Jul 29 2012

The Value of Wilderness

This morning Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite writers, shared a link on Facebook to a delightful article in today’s New York Times.  The article is called “Blissfully Lost in the Woods” and was written by Nicholas D. Kristof.  In it Kristof tells the story of a recent two hundred mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail he took with his fourteen year old daughter.

After detailing some of the exciting events of their adventure, Kristof says “This trip, even more than most backpacking slogs, was a reminder that we humans are mere bricks in a vast natural cathedral. As we tumbled in snow pits, as rain fell on us, we mused that we’re not landlords of our planet, or even its prime tenants. We’re just guests.  In short, the wilderness humbled us, and that’s why it is indispensable.”

Kristof makes a number of valid points here.  He is right in affirming that we humans are just guests on this planet.  For centuries Christians have been making the same claim by affirming that this earth is not our home, that we are simply pilgrims “passing through.”  Pausing to realize this helps us keep things in perspective.  It also serves as a reminder that we ought to be good houseguests during our time here on earth.

Kristof is also right about how nature or wilderness has a way of humbling us.  I’ve experienced this many times.  I have felt very small in the presence of giant mountains.  I have been reminded of my mortality by nature’s powerful forces quite often.  I have also been forced in wilderness settings to acknowledge my limitations and shortcomings.  All of this is good.  God knows most of us could use more humility in our lives.  In fact, I cannot help but think that the beauty, grandeur, vastness and complexity of nature are all part of God’s plan to help us stay humble.  This makes wilderness “indispensable” indeed!

Kristof goes on to say, “Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote. It’s an Olympiad for all of us.”  He bemoans the fact that fewer and fewer people are being exposed to wilderness and suggests that this must change if we have any hope of preserving wilderness.  He writes, “To guarantee wilderness in the long run, we first need to ensure a constituency for it. Environmentalists focus on preserving wilderness, because that’s the immediate priority, but they perhaps should be as energetic at getting young people to interact with it.”

Here, too, I think Kristof makes a valid point.  Those of us who love God’s Creation and recognize it to be His “other book” need to do all we can to help people connect with nature.  Doing so will be good for their body and mind alike.  Even more importantly, doing so will be good for their soul.


(I chose to illustrate today’s post with images I’ve taken in the Pacific Northwest.  The top image shows Mount Rainier, the middle one was taken on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and the bottom picture features Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.)

Here’s the link to the article cited above: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/kristof-blissfully-lost-in-the-woods.html?_

May 12 2010

The Gift of the Desert

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  Mark 6:31

JTNP 755It’s nice to be back home in southeast Kentucky but I have to admit I find myself missing the desert.  I’m not really sure how to explain that.  I have no desire whatsoever to live in a desert; I prefer the lushness of the mountains around me here.  Still, there is something about the desert that beckons me. 

Over the centuries many have been drawn to the desert, often for spiritual purposes.  It has been noted that “The Jews traveled in the desert and became a community; Jesus went there to pray and to prepare for his ministry; and Muhammad received his commission in a desert cave.”  I can understand this; over the years I have spent a fair amount of time in the desert and it does something spiritually to me as well.  I just can’t seem to explain why.

MNP salt flats 472In her wonderful book, Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams offers insight that gives me a clue or two.  She writes, “It’s strange how deserts turn us into believers.  I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility.  I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together.  If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred.  Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.  There is no place to hide, and so we are found.”

Earlier in my life I saw deserts as literal “waste lands.”  I hardly view them that way today.  In ways that many people don’t understand, they are full of life.  They are full of life biologically and full of life spiritually.  For that reason we need to do everything we can to preserve them.  In some ways, the health of our souls may depend upon it.


(The top image was taken at Joshua Tree National Park.  The bottom image is a salt bed captured at Mojave National Preserve.)

Jul 28 2009

Species Protection

calf 3232I am about half way through reading Terry Tempest Williams’ newest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World.  In this book she writes extensively about the decline in numbers of prairie dogs in North America.  Reading her book has reminded me how important it is to preserve as many species of animals as we can.

There is certainly a biblical background for species protection.  The one that comes first to mind for most people is Noah’s taking the animals aboard the ark so that they would be saved from the Flood.  There is, however, another well-known biblical story that also reveals God’s concern for animals.  It is the story of Jonah.

At the end of Jonah’s story he is frustrated and angry that God did not destroy Nineveh.  After he vents at God it is God’s turn to address Jonah.  He chides Jonah for being more concerned about his own comfort than for the city of Nineveh. His final word to Jonah is “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

This passage reveals that God’s reason for not destroying Nineveh was not just the many people who lived there but the cattle as well.  For some reason many people have never noticed the part about the cattle in this story.  It is, however, another reminder that God is concerned about all of His Creation and that we should be as well.