My high school had standing permission to take students to this tract of land for various field trips, and there was a legend that some students once managed to purloin a large lump of potassium from one of the school science rooms, and throw it in the lake to watch the explosion. As I heard the story, people were picking fish out of the trees the rest of the summer. Kids would also go to the caves at odd times to drink beer and smoke weed, of course.
On the way to this high place, I first had to traverse a marshy area, with a very narrow footpath that went on for a long time, and invariably gave way to smelly marsh mud at least once along the way. Once I emerged onto higher, solid ground, I could see a low, ruined stone wall that follows the path for about 100 yards. It is all that remains of an 18th-century farm. The limestone hills of central New York State are dotted with post-Revolutionary war ruins, the remains of farms that were given in return for military service, and gradually abandoned as their unsuitability for farming became clear. (I once played a gig at an annual party that takes place in the foundation of a ruined farmhouse near some abandoned railroad tracks halfway up one of these large limestone hills.)
Of course, all the land used to belong to the Onondagas, the local branch of the Haudenosaunee, or "longhouse people." (The Native Americans more widely known as the Iroquois.)
As I continued along the path, I’d came to a stream, over which people periodically left planks, large branches or limbs, or fallen saplings by way of bridge. It was always an adventure getting over the creek on this makeshift pontoon, but I was grateful that it was there. Until, of course, the day when it wasn't, and it fell to me to scrounge up enough windfalls to bridge the creek.
After crossing the stream, I would walk on a wide path through the woods, with a steep slope downward on my left that led toward the lake, and a steep rise in my right that led toward a ridge where the limestone caves and my lookout rock were to be found. When I saw the faint path off to my right, I would leave the main trail and start climbing. At the top of the ridge I would hoist myself onto the large flat rock and into the sunshine.
I think about this place whenever I see the memes and tweets people post about the difference between what they blithely call "spirituality," and what they deride as "organized religion." My path to this high, open, sunny place with the amazing view was rough in places; it included the ruins of projects that didn't work out, and the land itself had been stolen from the previous inhabitants. There are silly stories associated with the preserve, and people definitely abuse it for their own gratification. Nevertheless, because of the people who trodden the path before me, I was able to reach my goal without having to resort to a machete or heavy equipment.
One of my composition teachers in college once said, "Composers who set out to create a new musical language usually end up not getting anything said." I am grateful to those who came before me, and spared me the trouble of having to reinvent the wheel. I am grateful to have been able to make my own small contribution toward keeping the place accessible. I am grateful that Jesus is "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith," (Heb. 12:1) because I am not made of pioneer stuff myself. It's not a perfect arrangement, but it is there, available to help me reach my goal.
If all we have is "spirituality," we must all be pioneers, laboriously blazing our own trails. The trails that other imperfect people have blazed for us serve us in the same way that "religion" serves "spirituality." They make our inner strivings visible, or struggles relatable, and our goal attainable.