Thursday, April 07, 2016

Reflection: Walking Through Muir Woods

Recently my travels took me to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to welcome aboard Nuru International's newest team member, an amazing individual named Danny Perez. I had the distinct privilege of traveling to the West Coast to begin Danny's first week together with him, and start his on boarding and orientation process as he joins us in the fight to end extreme poverty!

But before his on boarding began, I had an opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument. These woods are among the last uncut stands of coastal redwoods, and honestly being able to walk in this space was awe-inspiring. These woods were purchased by William and Elizabeth Kent in an effort to preserve them in 1905, and they are donated to the government. President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim the area as a national monument. John Muir, when he heard that the couple wanted to name this monument after him said, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly found in all of the forests of the world." And all of this happened more than 100 years ago.
As I walked through this forest of ancient redwoods, I was overwhelmed by a series of emotions, the foremost being gratitude. Gratitude for these trees being preserved--trees that were older than the United States--trees that had seen empires rise and fall, and that had stood resolute for hundreds of years. There's a lot we can learn from an ancient grove of trees, waving in the wind but rooted deeply in the earth.
My gratitude spilled over into a more broadly experienced gratitude for the opportunity to experience ancient and sacred places like this one. There's something powerful about a walk in the woods. As John Muir once stated, "In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks." In my short time on this earth (particularly short when compared with trees that are more than a millenium in age), I have been able to witness some amazingly beautiful spaces. Many of which have been near home in West Virginia, but some in travels across continents. Beauty is all around us, but we rarely take time to soak it in. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Beauty will save the world." In one sense, it already has in the beautiful life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but every time we are able to pause and soak in the grandeur of this beautiful world, our souls are the better for it.
Before I arrived in these woods, I was driving through rain and thick fog, and I was wondering if I would be able to see much at all, or if the rain and fog would negate majestic views. When I finally arrived, I realized that the rain and fog had probably discouraged others from traveling to these woods that particular day, and that they had granted me an opportunity to walk in this sacred space in solitude and silence. In fact, the park had set up signs along some of the paths encouraging visitors to walk quietly along and soak in the sounds of the wilderness.
My gratitude overflowed as I listened to the sounds of Redwood Creek churning along as it worked to make its way to the Pacific Ocean. It was actually kind of hard for me to grasp that these giant trees and stream were so close to the ocean. I made my way along these groves of trees thinking about the native coho salmon and steelhead trout swimming in this stream, and the many other wonderful memories I've had walking along similar streams back home in Appalachia.
I experienced gratitude as I walked for the rich tradition my parents and other ancestors had instilled in me and other Shawnee people to spend time walking in the creation and listening. Among the immediate rewards experienced on this particular day was the witnessing of a couple of deer crossing along the valley in which I was walking. In the silence and solitude, we can experience emptiness and boredom, or, more likely we can be filled beyond our imagination and comprehension with goodness, peace, and refreshment.
My walk took me meandering along a path beside these trees who had stood at the edge of this creek for centuries. Eventually, I was afforded an opportunity via footbridge to cross the stream and make my way uphill to another path that gave me a different view for the journey back to my vehicle.
When I made it back to the beginning of the path, I felt like it might be worthwhile to stop in the visitor center and gift shop to have a look around. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have a shirt or a hat or some remembrance to mark the experience that I had "been there," but as I have grown older, I have found that the best remembrances are the memory making moments themselves. But, I must admit I was tempted in the gift shop to spend $10 and buy a giant sequoia seedling. I recalled a poem by Wendell Berry about planting sequoias and investing in the millennium. The poem ends with the statement, "Practice resurrection," a fitting imperative at all times, but particularly in this Easter season. I didn't purchase the sapling, BUT, Jamie and I have been thinking pretty seriously about purchasing and planting one in our yard here in Morgantown, especially in light of Wendell Berry's encouragement. They grow about a foot each year once they have established themselves.
When I finally arrived back at my rental car, I felt energized, alive, and ready for a full week ahead. I was soaked from the misty rain, but even more fully saturated with gratitude. A walk in the woods, whether in a national park, or a local grove of trees or protected lands is good for heart and soul. May we each find frequent time to experience the refreshment that only comes from being outside and in this beautiful and majestic created world that beckons us to soak in its rejuvenating and healing power.

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