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Monday, June 27, 2011

Rattlesnake Mountain

Marriott Ranch is a 4200 acre cattle ranch near Rattlesnake Mountain, about an hour from Washington, DC. I had the chance to accompany my autistic daughter on a youth trip there during this past week.

About 150 youth spent three days re-living the Mormon handcart trek - no cell phones, no computers, no microwaves or ovens, no flush toilets. I didn't take a camera, so the image above is a shot from the internet showing the views near Hume, Virginia, and looks like the blue skies and green landscapes we saw.

We pulled handcarts along the trails south of Rattlesnake Mountain. One stretch we will all remember was the ascent of Killer Ridge - where the men and boys were pulled away and forbidden to talk with or help the girls. I'd heard about the "Women's Pull," but it was another thing entirely to experience it. The way was full of rocks, eroded trail, and tree roots - entirely difficult even had it been flat terrain, much less the steep side of a mountainous ridge. Because the weather was lovely, they had us go all the way to the top of the ridge. It was intense in a good way and possibly the most physically challenging thing I have done short of un-anesthetized childbirth.

As we camped by the river the second night, most were thinking how hard it had been for those early folks who settled the Western United States. I was thinking about how life is now for so many who don't have access to electricity and plumbing, and how life will be in a post-oil era, whenever that might happen. But there was also the wonder of walking within feet of longhorn cattle (without an intervening fence), watching a crane soar through the sky over our camp, seeing the blanket of stars above us as our campfires died out, and washing in the sparkling waters of the Rappahannock River.

Towards the end of the last day, my daughter told me, "Momar, I don't think I want to do this after all." But that was when we were already on the track home, walking towards the cars that would take us back to our electricity-served modern lives. And it was really the only time she complained, beyond the constant refrain of "My feet are starting to get tired, Momar."

One of the girls captured my feelings well when she said "It was a cleansing experience."

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