Recently I had a chance to go to California and spend a week photographing with Rob Sheppard. It turned out to be a marvelous trip. Everywhere we went there seemed to be something special waiting for us to explore and photograph. Numerous times I found myself saying “Wow!” Even more often I would catch myself saying “Thank you!” to God for the blessing of getting to see what I saw. There were several adorable sea otters that we were able to spend time with around Morro Bay. We also had many opportunities to enjoy this year’s super display of wildflowers. At Carrizo Plains National Monument we saw wildflowers flowing across thousands of acres and even into the mountains. It was a marvelous sight to behold. We spent a good bit of time along the central coast of California and the beauty there likewise called for countless expressions of gratitude. I felt incredibly blessed to see all I did.
A few days ago I was looking at a book I own which happens to be a collection of “famous prayers.” I came across one prayer that helped remind me that for those with eyes to see there are always blessings in nature waiting to be seen. The prayer spoke to me and perhaps it will to you as well. It was penned by John Oxenham and is taken from “A Little Te Deum of the Commonplace.”
“For all the first sweet flushings of the spring; The greening earth, the tender heavenly blue; The rich brown furrows gaping for the seed; For all thy grace in bursting bud and leaf… For hedgerows sweet with hawthorn and wild rose; For meadows spread with gold and gemmed with stars, For every tint of every tiniest flower, For every daisy smiling to the sun; For every bird that builds in joyous hope, For every lamb that frisks beside its dam, For every leaf that rustles in the wind, For spring poplar, and for spreading oak, For queenly birch, and lofty swaying elm; For the great cedar’s benedictory grace, For earth’s ten thousand fragrant incenses, Sweet altar-gifts from leaf and fruit and flower… For ripening summer and the harvesting; For all the rich autumnal glories spread—The flaming pageant of the ripening woods, The fiery gorse, the heather-purpled hills, The rustling leaves that fly before the wind and lie below the hedgerows whispering; For meadows silver-white with hoary dew; For sheer delight of tasting once again that first crisp breath, of winter in the air; The pictured pane; the new white world without; The sparkling hedgerows witchery of lace, The soft white flakes that fold the sleeping earth; The cold without, the cheerier warm within… For all the glowing heart of Christmas-tide, We thank thee, Lord!”
Oxenham is right, there is always something in God’s Creation to catch our attention and elicit our praise and thanksgiving. Needless to say, some things catch our eyes or attention quicker than others but if we will really pay attention we will find plenty to give thanks for no matter where we are or what time of the year it happens to be. What are you seeing right now that leads you to offer a prayer of thanksgiving?
(I took the three pictures shown above on my recent trip to California.)
It is good for us when we are young because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest… It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there.” Wallace Stegner
For the past week I have been in California traveling with my friend, Rob Sheppard. We have covered a lot of territory during this time. We have driven through the Mojave desert, wandered around the mountains and valleys of the eastern Sierras, visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on the west side of the Sierras, and traveled farther westward to take in Pinnacles National Park. We saw first light on Mount Whitney from the Alabama Hills, watched a glorious sunrise from high on Onion Valley, walked reverently among the ancient bristlecone pine trees high atop the White Mountains, and marveled at the truly giant sequoias in the park that bears their name. At Pinnacles National Park we got to see a plethora of wildlife and enjoy the scenic beauty of our newest national park. Without a doubt we have been blessed!
The words of Wallace Stegner that begin this blog I saw on a wayside exhibit at Kings Canyon National Park a couple of days ago. They concern Stegner’s view of wilderness and why he thought preserving and experiencing it is important for both young and old alike. Even though I certainly fall in the “old” category when it comes to age, I still find wilderness necessary because of “the incomparable sanity” it brings me in a world which sometimes seems mad. Recent school shootings, terrorist attacks, the craziness that comes with each political season, and a lot of other things I could mention. makes me at times want to stop the world and get off. Every time I read the news or watch it on television here lately I get either angry, depressed or discouraged.
Spending a week in wilderness settings has helped put things in perspective a bit. Walking amongst bristlecone pine trees that have been around over four thousand years and looking up at giant sequoias that tower to the skies has a way of doing that. In the wilderness one finds a peace and quiet that is next to impossible to experience in the regular hustle and bustle of everyday life. Walking in the woods and observing the miracles of God’s Creation has a way of restoring peace and rekindling one’s faith. At least it does for me. And I honestly believe that God intended this to be true for everyone else. The awesome Creation we have been blessed with was not made just to provide for our physical needs; God ordered the natural world so that spiritual needs might be met as well. That’s why in Psalm 23 David writes about God making him lie down in “green pastures” and leading him beside “still waters.” I also get the impression that’s why Jesus during difficult times in his life often got away from everyone and communed with God in “lonely places.” In the beginning God declared the goodness of Creation and that goodness is seen, in part, in the therapeutic and spiritual benefits it provides us all.
I’ll not elaborate here on the second part of Stegner’s words but I happen to believe it to be true. Now that I am “old” or older I find myself just grateful knowing that there are wilderness areas still available for people like me who sometimes find this world to be anything but sane. I just hope we can preserve such places for future generations. I have a feeling they are going to need them…
(The pictures used above are some I took this past week in California.)
Rob and I are photographing together this week in northern California. We have been concentrating on the magnificent redwood groves found in the area. Walking amongst these incredibly large trees has a way of making you feel quite small. I actually feel a sense of reverence in the presence of these giant specimens. Rob and I have paused many times just to express our sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of God’s Creation found here.
In the forest here I, too, feel “hints of gladness.” The giant trees lift my spirits and bring me joy. They point me to the One who created this world. They also remind me of how trees play a vital role in the Scriptures from beginning to end. Mary Oliver talks about how she can almost say the trees save her and I understand what she means. They bring peace in a troubled world. But the Bible connects trees and salvation even more closely when it points us to the Cross upon which Jesus died for the sins of the world. As much as I am humbled and made to feel small by the redwoods of California, the Cross humbles me even more. It is there, more than anywhere else, I see God’s greatness and my smallness. It is there, more than anywhere else, I see the love of God.
(Both of the images above were taken at Humboldt Redwoods State Park yesterday.)
While in the redwood groves yesterday I thought about a poem I recently came across in Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst. It is called “When I Am Among Trees.” She writes: “When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily. I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often. Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, ‘Stay awhile.’ The light flows from their branches. And they call again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say, ‘and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.'”
“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
I enjoy solitude. For me there are few things better than being alone out in God’s wonderful Creation. I was reminded this past week, however, that being with a friend outdoors can be just as wonderful. For that I have to say thanks to Rob.
This past week Rob Sheppard and I spent a great deal of time together exploring the natural wonders of southern California. It was fun being with my friend but also highly rewarding for a number of reasons. I always learn new things about photography when I’m with Rob but, in reality, when we’re together we don’t talk that much about photography. We spend more time talking about two of our other loves, God and nature.
On this trip we both took much delight in the things we saw and marveled at the wonders of God’s Creation. We were both constantly pointing at things, calling for the other to look at something that had caught our eye. For this reason I saw far more than I would have had I been alone.
Rob knows a lot about the natural world. He has purposely set out to learn as much as he can about the state he now calls home. He especially enjoys the native wildflowers of California. He speaks their names as though they are old friends. Had I been alone, I would not have known the names of the flowers we saw and photographed.
Even though we were together for the week, when it came time to photograph we both did our own thing. Rob is a far more deliberate photographer than I am and seems to stay put in one general area. He accuses me of being more like a rabbit because when I photograph I’m constantly on the move. This difference in style allowed me to have the solitude I treasure while still being with another. But what I would have missed had I been alone was the excitement and joy he expressed over the things he saw when we got back into the car.
When it comes to seeing Creation there are times when having a friend with you can be invaluable. Thanks, Rob, for a wonderful week!
(The top image is one of Rob photographing the Pacific coast not far from his home in southern California. The other image was taken in the beautiful Mojave National Preserve.)