Ideas for columns come to me in the strangest places and at the strangest times. Last Sunday, the flash hit as I listened to the minister’s sermon. She began it with a story about a little boy who loved to wander in the woods. He did this so often, and the woods were so dark and deep that his father became worried and suggested the boy find other places to spend his time. Then the father asked his son why he liked to wander through the woods for hours on end. The little boy answered, saying he felt closer to God in the woods. After a pause, his father answered that God could be close to people anywhere. Thoughtfully, the son responded, “But, I am not …”
This short story added fuel to an intellectual fire that simmers just at the edge of my consciousness most of the time. What is it about nature that strengthens our spirit? One nature writer after another from Thoreau to Stegner suggests in some fashion that we must protect that which is wild, for through this wildness our spirits are strengthened.
As the minister continued her sermon, she really hit home. She suggested that in the quiet of nature we can finally hear some of the messages intended for us. I know this is true for me. Without nature’s silence, or perhaps it is stillness, I would miss much of life.
Things at work or at home can get crazy with details needing attention: phone calls to make, papers to grade, bills to pay, shopping to finish, meals to prepare, laundry to wash. The list goes on and on, and it would be easy to say I am too busy to stop and enjoy a sunset or too rushed to stop even for an instant to watch the sun rise. I could easily ignore the grace of a soaring hawk or the antics of rabbits playing some form of animal tag in the pasture, or the crazy squirrels racing after one another in the cedars and cottonwood trees.
After I take an instant to stop and gaze at whatever caught my eye, I feel refreshed. Sometimes, I have to say or think, wow, how awesome! And I mean it in the true sense, not the clichéd sense. Sometimes I just laugh because whatever the creatures are doing as part of their day tickles my funny bone. On occasion, I am privilege to experience the sacred—an instant in which heaven and earth come together briefly but very powerfully.
Missing these instances would not ruin my day, but making time to enjoy them improves any day and enhances a bad day immeasurably. Stopping to pay attention to the beauty surrounding me reminds me that each moment is a gift, and we are intended to enjoy our gifts. Sometimes I am like a little child with too many presents at Christmas who needs to stop opening presents and take time to enjoy the one in her hand.
Our world is like that. Information, to-do lists, bells, buzzers, rings and sirens assail us from all sides. A walk in the woods is exactly what I need to clear the noise from not only my head, but also my system. I need to hear only the crunching of my feet on leaves and twigs. I need to listen to the birds as they flit from branch to branch. I need to feel the rhythm of the grass, the sky, the earth, the water. Soon my heart stills, my breath slows, and I am ready to listen.
Like that little boy, I feel closer to God when I am out of doors. I am pretty sure it has a great deal to do with my ability to listen in that environment. It is no wonder I figure out some of my toughest problems after walks along the creek or over the prairie. I think this is what I relate to when other writers talk about nature strengthening the spirit. I guess I am a lot like that little boy.