It’s been a pretty eventful couple of weeks since my last blog. Last week, I spent 3 days literally living in the woods on a backpacking/flyfishing adventure with my cousin Nate and his friend Jack, then came home to a whirlwind weekend surrounding our Confirmation Sunday celebration at FUMC. In the midst of all that activity sometimes it takes a few days to process experiences and to see where God is at work in the midst of them.
It strikes me more and more that it is not so much through circumstances as it is through experiences where God reveals himself. Circumstances just are…stuff happens. It’s where we exist. Experiences, on the other hand, are the places where we LIVE.
I went into our backpacking trip hoping for that sense of clarity that God often gives me when I commune with nature. Sometimes when I’m hiking or fishing, I just get those brief but unmistakable moments of focus and understanding. But this trip was a little different.
Sometimes trips into the wilderness happen on well-maintained trails, where plenty of folks have gone before. There are established campsites, fire pits, even cleverly-crafted rock seats and moss-covered tent pads.
This trip was nothing like that.
Even though we hiked in on a (gated) Forest Service access road, we had to peel off and bushwhack 600 feet down a mountainside to reach the stream we intended to fish. We were in country seldom seen by other people and often roamed by black bears, minks, and rattlesnakes (thankfully, we had no encounters with any of them).
The point is, it was WORK. Not only to find a suitable place to set up camp for a couple of nights, but to keep the site dry, safe, clean and warm (nighttime temps in the low 30’s). And then there was the fishing. Far from a pastoral stroll along a quiet stream, this particular little creek plunged eagerly, sometimes angrily, down a gorge carved between 3,500-foot mountains. It was much an exercise in rock climbing as it was fly casting.
And of course, the downside to hiking downhill into a campsite is that you have to climb back out. So even though we were only about 3 miles from our car, it was a quad-busting, hour-long grind to get back out. Probably not too tough on my 21-year-old companions, but it took a toll on my 46-year-old frame. My 3-mile daily runs around town didn’t really prepare me for that kind of exertion. By the time we popped the hatch of my Jeep to grab a much-anticipated cold beer (we left a cooler packed with ice & IPAs in the back seat), my legs pretty much felt like over-stretched rubber bands.
So why put ourselves through all of that? Isn’t hiking, camping and fishing supposed to be FUN?
Well, of course it was fun. One of the things I enjoy about getting off the beaten path is the experience of the raw, rugged beauty of Creation. It’s like getting a peek into God’s most daring dreams. And then there’s the whole thing about the ongoing nature of God’s work. In places like the high mountain gorge where we set up camp, Creation is still a very active process. The river carves through the mountains, the rains move both water and soil downhill, the plants and trees provide abundant shade and oxygen, and the creatures of the woods are at home, largely unfettered by man’s encroachment.
And so, a week later and with the busy-ness of life back under control, I’m finally getting a chance to reflect on the experience. And what I’m learning is that it is through that reflection that I’m seeing what I could not see in the midst of the experience.
I think God likes it when we actively participate in his work. Camping in that rugged country, wading up that plunging stream, and even catching a few native (not stocked!) brook trout, and just generally existing in wild country for a couple of days really gave us the opportunity to connect with the work in progress that is Creation. Adapting to circumstances like rain, cold nights, hard uphill hikes and navigating the instream boulder fields that frequently blocked our progress as we fished often forced us to rely on instinct rather than intellect. It reminded us that we are a part of the process. We are more than just casual observers.
Every experience in the mountains–whether in West Virginia, Montana, Colorado or wherever I find myself in the high country–serves as a reminder of just how stunningly beautiful, amazingly complex, and continually active God’s Creation story is. It is a glimpse into his imagination, a place where I ultimately find myself both glorified and humbled. And every time, it completely blows my mind.