He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left – Douglas Adams
Back in my day, spending time outside was an accepted part of life. On many summer days during my youth I would grab my BMX bike, no helmet since our heads were thicker, and leave the house. I never told my parents where I was going (they knew I probably wouldn’t leave our zip code) nor indicated exactly what time I’d be back. Dusk was my curfew and dinner my incentive to return.
Days would be spent with my crew, pedaling furiously – imagine “E.T.” minus the milkcrate basket, the black suited Feds, and the airborne moon silhouette – racing each other at breakneck speeds along Raleigh’s developing Greenway system, or tromping through the woods in various locations around the neighborhood. A grove of trees would become a fort, a stream would provide opportunity to search for crayfish while avoiding cottonmouths (which, rumor had it, had just been seen IN THAT VERY STREAM, regardless of which stream we happened to be in), and a buried concrete culvert would be the best place to dare each other to crawl from one end to the other without chickening out or getting stuck. Life outdoors was action packed: often hot, always dirty, and above all else, constantly fun.
Fast forward a few years (ok, decades) and now I often view the “outdoors” from the other side of a double paned, UV-blocking window. Seasons come and go and my view rarely changes. Rain falls, heat and humidity rises, snow dusts the earth, the air turns brisk and the wind bites, and I thank the Lord for a functioning HVAC system. I pass the time staring at my small screens, or my larger LED one, marveling at the clear digital image of nature – just look at the colors of the hot springs on this Yellowstone documentary! – while avoiding going out into it.
The idea of “Nature” is appealing but the application of it can be inconvenient.
When did this change occur in my life? It wasn’t during my time at university, that’s for sure. As a student at Appalachian State in Boone, NC, I spent nearly as much time in the mountain environment as I did in the classroom one. Weekends, or days when I got out of class by noon, meant heading away from Boone with a group of friends from church and driving to the Blue Ridge Parkway and one of its many roadside parks, or down to the Watauga River to raft and rock hop, or grabbing a well-worn copy of Allen de Hart’s “North Carolina Hiking Trails” and heading out in search of vistas heretofore unknown to me.
I didn’t walk away from the outdoors in one sudden move, but like a pair of high school sweethearts who went to colleges in separate states, I drifted away over time. Perhaps I was seduced by the domestic romance of indoor plumbing, HEPA filters, and fluorescent lighting. Or perhaps it was the basic responsibilities of working to provide for a young and growing family. Whatever the reason, the outdoors became less a destination and more an intermediate place, a situation I had to pass through to get to the location where I was headed.
This went on for years. There were brief interludes in which I would venture out into creation for the simple pleasure of being there or to spend some time in meditation on God’s word and in prayer, but for the most part I lived my life without, or rather, within.
However, things change. Time advances, yet creation will not stand in the shadows of life indefinitely. Nature will make itself known and remind you of what you’ve been missing and all that you’ve thought you’d forgotten. For me, this happened as the result of two events: a move and a trip to Colorado. The move involved our family relocating to a new house with a barren yard that invited planning and design, labor and love, to create an oasis of plants and flowers that attract wildlife, produce fruits and vegetables, and nourish our souls with their beauty. The trip to Colorado was a reminder that God’s majesty is still on full display in ways that modern conveniences cannot hope to replicate.
While standing on a 12,000-foot peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park, struggling to catch my breath, gazing out to the mountain split horizon where the sky kissed the earth, I felt within me the echo of Psalms 19:1-4
Humanity was given the responsibility to steward of God’s creation. While not conscious of it at the time, my experience in Colorado, combined with my ongoing labor of love in my own garden, rekindled my desire to be out in creation, to feel the elements rather than just watch them through a window, and to draw closer to God as a result.
Modern conveniences have their place, but they have a numbing effect on the spirit. Humanity was made to work the earth, to serve as stewards for the Creator, and to one day give account for that service. I have realized just how difficult this is to do when my life is spent inside, looking out. Thankfully, God has opened my eyes and has given me the opportunity and ability to go into creation and enjoy His handiwork.
Soli Deo Gloria.