There are days when an accumulation of baggage from civilization/domestication requires me to leave the order that mankind has established and venture out into the forest.
The order we have established in everything we do weighs heavily on my soul. Our scheduled world which follows the hands of a clock, that keeps us busy until we turn out the light and wait for the alarm of a clock to wake us the next morning. The order that keeps things organized, in place and concise. Measure twice and cut once. We work our 40 or more hours per week, spend Saturday trying to finish laundry, buy food, clean the house, work in the yard and if we are lucky, spend an hour or so with friends. On Sunday, many of us allot an hour to hear a man or woman read excerpts from a manual on how to get to heaven. The manual is there in front of us along with a hymn book and after an hour of sitting, standing, praying and singing we go gather with our church friends, go out to eat and then watch sports on television for the remainder of the day.
At an early age we buy into this system...after all, it is all we know. And if our parents tell us it is the correct path, well, who are we to argue or dispute: "For the bible tells me so."
Anyone will tell you that I am a very sociable person. I'm the first one who suggests a party and I'm the last one to leave. But, I find that it is a matter of survival for me to be able to head to the forest. It is my church. I am alone with only my thoughts. There is no order and as I walk along a deer trail next to a flowing creek, a new adventure awaits with every footstep. No one tells me it is time to leave...the forest does not keep time.
I come upon a large American Beech tree, it's girth is around 2 feet in diameter, at the base, a soft, green carpet of moss adds what looks almost like an apron on the widest part of this giant. I stand close to it. "What a gentle being" I say out loud. And within a few seconds find my hands touching the bark in front of me. Feeling the texture and turning my head upward to the outstretched limbs. Can it hear me, can it sense that I am here next to it? And oh, wouldn't it be grand to hear about it's life?
The author Aldo Leopold once wrote about a cut tree and "The Rings of History. In his essay, he tells of how each ring tells a different story in the life of the tree. Droughts, rainy periods, freezes, fires...it is all there like a diary in the rings. And one can only imagine the animals and humans that ventured nearby. All in view of the tree.
As I venture along the trail I stop and pause because of an odd sound coming from the stream. I stood still...almost motionless...listening. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. I realized quickly it was the creek down below me, but instead of the typical whishing of water over rocks close to the surface, this sounded almost like someone taking their fingers along the stiff tines of a plastic comb. The rocks were in just such a position with the current to create this unusual sound. It repeated again and again: cleek, cleek, cleek---cleek---cleek, cleek, cleek---cleek. Walking along the creek, this sound soon faded behind me as different rock formations and debris hanging in the current created a new set of music. If I was very quiet and moved very slowly, a group of Spring Peepers would start chirping at the edge of the creek. Their high-pitched peep peep---peep peep---peep peep reminded me of my past and those warm summer nights when a window would be open and the chorus of millions of peepers would lullaby my mind into sleep.
At one point along the creek, I came upon a number of massive rocks. These were large enough to sit upon and even though they were cold and seemed to absorb the icy spring water temperature that flowed around them, they offered a prime view of the river looking up and down stream. I have found my place in the pew. The master craftsman has hewn these rocks over the centuries and now, I am sitting on them. Further down stream, along a hillside where the creek takes almost a 45 degree turn, the bank has been cut away exposing more rock. These pieces are completely in tact and unlike the chunks that I sit upon, form a sheet of solid gray, jetting out into the current and disappearing into the earth of the hillside. Like the Water Oak I saw earlier, moss has found the stone formations and decorated it like a Christmas tree with blue green, yellow green and orange mosses.
Even in the heart of winter, the woods brings me insight, surprise, curiosity and wonder. A small red clover mite crawls along a holly leaf. The bright red contrasts supremely against the dark green leaf. I sit and marvel at the combination of two opposite colors together if only for a moment. In the city, this small, harmless mite is considered a pest, but in the woods, it adds a nice splash of color to the palette.
Squatting, my legs soon fall asleep and as I grab onto a nearby tree to pull myself up from the ground I feel and odd texture and notice row after row of woodpecker holes on the young tree. Lined up in symmetric rows as a yellow-bellied sapsucker or red-headed woodpecker searched like a game of battleship for insects and grubs below the bark surface.
In this forest there are numerous species of trees. A few evergreens, but mostly deciduous.
There are pines and cedars, water oaks, hickory, sweet gum and sycamores. I love the color and textures of the different trees...their identifying bark and leaves are like the flag of a ship in the ocean. Some have smooth bark with horizontal lines, others like the cedar, have highly textured bark with what almost looks like hair growing from the skin.
The textures are amazing, the tones and colors brilliant.
I cannot hear the voice of God anywhere but in wild places. And as I sit in what I consider a sacred place, I worry about the future of my church. Because it is not made by man it has no worth in our culture. It is only valued if we bring it into order. If all the surprise, the unknown, the mystery, the natural beauty, is flattened and paved and rectangular buildings of brick and mortar put in place. A place to further the system and the economy...a place of exhaust and car horns, cell phones and flashing lights. A place to shop till we drop. To purchase and buy with the money we make between the hands of the clock so we can continue to work to buy more. Is that what life is all about? Is life truly supposed to be part of a system not designed by god, but by man?