Pine trees with low limbs spread over fresh snow make a stronger vault for the spirit than pews and pulpits ever could. -Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell
It’s not exactly up there with winning the lottery, but this year, having turned 62, I received a windfall in the form of free lifetime entry to the national parks. For a meager ten bucks, forked over joyfully, I now own a pass to hang from my rearview mirror that allows me entry into any national park, forest, monument, historic site, or anything else operated by the National Park Service. For free. For life. The Obamas had to pay $25 to get into Acadia National Park last week—an incredible deal by anyone’s standard—but I get to visit that and every other park for free. Ah, the benefits of late middle age! (“Late middle age” is defined as the age I happen to be at any given moment; “elderly” is defined as ten years older than the age I happen to be at any given moment.)
Visiting a national park is, of course, about experiencing the world as God created it to be. And could there be any more appropriate way to celebrate the world’s Creator than by experiencing, enjoying, and delighting in the beauty of that nature, as suggested by the quote referenced above from the novel Winter’s Bone? Nature reminds us that we are part of something greater than ourselves, something that gives our lives meaning and purpose. It grounds us in the Source of all being and allows us to see the world as God intended it to be.
We live in a world that has become so accustomed to the artificial that God’s nature has barely a chance to be noticed. For many of us, vacation time means theme parks, boutiques, hotels, and swimming pools—all curiously reminiscent of the theme parks, boutiques, hotels, and swimming pools we left behind. We’ve forgotten—if we’ve ever known—the haunting beauty of a deep forest or stark desert, the glory of the sun rising over the Atlantic or setting beyond the Pacific, the summer chill of high mountain air, the eerie brilliance of the night sky, the sensorial joy of embracing a California redwood, the cool cleansing of river, lake, or ocean.
What it all comes down to is getting back to nature, and when we get back to nature we get back to God. And with that comes a form of connection that is deeply spiritual, providing for many of us “a stronger vault for the spirit than pews and pulpits ever could.”