I love coming up to Petitjean Mountain for the freshman retreat every year. It falls at a terrible time -- Noel is almost always away at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I have to rely on relatives to travel long distances to stay with my kids while I come up here. But I look forward to it even though it complicates my life.
What I love the most, perhaps, is the drive up. I plug my iPod into the stereo and put it on shuffle, dialing it up when Wilco or the Hold Steady pop up in the mix. (Mom gave me a Lee Strobel CD for my listening edification during the 45 minute drive. Sorry, Mom, didn't happen. A Friday afternoon drive in the country just doesn't make me think, "Man, is that evangelical apologetics? Turn it up!" ) The best part happens when the steep, meandering mile-long drive up the mountainside suddenly levels out, and the last several miles before reaching the retreat center roll along the spine of the mountainside, the road straight by the compass and undulating in height.
Years ago I had a colleague who enjoyed coming up here because it was a chance to ride his motorcycle on these narrow, beautiful state highways. In fact, the retreat itself seemed sometimes to take a backseat to that pastime. Whenever I drive that last part of the journey, along the top of Petitjean mountain, through the trees and pastures and up to the gates of Winthrop Rockefeller's sprawling ranch, I understand something of what he felt. I should probably make this pleasurable journey more often, but I'm glad there's an annual event that pushes me to make it at least once a year.