“And when later in the evening the owl sounds its soft, tremulous call, and small snaps and rustlings reveal the presence of other lives, the eyes have reached their proper limit. The sense we rely on above all others can never completely know the natural world, for nature’s being is only partly what it shows. Its greater part, and greater beauty, is always past what human eyes can understand. When I started hiking desert canyons a few years ago, I kept hearing the song of a bird I couldn’t see, a long descending series of sharply whistled notes. It was a canyon wren, I learned from the books, but what I learned from the bird was more important. It sang as I woke up, as brilliant sun spread down the great red walls, and it sang as I started farther up the twisting canyon, sloshing through pools and scrambling up dry water chutes, higher and deeper into the carving of time. And what I remember most vividly from those early hikes is no particular thing I saw, no one fern grotto or sandstone spire, no cottonwood or cactus garden. I remember a bird I couldn’t see that called from around the next bend, from over the brink of a waterfall where the upper walls held the blaze of sky, where even as it steadily opened itself to sight, the canyon receded further and further into the depth of mystery.”
-- John Daniel, The Trail Home (Pantheon Books, 1992)
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Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday -- always a good time to pause, at least briefly, to acknowledge some of the things in our lives that we may be grateful for.
Taking things for granted seems to be part of human nature. But life is short, and no matter how many problems or crises we may sometimes have to face -- or how distressing the news, or how alarming the current state of our world and country seems to be -- for most of us there are also gifts. More gifts than we often realize.
Those of us who are into nature and hiking, for example, are extremely fortunate to have access to a great abundance of beautiful wild lands to explore and enjoy.
While the northeastern US isn’t famous for its wilderness (unlike some western states), we have literally hundreds of parks and millions of acres of wild lands.
It’s easy and appropriate to feel thankful for such local treasures, which aren’t on the radar screen of many people who could benefit a great deal from visiting them.
The natural world offers almost unlimited opportunities to shed stress, reconnect with simple pleasures, and even contemplate our place in the scheme of things.
And through hiking we can get in better shape, give our over-worked brains a much-needed rest, and taste some peace of mind. Isn’t that a lot to appreciate?
-- Charlie Cook