Growing up in the city of Pittsburgh, I never really had a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Sure it has three rivers, but in the early 1980s, those rivers were filled with all manner of flotsam and jetsam that you did not want to come in contact with. The fish literally were jumping into your boat to stay out of the water.

So when I was given the chance by Brian Evers, director of Pyramid Life Center, to come up and spend some time kayaking and exploring the 750-acre diocesan camp and retreat center last year, my family and I jumped at the offer.

We had wanted to go kayaking all last summer — it was a safe pandemic endeavor — but could never find the right time or the right spot. Pyramid Life Center definitely was the right time and the right place.

When we arrived, the ever-busy Brian was not around, so we wrangled up two kayaks — my son, Charlie and I in one, and my wife, Maria, in the other — life jackets and paddles. The biggest challenge was trying to get into the kayak without getting wet.

The simple answer to that problem was you are going to get wet, so get on with it. It reminded me of a time I was scuba diving in the Cayman Islands with my father-in-law, and it started to rain on us and the group we were with before we hopped into the roiling ocean. Another diver said, “Oh, we are going to get wet!” The Scottish divemaster quickly quipped back, “Don’t worry, you are going to get a lot wetter in a few seconds!”

Charlie got in the front of my kayak and my wife got in hers and off we went. The feeling of relaxation and peace was immediate as Pyramid Life Center got smaller and smaller in our rearview. And this was with a then-7-year-old who had mastered the ability to talk non-stop while pummeling me with question after question.

We paddled out around the 16-acre island as the blue sky was filled with broken clouds which caused a chill in the coming air of fall. I wondered what it would be like to be floating on the lake when all the leaves had turned bright oranges, browns and reds. But that was for another day. We continued paddling and sometimes, I would lean back into the seat of the kayak and just let nature take us where it wanted to go. My thoughts wandered: how lucky and thankful I was to be here right now with my family.

Charlie wanted to go exploring on the island and we angled our kayaks to shore and managed to successfully get out and on to land. The island is another oasis of peace filled with light and shadow, rambling trails, tall trees and some fallen limbs that were ideal for climbing on or jumping over. That is if you were a 7-year-old. You could feel the peace. The silence. The calm. Just the birds, wind and the sound of your boots on the fallen leaves and dirt paths.

After some exploration, we were back in the kayaks and slowly made our return to the center. It had only been just over two hours but we were refreshed, relaxed and in tune with the natural and spiritual world. I thought of how Sister Monica Murphy, CSJ, used to describe this place as “the best kept secret in the Diocese.” She, of course, was right. With the many programs at PLC, it has something for everyone. And is a place everyone in the Diocese of Albany, and those that are not, should enjoy and cherish.

As we put the kayaks back and stowed away our life jackets and paddles, Charlie asked me, “Dad, when can we come back?”

“Soon … very soon,” I answered.

Mike Matvey is editor of The Evangelist.