City boy to country boy
Chicago. Looks impressive from far away, doesn’t it?
Here is Chicago up close and personal. This is where I was born and raised.
It’s a big place. I spent years there. The only time I ever left it was to drive to another city. I could not imagine—I did not want to imagine—living anywhere else. Nature repulsed me and made me nervous. It was nothing but the empty space that had to be endured while driving to another city. I literally could not stand it. I think it was something like the opposite of claustrophobia where I could not handle lots of open, quiet space.
Here is the famous Yosemite National Park at the same scale. This is a big place in nature with mountains, rivers, canyons, and many places to see.
But Chicago is bigger. It has lights, action, lots to do, lots to distract, lots of man-made stuff to keep a person from ever experiencing real peace and from ever needing or wanting God. My parents sometimes talked about moving to the country, but I had a plan to run away on the day the moving truck arrived. They would have to stick to the schedule and would have no time to come looking for me!
By the time I was in 6th grade, I had come to the conclusion that God was dead. 2000 years ago, according to my little New Testament, He lived, but not now. Now He was dead. It was my logical conclusion based on my city observations. I was not an agnostic with doubts. I was a firmly convinced atheist.
But at that time that “dead” God started a chain of events that would bring me life. My dad enrolled my brothers and I in Cub Scouts, then graduated to Boy Scouts. This meant we could go on the weekend camporees in the small nature areas at the edge of the suburbs. They were lots of fun with challenging activities, lots to eat, and late nights talking in the tent. After a year of that, we were given the opportunity to spend a week during the summer at the big scout camp in the middle of the Wisconsin pine forest.
I enjoyed the time there so much that I saved up all my paper route money to buy a second week the next year. I was getting hooked on this cool, peaceful thing called, Nature.
After years of threatening, near the end of my 8th grade year, my parents finally moved us to ten acres sandwiched between the edge of a small town in southern Illinois and a state park. We had to move in stages, and I volunteered to be first.
To say the least, high school was a very turbulent, trying time for me. My only escape was the forest and bluffs stretching out from our property. From cutting firewood to quiet meditations to tearful sessions of stress relief, nature sustained my sanity. Green ash and sugar maples, birds and squirrels were a part of my comfort.
180 degrees. Complete reversal. What a transformation! The types of places in nature that had caused me pain just a few years before, now gave me comfort. I am a firm believer in the power of God through nature because it changed me. And that change on a physical and emotional level would give me the confidence to make the spiritual changes I needed.
Nature can fill the empty soul and heal the worn-out body. The natural environment has a way of seeping through our pores and gradually, comfortably, completely filling our minds with light and life. Leaving misconceptions of manmade religion behind, God becomes our Friend who walks by our side. I know of no more powerful remedy for guilt and depression.
Over the years, I have become a teacher, a husband, and a father. As responsibilities and pressures increased, I increased my time in nature. My only regret is that I did not increase it to the point where I became a little boy again. I used nature for a stress relieve valve, but did not stay long enough to use it as a fountain of youth.
But I assure you, it is never too late! And you can never be too young. God designed us for the natural rhythms and the invigorating cadence of life on the backpacking trail, through the national park, down the sand dune, and over the open water. Health and happiness does not need to be searched for. Hang around and they will find you!
Fifty years old and I have finally discovered the boyhood I missed. I am an experienced, scarred veteran of many administrative wars, but I am completely happy to just be a little boy. Flora and fauna, mountains and lakes, trails and sky, all have a way of reviving and rejuvenating. Even family and friends become more enjoyable. I grow younger as I grow older!
Like Enoch of old, I walk with God on the trail of life. I took that as my trail name because I often walk in solitude, but I never walk alone. Really, I have a Friend and Father whom I converse with all the time no matter where I am at. He always gives me peace and power. With black and white words I hope you can glimpse the full color of walking with the Spirit in nature.
May this blog inspire and encourage you one step further along your own path.
PS. It’s my trail name. Now you know Who I walk with and what I eat a lot of! After meeting Chronic the Hedgehog on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, I just had to take a first and last name!