Top Ten lists are all the rage, so I thought I’d start my own lists of favorites for each Saturday. Feel free to chime in with agreement and dismay. Or suggest your own corrections.
This morning, I am sitting at my desk in Baltimore (Highlandtown for those of you know the city). The ambulance sirens are screaming. The birds are silent (impending rain, I guess), except for this damaged bird toy that my cat Charlotte is mangling (it now sounds much more like the guns from the Space Invaders than any bird I know). The vine growing across the building behind my house looks like the striations on an ancient cliff face. I have a house, plenty of food, a good roommate, and my cats. Life isn’t too bad.
Yet, and no offense to Baltimore is intended here, I can think of many other places I’d rather be. So here’s my FAVORITE PLACES list.
10. Devil’s Courthouse in NC
When we were kids, my parents used to take my brother and I there to hike and play (carefully) on the stone face. The legend is that the devil used to hold court (surprise! surprise!) and set judgment on his minions here. I never felt any “evil” there, but I did love that a place could be associated with legend. Plus, the view, well, it’s gorgeous.
9. Land’s End in San Francisco When I lived in the city, I used to walk the few blocks to this trail and hike out to Land’s End. The views are amazing (The Golden Gate Bridge, The Pacific, the surf), and the hike was just strenuous enough to keep me working without overwhelming me. This place, where the world really does seem to stop in some ways, always gave me great peace, and it felt like God was sitting right there on that cliff, waiting for me to show up.
8. The Lake District of England – Lake Windermere
This part of England is so beautiful. It’s been kept fairly pristine (at least in parts), and it’s possible for someone to walk for hours without seeing other people, as my friend Sarah and I learned when our B&B host told us it was an “easy walk” around Windermere. . . seven hours later . . . . I love the quietness of this place, and I can completely understand why the Romantics adored is so much. It inspires people to live out through their emotions, and while that can be dangerous at times, it is still glorious and powerful, sublime.
7. Edinburgh, Scotland – Edinburgh Castle
In college, I spent a few glorious days in this city, and honestly, it still ranks as my favorite city in the world (that I’ve visited). There’s a quaintness that blends perfectly with the odd sophistication there. And the hills, well, the hills make the city spectacular. One night my friend Nait and I sat on the hill below the castle and stared at the city for a few hours. It’s still one of the most pristine nights of my life.
6. An Undisclosed Grass Hill (not knoll) in Pennsylvania One day, not too long ago, I laid on this hill and had one of the most profound conversations of my life. This will always be one of my favorite spots, even though it’s less than glamorous by most standards.
5. Volterra, Italy Before I knew that Stephenie Meyers had made the most veangeful of vampires originate from this location, I had been there for two glorious weeks. I ate gelato almost every night. I ran my fingers over the alabaster vases for which the city is famous. I stared at the particular orange of the cliffs outside our villa and thought it was the most beautiful color I had ever seen. I know people rave about Tuscany all the time, but it’s for good reason.
4. Turkey Point, MD This cliff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay was one spot where I escaped when the world of teaching was too much with me. I could hike out and sit on the cliff overlooking the water and find peace. I also had a very important first kiss overlooking that same water. There’s something about height and water that just calms me.
3. St. Augustine, FL
When I was a kid, my parents took us to St. Augustine for family vacations. The trips were always in winter, and we always stayed out of town in friends’ beach cottages. Since then, I have loved the beach in winter . . . warm enough to walk by the water but too cool to swim (except for nutty folks) or to loll there (I am just not much of a tanner). This past Christmas, I was invited to go down for the holiday with friends, and it was lovely. We stayed right on the beach. I walked and picked up shells. We played by the water. Gorgeous time.
2. Bremo Bluff, VA – – The view from Lower Bremo, the farm my dad manages. (You can see the tree nursery that he helped start in the distance.)
My parents have lived in Bremo since I was 14, and it is the place I call home, partially because my parents are there and partially because it has been a place of great refuge for me. I have gone there when my vocation shifted drastically just after college, when my marriage broke up, when my heart has been broken in other ways. I find great peace in the rolling hills and open space, and I can walk there without running into anyone but my parents’ dog (who always walks three times as far as I do because he does a weaving pattern across my path the whole time). It’s private space, so I feel privileged to be able to go there whenever I choose. What a great place to be allowed to call home.
1. Any place in nature where I can get space and time. I am a slow processor (just think of me as the Commodore 64 of the 21st century.) It takes me a great deal of time and reflection to really come to insights about myself or my experiences. As you can see from this list, I am drawn to places of pristine beauty where I can get distance from life – either literally on a cliff or figuratively through the contemplative mood that water creates for me. It is in these places that I feel God most strongly. Maybe it’s the lack of noise (or at least distracting noise), or maybe it’s the mood I’m in when I seek these places out. But these spaces remind me that God is near, even when I’m not sure that’s true. There is glory in place.