Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Archive for the ‘Torah Thoughts’ Category

Remembering the Northwest Territories

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 7, 2008

I have never been so aware of my devotion to Hashem than on my trip to Alaska. In August of 2007 I undertook trip that many people dream of, but never actually complete, or they opt for the cruise and miss out on all I was to see and bask in. I say this because, the drive is a lonely one, literally coming to towns every 150 miles or so, along the Alaska Highway (Alcan). There is just nothing ordinary about it, you have never really been in the true middle of nowhere until you make the drive. Northern British Columbia and Yukon Territories are so vast and empty it’s a marvel that anyone calls it home. Prior to 1942 with the construction of the Alaska Highway, it was a truly desolate, with just a few mining and logging communities, towns were non-existent and most of the residents were natives or living in the Bush. The bush is the term used to describe someone that lives in a community or area that is not accessible by road, and usually only accessible by plane or snowmobile. Till today there are thousands of people living in the bush, and thousands more that live in places that are accessible in the winter through the building of “ice roads”, its unbelievable and I was driving right through it.

In fact a quick look at a map of the north country will reveal that for most of the Alaska Highway, it is completely void of human activity on either side for a thousand miles in either direction. This is why I was completely aware of every little spark of kedusha that I brought to this isolated piece of land.

It didn’t hit me so hard until I was davening shachris on the side of the Liard River in southern Northwest Territories. There was this long single lane bridge with a wooden planked surface, it was rather odd and the Milepost even had something to say about it. The Milepost is a guide to the north country, and is put out every year, it is extensive and a must for anyone traveling the north, usually the north is referred as anything above the 60th parallel, which is at over a thousand miles due north of the United States northern border with Canada which is at the 49th parallel.

Anyway I was overlooking this vast swift moving flat water river, sandy shores butted up against the greenest, thickest forest of pine I have ever seen. In fact the whole area is this unbroken plain of pine trees that are rather short, due to the extreme northern cold climate and northern location. There is a point at which the trees end, and nothing can grow besides for grasses and shrubs, but we were not headed up that far. I was standing off to the side of this long bridge while my driving companion Danny debated if he wanted to go fishing for some breakfast.

The road we were on was dirt, in fact there are hardly any paved roads in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and we were on a short detour, because in my mind you cannot come to the north and skip out on being somewhere that is so hard to get to. NWT stretches north to he arctic ocean and also borders Nunavut, Canada’s newest province, most rural and hardest to get to. The lure of NWT for me was its shear size and lack of people, 41,000 people live in an area almost ten times the size of California, that is just too insane to pass up.

We had decided not to drive so far into it, since the roads are unpaved, and although they aren’t too bad, I did want to make it to Alaska, and most of NWT is flat and I fiended the mountains of the Yukon and Alaska.

It really wasn’t a question of whether I was the first person to daven on route the side of the bridge right outside the Northwest Territories. But I had begun to think of a bunch of different ways to bring kedusha to the ground we walked on. Brachos instantly became more pronounced and excuses were made to say a bracha, more kinds of food were eaten, picking wild flowers to make brachos and going to the bathroom more so we could say asher yatzer, it was unreal really and the mood lasted throughout the trip. Every time we sat down to eat or make camp, there was a little learning that may not have been done, have we been in a more populated location.

The road became rough and down the center of it was a small pile of gravel and earth, it was making it hard to drive faster then 30, then a road grader approached up and flattened out the road, nearly swiping my car and all its contents into the ditch that was on the side of the road. Every few minutes we pass a cut in the trees with no apparent purpose, but according to the Milepost they were snow roads, only opened when enough snow had fallen to allow trucks and snowmobiles to travel over the roots and fallen trees.

My car came to a halt in the middle of the road, nearly skidding off it, for a herd of Buffalo had just appeared out of the thickets, I hadn’t realized anything could fit in the forest. The huge brown hairy behemoths, just grazed as if were weren’t even there. I love Buffalo, especially in the wild, which in the lower 48 is rare, save for Montana and South Dakota which have several herds. We took some pictures and stared at wonder at the large beasts, just taking big bites off the bushes on the side of the road.

A little further on we came to a simple road sign that said Welcome to the Northwest Territories. It was a simple affair and since we were almost out of gas, we continued on to the small town or outpost may be a better word, of Fort Liard. I just wanted to see some people that actually called this place home, and see the license plates. The license plates in NWT are shaped like a grizzly bear and I found that interesting.

We stopped at the one gas station, we had since stopped thinking of gas cost because everything is marked up in the north and you can forget about brand names. Most of the gas stations were merely a bunch of cabins with a pump sticking out of the earth. We walked in the store and realized that most of the town were natives.

Then we went to the one store, a native crafts store, and browsed. We looked in the guest book and sure enough some folks had written their names in Hebrew and were from Israel, whether they were religious we will never know.

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Posted in Alaska, Jews, Life, Rural America, Torah Thoughts | 7 Comments »

Why my kavanah is best in the woods

Posted by Frum Hiker on July 22, 2007

I have always wondered why my best davenings always occurred outside in the woods, miles away from the closest minyan. I have always attributed it to the fact that I was where I loved to be and I wanted to show gratitude to Hashem for providing me such beauty and what better way to do it then daven with all out kavanah.

I was learning some chassidus the other day and it was talking about how prior to davening one should meditate on Godly thoughts and put all other thoughts out of ones head. For me as I am sure most others, this is simply impossible or very hard to do. I know myself and I have distractions no matter where I may be. In shull I might be looking around at who I know, over the mechitza or at my watch. At home the cell phone may ring causing me to rush or I may just be tired and wanting to get back in bed. It just so happens that the thought of concentrating before one davens is very hard for me to do or even comprehend. Truthfully I always feel that my davening besides for on yom kippor, is rushed and without the proper kavanah for standing in front of the holy of holies.

Switch to the woods scenario, there are many of them, but they all have something in common. I am tired, sweaty and I have just been extremely engaged in something without gashmius type distractions. I was not at work, asleep, reading a book, driving or ten million other things that one does before praying. I was riding my bike through lush forests, relishing in the rush of the wild objects coming at me from all ends. My sensory was filled with Gods creations and Gods offerings.

I have just hiked all day on a ridge above the treeline overlooking glaciers and 3 mile high mountains. I have walked under my own God given power to a small enclave 60 miles away from the nearest power line and I have been completely immersed in God enjoying his company all day long.

There are many more scenarios like these. This is why my davening is so good while out in the wilderness; this is why everything to do with my Judaism is great while out in the wild. It is because, not only are there no distractions, all the distractions there are were made by God for the human to enjoy and take something out of. Most people see a tree, I see a life giving instrument that one cannot deny was made by God. The other reason why kavanah is so good for me in the woods, is that prior to daveing I have been engaged in something that had absolutely nothing to do with man made objects and was solely produced by God.

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Why I think being in the woods is good for frum Jews

Posted by Frum Hiker on April 16, 2007

I remember in high school when many folks told me that I would quit riding my bike once I got a car and get into more mature activities. The exact opposite happened, the car gave me the freedom of exploration and my wanderings have not yet satiated my appetite for the wilderness.

Another interesting thing happened to me when I got my car and started wandering around America and Canada, people in the frum community questioned my frumkeit. How can you be frum, and always be off in these weird places? Don’t you want to be normal like the rest of frum people? Yoru going to have to settle down an d pick up some normal hobbies, you know?

It wasn’t until the last couple years that I realized that the answer to all these questions was more then no. It was my question back at them- don’t you realize that many great sages in history enjoyed the woods immensely including my favorite the Baal Shem Tov. Not only is the woods a great place for fitness, exploration and solitude- but it is also a great place to learn true Fear and Love of God- the two components in becoming a true servant of Hashem.

When one is in the woods they are away from the barrage of secular and material cultures, they are away from the massive amounts of pritzus that greets everyones eyes as they simply walk down the street, it is also the one place where the hand of man is gone. The woods provides a cathedral of pure God- no buildings, sidewalks and cars, no electronic devices- just you and God.

It is hard to actually believe that everything comes from God in the material world- but in the woods- it is not a hard concept to grasp at all. In fact it is almost given to you on a silver platter.

Posted in Frummies, general Outdoors, Torah Thoughts | 7 Comments »