Misty Mountains, Mystical Morning

Misty Mountains

Looking south from St Nicholas Ranch into the Kings Canyon area of the Sierra Nevada.

Last week we attended the Winter Family Camp at St Nicholas Ranch. The ranch, run by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis in San Francisco, is located in Squaw Valley near the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. It was the first time I had been to the retreat, after hearing about it for years.

We had a wonderful time at the family camp. The weather was perfect, but with moments of drama as above. We met Greek families from all over California, from the Bay Area all the way down past Los Angeles. We ate, drank, talked and played. It was great to experience the Sierras again; I have always loved those mountains and been missing them for a couple years. Saturday was spent sledding at Grant Grove. The kids loved that, but I was happy just seeing the giant sequoias, the biggest living things on the planet. They are simply awesome, in the original sense of that word.

The site also has a monastery with a dozen or more nuns. Thus, Sunday started out with the Divine Liturgy in the chapel at the monastery. This was an amazing thing. One enters an incense-filled cavern of gold, marble, and medieval iconography, and hears the etherial voices of the nuns. Huddled over to the right of the altar where you can’t quite see them, they stand and sing for hours, occasionally shuffling and moving things. Softly but quickly they weave their way through the liturgy. Colored light streams in from above. The mysticism of the Orthodox Church transforms everything. Suddenly, a pair of nuns emerge with small incensors the size of a genie’s lamp and fitted with sleigh bells, their faces dimly visible beneath their black scarves; shaking bells in time like a chant, they quickly and precisely float around to each of the icons stationed around the chapel, shimmying the smoking bells as they bow before each one. Just as suddenly they disappear behind the altar screens. The singers continue spinning their soft cloud of sound. Outside the fog slowly lifts.