Years ago I was on a hiking trip with three other friends (I’ll use their initials to protect their identities, although I don’t think that they would mind me sharing this story), T, S, and V. While T, S and I all were experienced hikers, V was new to this activity. She had quizzed us before the trip with all kinds of questions – what boots to buy, what kind of pack, water bottle, and hiking pole to use, what kind of training she should do to prepare for the trails, how to handle any emergencies, etc.
We were enjoying an 11+ mile day hike on a gorgeous sunny day, and came to a curve that hugged a canyon wall. It was very steep & sheer uphill and downhill of the trail – at some points you could reach your left arm out and touch the side of the mountain. T was in front and I could see across the canyon that there was a mountain goat on the trail ahead of her. I wasn’t worried about the goat attacking her, but I could see that it was using the trail because there wasn’t footing, even for the goat, any other way, and as we came around the curve behind her, T and the goat were in a stand-off, (at a safe distance, I might add!)
T and I conferred, and went with the option to politely move forward, avoiding eye contact, until the goat found a place where it could step to the side of the trail and allow us to move on past it. There were a few times when the goat seemed to consider mowing all four of us off the mountain, but fortunately it huffed and changed its mind and moved back. Finally it came to an area with a few trees and a boulder on our left, and it hopped right up, it’s hooves at our eye level. T, myself and S hot-footed it past, offering our quiet “thank you’s” and “sorry’s.”
Then I turned around to see V, the tallest of our group, walking in slow motion very stiffly past the goat. The goat was getting impatient and voiced a rather displeased huff, which made me quite nervous.
“V – hurry up!” I said in a hoarse whisper.
With her teeth clenched like a ventriloquist, V replied, “You said not to run in front of the wild animals!”
Sigh, I had said that, and V was following instructions to the letter.
“The omnivores, V, not the herbivores…it’s OK to walk quickly this time…it’s waiting for us to go by.”
She sped up, just a bit, and all turned out well.
Our National Park Service was established in 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” This continent was full of wild country years ago, and as we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” in the name of progress, we’ve needed to set aside and protect unpopulated places. These parks allow room for wild things to run free, and these areas have rules and regulations to keep everyone safe.
In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 317
Jim Burnett was a National Park Ranger for 30 years. He wrote a book entitled, Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks. The following is taken from his introductory chapter:
For many current-day visitors to national parks the “great outdoors” is an alien environment, and most of what they know about dealing with the natural world comes from a TV program or magazine article. The expression, “I know just enough to be dangerous” applies in a big way to some people who decide to try a canoe trip, climb a mountain, spend a night in a campground, or even just take a short hike on a nature trail.
I’ve also concluded that a few park visitors take their goal to “get away from it all” a little too seriously and simply leave their brains at home when they go on vacation. As a result, they end up doing things that they would never dream of attempting in their native habitat, whether that happens to be a big city, suburbia, or a small town. Sometimes this situation is compounded when people try to cram too much fun into too little time, resulting in a trip that might more accurately be called, “wreck-reation” than recreation.
If it wasn’t for guidelines and laws, some people might try to use the parks as their own personal hunting safari range, or mow down rare and beautiful plants and animals with four wheelers, or toss trash into clear mountain streams – things they wouldn’t dream of doing to their neighbor’s property in their own home towns.
I am so thankful for our National Park system, and our country’s Wilderness Areas, and for those who work in these places to keep people and the environment safe. Most of the vacations I’ve taken in my adult life have been trips to hike, bike, and kayak through these parks. On my hikes I’ve come across moose, fox, bear, antelope, badger, prairie dogs, trout, turtle, raccoon, otter, pine martin, woodpecker, trumpeter swans, eagles, hawks, cranes, marmot, pika, elk, deer, buffalo, loon, and heard the cry of wolves. There have been fields of wildflowers filling green valleys so lush you’d think it was Eden, and waterfalls that shine like silver over smoothed out stone. Cooling breezes and warming sunlight fill the day, and countless stars sparkle as I’ve settled down to rest at night.
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235
Getting out past the “front country” nature trails and information kiosks into the woods for days has been a great blessing. To know that this rugged, uncultivated land is there – to look around for miles and only see things that God has put in place – to be pulled by the desire to see what’s coming around the next bend – to have enough space for all of this to exist is such a gift.
No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 208
Last week I came across this quote for the first time, and it’s haunted me (in a good way) since:
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
We often think of the rules when it comes to Christianity – and sometimes it can seem that is all that Christians are focused on. But to do that is to miss the forest for the trees. Or perhaps, in continuing with the idea of wilderness, we can look at it another way…
A park ranger was once asked by a man leading his family in one of the great western National Parks, “What would you do if you only had 15 minutes to see this place?”
“See that bench over there?” he replied, “I would sit on it and cry.”
The vast majority of visitors to National Parks never venture 1 or 2 miles away from their car. Their experience is going to be vastly different than that of someone backpacking into the wilderness, living in the woods while carrying all their supplies. So too, I believe, are the experiences of those who dabble in having faith in Christ, getting their toes wet from time to time, rather than plunging in with their whole lives.
It’s not the rules of Christianity that hold us back, but rather we often hold ourselves back from the wild goodness that is allowed to run free under His wing. So, for the Christian, here are a few questions to consider…
Are you enjoying the good things running wild in your own life with Christ? Are you following rules and setting order for rules and for order’s sake, or are you digging deeper and walking further down the trail in your faith? Are there times you’ve carved out to spend with Jesus and allow Him to speak to you through His Word, or quiet you with His love, like a pika in it’s den? (Zeph. 3:17) Are you expressing gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with, like wildflowers in a meadow, whose pedals follow the sun across the sky? Are there moments when worship spontaneously bursts out of you like a waterfall through a crack in the rock?
If not, maybe getting out into a bit of the wild itself might help draw you into a deeper communion with the Creator of all that is good and wild, beautiful and pure, noble and true.
Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. 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 Our National Parks , 1901, page 56
Secondly, examine your life to see if you are you creating an environment for others to enjoy. Is your life, your home, your friendship giving room for good things to run wild? Is your house &/or are your conversations a haven, a refuge? Are you walled off with tall fences and concrete roofs, or open to the starlight? What are you shaping with your life? Are you inviting chaos with your choices, leaving destruction, ruts, and trash in your wake, or are opening wide landscapes of peace? Is your life drawing people in, wondering what could be around the next corner?
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
~ John Muir The Yosemite (1912), page 256
Consider these questions with Jesus, and ask Him how you might move forward to give room for good things to run wild in and through your life.
Keep me safe, my God,
for in You I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from You I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup;
You make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will You let your faithful one see decay.
You will show me the path of life;
in Your presence is fullness of joy;
in Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.
 The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”