Earth Etude for Elul 5 – Journey to a Mountain Pond
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
The word makom in Hebrew means place, or space, but it has also come to be a name of G!d.
Some places take on more significance in our lives than others. They touch us more deeply, or are associated with significant memories. For me, one of these is a place I have come close to, but have not yet seen with my own eyes. Yet just through proximity, it has touched me deeply, shifting something in my soul.
The name of the place is Gamawakoosh, but you cannot find it on a map. Gamawakoosh is the name given to this place by my mother’s family.
Beginning in the early 1920s, my mother from a very young age, her older brother, their parents, friends of varied ages, their dog, and their nanny goat hiked for three days, with the men and boys doubling back for a second load, up the side of a mountain in the Adirondacks to a hidden pond. There, with permission from the landowner (at that time it was not public land) they built a small log cabin. They carried in all their provisions, including tools and rolls of roofing –- one year the collective weight of the packs was 512 pounds.
Several journals of trips to Gamawakoosh remain intact, providing clues to the travelers' route and insight into their experiences, and stored in my memory are the stories my mother told of Gamawakoosh, her most favorite place in all the world (and she travelled to many lands during her childhood and youth). For her it was a magical place of sheer delight, of good fellowship and long conversations, and of the wonders and awe of the wilderness. It was a place of healing and joy. August and Gamawakoosh provided a refuge from the father who at home in “civilization” was the source of emotional and spiritual pain that my mother carried with her all her life, for in the wilderness, away from societal norms, he was a different person, one she could respect, appreciate, and enjoy. Even at age 90, her eyes still twinkled when she spoke of Gamawakoosh, and it remained a place of respite for her mind and soul when her body no longer permitted her to explore the woods and fields in the way her spirit needed.
This summer, together with one of my brothers, a cousin and her husband, one of my sons and his wife and their dog, two descendants of another youthful 1933 Gamawakoosh participant, and a gem of a hiker who had been that man's good friend for many years, we went in search of this hidden spot. Although we tried, circumstances prevented us from reaching the site of the cabin, but in the process we walked where our families and their friends had walked and waded streams they had forded. Although we never laid eyes on Gamawakoosh, we touched its essence. We found it in the woods and beside the river. We found it in the colorful mushrooms of the damp forest and in the fairyland nooks and crannies of mosses, ferns, and tiny pine saplings. We found it in the decaying 1939 Chevy we stumbled upon, mysteriously abandoned far from any current road. We found it in our shared breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and in the preparation and clean up. We found it in the laughter and camaraderie that flowed among people who had never before met, and in the stories of family members long gone, whose spirits hovered among us. We found it in new definitions of family, in healing long held sadness, and in new-found joy. And now we find it in our shared memories of a sacred place as yet unseen by our eyes.
HaMakom – The Place. The gift, the sacredness, of Gamawakoosh is not inherent, but flows forth from what we do with it and what we make of it, and in the Presence that fills all space. May we all find places that become for us Places that bring healing, laughter, and new depths of love and relationship with those we know and with those we don’t know. As we journey through Elul, may our hearts and souls re-turn to The Place, HaMakom, and to the spaces It fills.
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen (AJR '05) is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA (www.mayantikvah.org), a congregation that holds services outdoors all year long. She is also a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.