The House on the HillTop ©
By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This essay study is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Will Belk and Mrs. Ida Simmosn Belk, may they rest in peace.

One summer my adorable wife and I were having difficulty finding open camping sites in local US Forest District Campgrounds. It seemed as if they were all filled and overflowing everywhere we went. If you could find a campsite it felt like you were sleeping with some stranger's foot in your face. We needed relief from campground congestion. We were feeling tourist infestation. It seemed like they were swarming everywhere!

When you can't find a campsite sometimes it helps to call the local US Forest Ranger. Normally their guidance leads to better camping sites. So we spoke with a ranger who was very helpful. We learned of a secluded six site campground at 12,000 feet above sea level. The campground shared space with a crater lake overflowing with native cut throat trout, which is every fisherman's dream. The lake was usually frozen until about mid September and as a result was only fished by locals for several weeks during the year. The ranger said you may encounter a few hikers hitting the summits and that the road going in was pretty rough for a 4 by 4 with a camper but if we were careful we could make it.

We were charged with excitement! We headed off with a spirit of exploration. However our pioneer plasma only lasted until we reached the second creek where the road was washed out, not to mention, what Nancy referred to as 90 degree tilts on our super highway. It was wonderful if you were walking. I had visions of on coming traffic. Who would back up? I hoped they were driving a jeep or some small vehicle.

After driving about seven miles into this incredible back country we were above timberline. Nancy commented, I hope they have an out house... which is one of our prerequisites for a pleasant camping experience. We passed several broken down old mining camps which witnessed the brave, the busted and the shlemiel from last century's gold rush era.

Finally we reached our destiny. It was shocking! The campground was divided into two areas. One area was a plush green meadow next to Kite Lake without a tree or bush in sight. To reach this utopia it was necessary to cross a third creek beneath the outlet. It was deep and about thirty feet wide. We declined! There were about six vehicles already over there and only three campsites...

The second area was the parking lot with about ten vehicles and the other three camp sites. We soon learned that most of the vehicles were owned by hikers. Oh, what a relief that was. We also learned that the wild wolves running through the area were actually large dogs of dumb and illiterate owners more interested in scaling the four fourteen's than anything else.

Nancy and I decided to spend the night. We secured a campsite / parking space close to the house, the out house, yes the out house with the broken doorhandle.

Have you circled the four sides of an out house wondering where the door was? During the next eighteen hours we watched hikers, tourists and a few newly arrived campers searching for the entrance door. At times the looks were desperate and exasperated. Remember there were no trees or bushes in sight and the closest boulders of any size were several blocks away. Before long I found myself as doorkeeper to the house for desperate souls needing relief. The newly appointed position didn't come with a salary. After all, shouldn't acts of kindness come from the heart with no strings attached?

After securing our site Nancy and I took a brief walk around the area searching for anything that would burn. We found one old log and a few sticks. Fortunately we came prepared with firewood.

During our exploring we viewed an old miner's shack about three quarters of the way up one of the four mountain peaks at about 13,500 feet. We wondered about the old miner that built the shack and the shack itself. We also enjoyed Kite Lake even though it was more like a giant pond. There were no ice or fish to be found anywhere. Just the same, it was magnificent. When we returned to our campsite there was another splendid view from the rear door of our camper. It was a gorgeous breathtaking waterfall at some distance. So even though the area was crowded with confusion it was stunning.

Our next task was trying to start the fire with high wind gusts which are common at 12,000 feet. We succeeded!

Eventually after the parking lot emptied a still peace settled in, joined by cold night air. The old mountain, Kite Lake and the plush green meadow began to take on a wonderfully different atmosphere. Now it was time to ensconce for evening with prayers, studies and some supper. Later a few campers visited the house and visited our warm campfire before retiring. The erev sky sparkled with stars everywhere. It was so close and so beautiful! We reluctantly put the campfire out and retired!

Morning came much too early. It was before sunrise with the arrival of new energetic hikers slamming vehicle doors, dropping equipment, searching for the entrance to the house and their dogs barking. It was sad. It would soon be time for us to leave yet we could not endure another day of aggravation.

We spoke to the hikers as they returned at day's end. Their exhilaration was beyond words. Many of them added their names to an exclusive group of people who reached the summit of at least one 14,000 foot peak and some hikers reached all four summits in one difficult day's hike from the base at Kite Lake. The most common statement from the hikers achieving this remarkable goal was, it's like your on the top of the world looking down...

From all this we learned some very special lessons.

First, If you want to scale the mountain peaks of Torah get on the path early in the morning, launch out with enthusiasm and have the proper equipment for all occasions.

Second, There was a sign posted at the entrance along with a fee container. It was surprising how many campers and hikers wanted to enjoy without paying. The ranger issued each of them tickets and commented, most of them are locals. This reminded me of our Torah locals using the shuls, the day schools, the yeshivas and the Bais Yaakovs who want to enjoy them without paying.

Third, Consideration for others was missing. Hikers let their dogs run free ignoring the posted leash requirements. The dogs stole food, terrorized campers and hikers and in some situations attacked other dogs. This reminded me of the gemorrah discussion about the owner's responsibility for the beast who had eaten from another man's field or the beast that had gored a human. It is necessary to be responsible for one's possessions!

Fourth, I immensely enjoyed the praise of creation. Observing the praise of the mountains, the praise of the waterfall, the praise of the rushing creek, the praise of a mountain lake, the praise of a lush green meadow, the praise of the giant boulders, the praise of the La Ya Lah, the praise of the moon, the praise of the stars, the praise of the sun...was overpowering. The only ones who were not offering praise were the ones creating the confusion. Mankind!

Fifth, Breathing is more difficult at such high levels. Maybe that is why people say mountains are breathtaking. It also teaches us that the further one gets from Torah the more difficult it becomes to breathe life.

Sixth, Each of us have limitations. Make sure your goals are reachable! Even though I wanted to scale a fourteener, or visit the miner's shack or place my feet in the breathtaking waterfall, it wasn't possible. This means some of us will never reach our desires in this life because we have goals that are not reachable. Not everyone can be a Torah scholar, a great Torah scholar. Many of us struggle with simple things. We beat ourselves up! We make ourselves feel like a failure. Few have the ability to be a John Elway, a Michael Jordan or a Rabbi Akiva. It is necessary to approach life in a more realistic way. The purpose toward which an endeavor is directed is the goal. If goals are too difficult to reach you may think of yourself as a failure and you may treat yourself as a failure when you are actually quite a success.

I wanted to scale a fourteener. I wanted to visit the miner's shack. I wanted to place my feet in the breathtaking waterfall. Yet those goals were not attainable. Make sure your goals are reachable!

Seventh, Manning the door to an out house does not seem very important. Normally, if the handle worked a doorman would not be necessary. Yet when the door doesn't work it's nice to have someone standing by who will open it for you.

Most of us can find the entrance to learning or observance without assistance but if you find yourself standing in the middle of nowhere needing a doorman the entrance to the JewishPath is open. E Mail us if we can help.

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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