May 29 2019

Reflections on the Smokies Via John Muir

John Muir once said everyone needs “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  For most of my life the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina has been one of those “places” for me.  I recently had a chance to spend a week in the Smokies.  It truly was a healing experience and brought “strength to body and soul alike.”  John Muir never sauntered through the Great Smoky Mountains but he did come relatively close on his 1000 mile walk to the Gulf.  I’ve often wondered how he would have described the mountains that have come to mean so much to me.  I don’t mean to put words in his mouth but I feel what he wrote about other places precisely describes my experience in the Smokies.  For example, writing of his beloved Yosemite Muir wrote: “One seems to be in a majestic domed pavilion in which a grand play is being acted with scenery and music and incense, …all the action so interesting we are in no danger of being called on to endure one dull moment.  God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm.”   Muir may well have written these same words about the Smokies had he visited them.

Speaking about one of his favorite places, Muir said “The glory of the Lord is upon all his works; it is written plainly upon all the fields of ever clime, and upon every sky, but here in this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals.”  These too are words I could have written about the Smokies.  Like Muir, I believe that the glory of the Lord is visible in all of Creation, but there is something special about those ancient mountains that make up the Great Smoky Mountains.  I marvel at the vast species of flora and fauna that make their home there.  I relish time spent alongside its countless streams.  I receive inspiration from its many breathtaking vistas.  I love watching the sun rise and set from its mountain peaks.  Yes, the Smokies is a place where “the Lord has written in capitals!”  The fact that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is this country’s most visited national park, leads me to believe there are a lot of people who feel the same way about it as I do.

Actually I love all of our national parks and am so grateful they exist.  Muir once said “Wild parks are places of recreation, Nature’s cathedrals, where all may gain inspiration and strength and get nearer to God.”  I agree.  Our parks have so much to offer us.   There are a number of parks that are extra special to me but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just feels like home.  What park feels like home to you?  Which one, in particular, brings you nearer to God?

–Chuck


Jul 18 2015

Thank God for Parks!

_DSC6560I have had the chance the past couple of days to spend time wandering around and photographing Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This amazing park is located just south of Cleveland, Ohio. I visited here a couple of years ago and jumped at the opportunity to come back when I had to come up this way for our denominational meeting. This national park started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974.  It was made a national park in 2000. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural area. It has a river that runs through it, marshlands, forests, waterfalls, lakes and lots of wildlife. The area also has a rich cultural history.

_DSC6674One of the things that I’ve been impressed with on this trip is the many ways people make use of the park. Lots of people make use of the Towpath Trail. This wide path follows the historic Ohio and Erie Canal route. On it you’ll find people of all ages running, riding a bike, or just taking a leisurely stroll. There is also a train you can ride through the park. In some of the park’s lakes I saw people fishing. I’ve also noticed a number of horse trails. And then, of course, there are folks like me who find the park a great place to capture images of God’s beautiful and awesome Creation.

_DSC6695As I’ve traveled around the park the last couple of days I have found myself giving thanks that we have places like this in our country. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of our national park system. I have spent the last twenty-three years visiting and photographing as many of them as I can. A lot of our national parks are located in isolated areas and people have to travel a good bit to get to them. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it is located in an urban area. This park is easily accessible to a large number of people. From what I can see, lots of people from this part of the country take advantage of this treasure. Good for them!

On the official park map/brochure there is a quote by James Snowden Jackson that says, “I have admired the rugged fiords of Norway and the bald peaks of Yosemite. But I gain strength each day at home from the beauty of our own Cuyahoga Valley.”  For some reason this reminds me of my favorite John Muir passage: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  I’m sure there are some that would have preferred to see the Cuyahoga Valley developed instead of preserved as a national park but this area and our country is richer because it has been set aside and protected.

_DSC6838Obviously not every community can have a national park nearby but thankfully most cities and towns do have local parks, or perhaps even a state park close by. I feel very blessed to have John James Audubon State Park just a mile from my home. The city of Henderson, Kentucky, where I live has a number of delightful parks and Henderson County does as well. These parks are not just places for recreational activities, they are as Muir indicated, places where we can spend time with God and experience nature’s healing powers.  More and more studies are revealing the health benefits of just being outdoors. I believe there are spiritual benefits as well.

If you have a park close to where you live I hope that you will take advantage of it and visit it frequently. If you don’t I hope you get one someday. Wherever we live, regardless of whether there is a park nearby, we can all find ways to enjoy the outdoors. We can even create our own mini-parks right at home. The important thing is to find a way to reconnect with nature and with the One who has so graciously provided it for us.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are ones I’ve taken the past few days at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Oct 9 2013

The Shutdown’s Other Cost

Mammoth Cave formations 2 hAt least once each day I go to usatoday.com to check the news.  These days when you do that one of the first things you see is a running counter estimating the cost of the government shutdown.  As I post this right now that number is listed at $2,582,110,975.00 and is increasing at a rate of twelve and a half million every hour the shutdown continues.  I have no idea what all goes into these calculations but needless to say that is a lot of money.  The shutdown is obviously costing our country and its citizens a tremendous amount of capital.  I would argue, however, that this is only part of the cost.  Not all the costs from this shutdown can be calculated in terms of money.  In more than one way there is also a spiritual cost.

_CES4202Due to the shutdown our national parks and national wildlife refuges are now closed.  Children from my own community had to cancel a scheduled trip to Mammoth Cave National Park last week.  One of my dearest friends, Bill Fortney, was supposed to do a photo workshop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park this week.  The group has been forced to look for other locations to photograph.  With fall foliage peaking in a number of areas across the country a lot of people planned vacations right now to national parks to enjoy the wonderful display of color that comes this one time of the year.  Those vacations have had to be altered.  I’ve already booked a flight for next month to photograph in one of our national wildlife refuges in New Mexico.  Will I be able to go as planned?  Time will tell.

_CES9869At this point you might be wondering where the spiritual cost is I mentioned previously.  I believe that all those who are kept from going to our national parks and refuges are being forced to pay a spiritual price by what they are missing out on.  As noted countless times on this site, for many of us our nearest and dearest experiences with God occur in places of extraordinary beauty.  By being blocked from these places we are also being denied the chance to see God and experience His presence.  I certainly realize that there are plenty of other places where we can experience beauty and God in Creation other than our national parks (hopefully state parks are seeing an increase in visitation) but who could deny that our national parks and refuges are special?  Most of them were established because there was something unique present—landscapes, flora or fauna—that warranted their protection and preservation.  For these same reasons these places offer us unique opportunities to experience God.

Bosque-4B0043John Muir wrote long ago that everyone needs “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  Our national parks and refuges have helped fill this need since 1875.  We have come to rely on these places not just for our recreational needs but for our spiritual needs as well.  The loss of access to these places comes at a cost too.  You can’t put a price tag on wonder, peace of mind, or an experience of God in nature, but if you could that cost would be very high.   And for that reason it is not just for economic grounds I hope the government shutdown soon ends.  The spiritual cost may just be as high, or higher, than the economic one.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Mammoth Cave National Park, the second image at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the third image at North Cascades National Park, and the fourth image at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.)

Editor’s Note: Today’s entry marks the 500th post by Seeing Creation!


Apr 28 2013

Writing Straight With Crooked Lines

CV4316I love America’s national parks! They truly are one of our country’s “best ideas.” This weekend I had the chance to visit one that I had not been to before, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is located between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and has only been a national park for thirteen years. It has the reputation of being a wonderful autumn location for photographers but I found early spring to also be a great time to visit.

CV4352The word “cuyahoga” means “crooked river.” A river that bears this name does, indeed, run through the park and lives up to its name. This unique name got me thinking about a sermon John Claypool preached many years ago about the biblical character, Jacob. Claypool makes the point that despite Jacob’s devious ways God still used him to further His plans for Israel. The primary point I remember from reading this sermon was Claypool’s insistence that God can “write straight with crooked lines.”

CV4228I believe that this is an important point and that any number of biblical characters could be pointed to as examples–Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Certainly a lot of non-biblical examples could also be cited. It’s just true; God has this amazing way of using imperfect people to accomplish His will for the world. I find that incredibly comforting because I am quite imperfect myself. I often wonder how God can use someone like me, someone with more faults than I could begin to count. At the same time, I know He does use me and that is both humbling and exciting.  It is also indicative of just how awesome God is.

None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Bad decisions or sinful actions can lead to apparent disaster. But the Bible declares, “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve seen this happen in my own life and join John Claypool in assuring you that God can, indeed, write straight with crooked lines. Your life may seem to you as crooked as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio but God has the ability to bless and use you nonetheless. This seems to be His speciality and I, for one, am thankful it is.

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures shown here this weekend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Jan 23 2013

Jimmy Carter & Wilderness

TR6204Because I had a funeral to officiate at on Monday I did not get a chance to watch much of the President’s inauguration.  From what I’ve read and some of the images I’ve seen it must have been a grand event.  Many years ago I had the privilege of attending a presidential inauguration, that of Jimmy Carter.  I was in college at the time and my history professor, who was a member of the Electoral College, invited some students to go to Washington, D.C. with him.  I am very thankful I had a chance to be a part of that trip.  It was wonderful!

AK-Kenai-Fjords-NP-Exit-Glacier-(v)I realize that that there are many who do not feel like Jimmy Carter was a very good president but I have to admit I’ve always admired him.  Part of the reason for my admiration is his faith.  Carter has never been hesitant to speak of his religious convictions.  He taught Sunday School while in office and continues to do so.  I also admire greatly what Carter has done since leaving the Oval Office.  His work through the Carter Center has had a positive effect on millions of people.  I was once at a denominational meeting where Carter spoke.  He was introduced as the first President who used that office “as a stepping stone to greater service.”

Still another reason why I like Jimmy Carter is his love for the outdoors.  While President he was a proponent for environmental issues and also supported the national park system.  I actually believe that this had something to do with his faith.  Why?  Carter once said, “I have never been happier, more exhilarated, at peace, inspired, and aware of the grandeur of the universe, and the greatness of God than when I find myself in a natural setting not much changed from the way He made it.”

AGPix_summers402_0802_Lg[1]When one is cognizant of God’s hand in nature and awed by its beauty he or she cannot help but want to be good stewards of Creation.  Such a person recognizes the need to preserve wilderness areas and to support those places already protected.  These places are valuable in and of themselves but also, as Carter saw, as sources of happiness, exhilaration, peace, inspiration and experiences with God.

Wouldn’t it be great if our current elected officials recognized the spiritual value of wilderness?  I suspect some of them do.  Others, I fear, do not.  It is important that we all do our part in helping our elected officials to see the connection.  After all, they are the ones who will make the decisions about whether wilderness areas are preserved and our national parks are properly funded.  Perhaps now would be a good time to let your Senators and member of Congress know how you feel.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND), the middle image at Kenai Fjords National Park (AK), and the bottom image at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area (WV).)


Jul 4 2012

Our National Parks

Happy Independence Day!  This is a day when most Americans pause to celebrate and offer thanks for our country’s freedoms and blessings.  We truly do have much to be thankful for.  On this particular day I’d like to express my gratitude for our national parks.  I think anyone who enjoys “seeing Creation” would have to acknowledge that some of God’s most beautiful and awesome handiwork is found in these parks that have been preserved for us.  Wallace Stegner once said “National Parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best…” 

There are currently 58 national parks.  I have visited 38 of them so far.  In addition to these national parks, the National Park Service maintains numerous other types of units.  Some of these include national monuments, national preserves, national rivers, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national scenic trails.  There are hundreds of such units and I have had the privilege of visiting and photographing many of these.

I am so thankful that we have so many beautiful places preserved and protected.  What a rich treasure they are!  John Muir, who was instrumental in developing the idea of national parks in America, once said we all “need places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  The national parks have been such places for me.  In them I have been able to read God’s “other book” and been moved to worship the Creator who is “the Giver of all good gifts.” (James 1:17)

I cannot imagine our country without its national parks.  I’m glad that over the years people have fought long and hard to make sure that special places are protected from destruction and development.  I’m thankful that our parks are “absolutely democratic” so that all are welcome.  I’m thankful that those who will follow us will also have a chance to see the Grand Canyon, marvel at Yellowstone’s amazing geysers, look up at America’s highest mountain in Denali and down into its deepest cleft at Death Valley, view Yosemite Valley, and enjoy all the other wonderful sights, sounds and smells that await them in our national parks.

On this day we will likely hear many people say “God bless America.”   I’m convinced God already has.  I cannot think of any other nation that has been so blessed.  Our national parks are part of that blessing.  But with all these blessings comes responsibility.   We must be good stewards of God’s blessings and that applies to our parks too.  Our national parks deserve our support.  We would not be the same without them.

–Chuck

(The top image shows a picture I took of the Grand Canyon from its south rim.  The middle image is of “Old Faithful” at Yellowstone National Park.  I took the bottom image of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.)