Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lost Creek Ranch

Entering through the red, metal gate your eyes are drawn to the twenty-acre meadow on the left, which is surrounded on three sides by large trees, almost creating a picture frame. Part of the year the meadow is covered with hay and other times it’s a blanket of yellow Cone flowers. The half-mile gravel road curves through the trees bending left and then right before arriving at the pond. It passes by a small clearing in the trees, where a seven-foot rusted, metal cross is positioned across from a wooden bench. It's intended as a place to sit and reflect, which is easy to do when surrounded by nothing but trees. Further back into the woods is an U.S. flag hung sideways from a piece of lumber placed ten-feet high between two trees. Your eyes are drawn upward towards the flag, which serves as a reminder of the many brave men and women in uniform that have sacrificed for our country with honor and courage. Lost Creek Ranch is being created for those veterans that we call family. The family is a small one, within the civilian population, but it's one that we are comforted by when in their company.

Looking out the front window, another American flag sits at the edge of the pond waving in the wind. The water on the pond reflects the trees surrounding it and ripples when the wind blows. The turtles rest on partially underwater trees that create habitat for the fish in the pond, and a blue heron waits patiently for a fish to come close enough to snatch it. In the evenings, the bullfrogs echo one another and the sound cascades all the way around the pond like a symphony, with the crickets chirping backup. Many veterans have fished in this pond and found relaxation in doing so. Each spring, a bird builds her nest on the front porch spot lights, and as soon as I go out to drink my morning coffee, she flies away. She stays close enough to let me know that she is not happy with my presence near her nest, and for a moment I feel guilty that I’m invading her territory. Looking at the flag waving in the wind, I think about the freedoms that we often take for granted.

While exploring the wooded property, there are numerous trails to wander on. Each trail has been cleared with two things in mind: to create accessibility for our veterans in wheelchairs and to create a place of serenity. Local churches, boy scouts, friends, and fellow veterans have taken part in creating these trails. One trail has a bottle tree located on it and a bench to sit and relax. The bottle tree was created when a veteran family came for the weekend and painted designs on wine bottles using nail polish. The painted bottles were then placed on the small branches of the tree. The painted colors bounce off the bottles when the sunlight passes through the branches of the trees. Some people call it the “poor mans stained glass” and southern folklore states that bad spirits go into the bottles at night.

The south trail is approximately two miles long and has a dry creek bed running through. The grass is trampled where the deer bed down at night, and several benches and birdhouses are placed throughout. The variety of trees include: post oak, shagbark, red cedar, black locust, hickory, and other trees that are potentially hundreds of years old and easily up to sixty feet tall. The canopy is so thick that only a dapple of sunlight reaches through. If I was a kid again, I’d build a tree house high up and the view would be breathtaking, with nothing but trees for miles. Instead I enjoy the beauty, while safe on the ground, and standing beside the huge trees I feel small in stature.

The north trail stretches from the front entrance straight to the back of the ranch, where it ends at Wolf Creek. The creek creates a natural property line on the west side and is deep enough that it can only be crossed by finding a large tree that has fallen lengthwise. Eventually there will be an adjacent connector trail running along the creek, which currently is obscured by sticker brush, fallen limbs and poison ivy. The north trail was originally so dense with trees and shrubs that it's likely no one had passed through in decades (except the occasional deer hunter) for fear of wandering across snakes, poison ivy, and other critters in the underbrush. Coyotes, red-fox, deer, rabbits, raccoons, and armadillos have been spotted along with water moccasins, copper-heads and other poisonous snakes.  

The vision is only beginning for Lost Creek Ranch. A celebratory event was held May 2014 to honor local veteran families, with close to one-hundred people in attendance. More than ten families have visited so far and in time that number will grow. Visiting veterans commonly state that once they experience Lost Creek Ranch they can’t wait to come back. It’s not about pomp and circumstance, but simply getting away from the day-to-day routine and chaos of life and getting “lost” in the woods.  As one veteran wrote in our guest book, “We’ve faithfully served the American people. It’s now a beautiful thing to see warriors serve one another. Visiting this place always helps to bring life back into perspective.”