenic area is 100 acres in size and is home to cedar trees up to 1,000 years old. A 0.9 mile-long accessible loop trail led us along a path with informative signs of history and ecology of many plant and animal species native to the grove.

The majesty, strength, and beauty of these ancient cedars are awe-inspiring. Some of the trees are over 8 feet in diameter and 175 feet tall. In the cedar grove, everywhere you looked, you saw examples of interdependence. The old, decaying, or downed trees provide habitat, food, and shelter for many different animals. The trees enrich the forest floor where new life sprouts. In many locations, we saw nursery trees where the downed tress became a nursery for the next generation of young trees taking root within the decaying downed trunk. The cycle of birth, life, and death is evident in the ancient cedar grove. We saw so many baby trees, healthy towering giant cedars, and downed decaying trees. It was definitely an energizing, beautiful, reflective time as we walked through the grove. It made me become fully present in the moment, enjoying the pleasure of sharing this amazing sacred place with the monastic community. As Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment, fully alive. Fully aware.”

My husband and I had packed a picnic lunch that we all shared at the picnic tables by Ross Creek. It was a perfect setting to nourish our bodies as the grove nourished our minds.

We then departed the grove and headed north to Kootenai Falls, which was only 30 to 40 minutes away. Downstream from Libby, the Kootenai River enters a canyon and flows over Kootenai Falls, one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the northwest. The falls and surrounding area are considered sacred to the Kootenai Indians whose ancestors inhabited the region. A forest trail leads from the highway parking lot down to the swinging bridge and makes a nice hike that is not too strenuous. The swinging bridge was a lot of fun to bounce across. We also walked out on the rocky banks of the river near the top of the falls. We felt drawn to sit and contemplate the beauty, relaxing to the sound of the rushing water and calming serenity of the falls. Kootenai Falls was the setting for the filming of the movie, River Wild.

We finally headed back to the Abbey feeling enriched by our day together in nature. I personally felt it was a pleasure to share the day with my husband and with the sangha. We have been visiting the Abbey since July 2013, and I attended my first retreat this summer on the Four Noble Truths, which I really enjoyed. My husband and I have volunteered in the forest. We love going to the Sharing the Dharma Days and the Coeur D’Alene Dharma friends meetings. We realize how fortunate we are to live only 45 minutes from the Abbey. I feel at home at the Abbey. The Sangha at the Abbey are like visiting family. The nuns inspire me with their kindness, welcoming energy, focused dedication to the Dharma, and their love. It feels like a very special sisterhood. Studying the Dharma is giving me the tools to navigate through life without being reactionary, to live in gratitude, work to release attachments, and increase my compassion for all sentient beings. I am more at peace and happier than I have been in a long time. This trip was definitely a joyous effort.