Nature has taught me…Part 4

One of America’s most consequential naturalists and authors once said “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Spirituality, nature, and human nature are irrevocably intertwined. A perceptive person will know that one cannot fully experience nature without a willingness to watch and listen for the larger lessons that may not be as obvious as a physical tree, stream, or stone. Nature has much to teach us and this is, in effect, its spirit. Consider how humbling it must be for a human to know that even after taking into account her own profound capabilities of cognition, reason, and intellect, she could wonder into the woods for a day and find that the smallest of animals has a profound lesson to teach. Plants, ferns, mosses, lichens and such also render their wisdom freely, but only to the person who’s spirit is willing to receive. It is impossible to venture into the wilderness without being completely overwhelmed with humility. The sheer scale, age, and power of the forces at work in nature will cause any ego to become better-calibrated. The natural human condition works well in this setting.

Job 12:7-9 tells us to “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish… inform you.”

Humans naturally tend toward larger questions of life, such as “who am I,” “why am I here,” “where did I come from,” and “when was the first day without a yesterday?” Thankfully, nature has built the grandest cathedrals in which answers and evidence for these questions may be found. These cathedrals may be of a scale to immediately bring tears, such as Yosemite Valley. These cathedrals may require a microscope, such as the everyday business happening inside every cell of your body. Sometimes a telescope is required. In the end, everything a scientist can study happens in the natural world and is driven by natural forces. Of course, not everything of profound human consequence can be measured by instruments which is why a healthy mix of philosophy and science is required before one can arrive at clarity.

Knowing all of this is good, but experiencing it is immeasurably better. “Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.” - John Muir

I have arrived at these conclusions not by conjecture, reading, or other impersonal mode, but by experience. Collectively, I’ve lived for more than a year in a tent. I have walked hundreds of miles through pristine wilderness, sometimes more than 200 in a single summer. I’ve slept on all surfaces from pine needles to permafrost, and I can tell you that there is no greater professor or source of wisdom and harmony than nature.

Take the opportunity to explore nature and find in it a hint of your own spirituality. This may happen immediately if you’re so inclined, and it may take weeks, but you will find it. This is not a one-time event, it is a lifelong practice that forever yields dividends. Do not miss this opportunity, for if you do, you may discover too late that you have not yet lived.

“in all things of nature there is something of the marvelous” - Aristotle

Heston Williams is nature enthusiast who enjoys time in forests and mountains as well as his Fort Worth home.