Oct 12 2015

“The Incomparable Sanity”

e_DSC9538It 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!

e_DSC0793The 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.

e_DSC9655Spending 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.

e_DSC0138I’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.)

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.


(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 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?_

Jan 15 2010

Wildness Is Not Our Enemy

Garden Fall 08-4A few years ago, Chuck had given me a book by Gerald May called The Healing Wisdom of Wilderness. I ran across it again this week because my daughter was looking for a memoir to read for a class at college on nonfiction writing. May was dying as he finished this book and it gives a lot of insight into the power of nature to heal us spiritually even if we can’t be healed physically.

May really believed that “wilderness” could be found anywhere, from a garden to a park to a wild area of nature. But he notes that our busy lives keep us from nature and its possibilities of healing and growth. There is a passage that really sticks out for me related to the problems that can occur from this, “Feeling so divorced from the nature within and around us, we make wildness an adversary that we must tame rather than learn from.” Nature as an adversary is key to a lot of nature television programs, unfortunately, such as the “Man against Wild” show (which is actually not as bad as its title — from the little I have seen of it, the star has to work with nature to survive, but the title reflects a more generalized attitude).

The world has its wildness. If you don’t understand nature and God’s place in it as the creator, that is, nature is God’s “property”, then wildness can be scary. That doesn’t have to mean being stranded on top of a wilderness mountain. That can mean being afraid of small critters, the bugs and such, that are all around us, and also part of our world. Understanding that this is all part of God’s creation helps make wildness a place of healing and peace rather than a scary place.

— Rob

Jul 15 2009

In the Woods

Muir Woods 411A number of years ago I came across the following story, told by David J. Wolpe, in Teaching Your Children About God.  It concerns a child of a rabbi who used to wander in the woods.

“At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned.  The woods were dangerous.  The father did not know what lurked there.  He decided to discuss the matter with his child.  One day he took him aside and said, ‘You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods.  I wonder, why do you go there?’  The boy said to his father, ‘I go there to find God.’  ‘That is a very good thing,’ the father replied gently.  ‘I am glad you are searching for God.  But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?’  ‘Yes,’ the boy answered, ‘but I’m not.’”

I’ve used this story from time to time to try and explain to people why the woods and wilderness are so important to me.  I realize that it is not true for everyone but for me I do feel different in the woods.  I feel a closeness to God there that is not so prevalent in my more urbanized everyday life.  And because I feel a nearness to God in wild places it is crucial for me that such places be preserved.

I have a feeling that there are many others who feel close to God in the woods and want to make sure that these places are maintained.  I just hope that there are enough of us to make a difference.  Enough folks who will work to make sure that there are plenty of wild places for people to go to and experience a closeness to God in nature.

–Chuck Summers