Recently I took a trip outside of the normal sphere of Bethel back to the woods that I am all too familiar with, my second home. Several miles outside of the chaos and structure of the city is a haven for nature and its enjoyers. A nature preserve that I grew up frequently going to and enjoying, Fernwood. In terms of nature, to the untrained eye, there is nothing outside of the ordinary. One might see the river, the ponds, the woods, and the ravines and question what makes this place so special. To those doing so, they may be right. It has all the natural features one might expect in Michigan, and nothing more, but to me, it is a safe space. I grew up as a kid invested in nature, yet stuck in a city. A kid who, at my heart, loved the freedom that the outside gave me. Away from the structure of everyday life, away from the heavy slabs of concrete that make up this heavy place.
It was within the sanctuary of these woods that I learned to appreciate nature for its beauty, for its ability to draw you away into itself. Into this world that is foreign to us nowadays, but was once our permanent abode. There are often days that I think back to this preserve and recall not just the nature it preserves there, but the memories. Memories of trees and birds, of squirrels and rivers, of ponds and fields of beautiful flowers. I often long to return to those days, where my biggest worry was getting lost in this beautiful refuge.
Fernwood is not purely natural; as with all nature preserves in our present day, they have been marred with humanity. The buildings and structures inhabiting these otherwise lovely woods disillusion the individual, reminding us that there is rarely a place we haven’t touched. But you needn’t travel far before all this disillusionment has drifted away into afterthought as buildings become more scarce, and so do my worries. Traveling forward, I have a choice. Do I follow the creek to eventually find the basin it empties out into, and the river housed within it? No, I take the secondary path, a less obvious, less traveled trail, yet a path all the same. Moving along this path I find myself traveling at a slower pace as I traverse a steeper climb than the opposing path, but that’s okay, often the best things require a little more work.
After a relatively long walk I finally reached it. Looking out I see a massive expanse of the most beautiful grass one could ever see. Such a basic plant, a musky yellow, the same color of the grass that is dying in our suburban yards, and yet, in this context it holds so much glory. I travel through the grass, higher than my own head I still move forward, knowing from years of experience that I will eventually find what I am looking for. And there it is! A clearing leading back into the woods. A part of the woods untouched by most individuals as it isn’t clearly marked. But what a beautiful place it is. I travel a little ways into the woods, to be enveloped into its care, and take a seat above a large wooded drop-off and simply sit, content to be alone with my thoughts, and the woods, along with any creatures that may be hiding within it. I can hear a few, unseen by my eyes, yet clearly audible. But what I do see is truly mesmerizing.
Green and brown as far as I can see, but this isn’t the dull color we are used to, instead, it is a vibrant natural color, more alive than any attempt we have made to copy it. More than that, it springs to life with the dancing shadows as light comes through the canopy to shine into a place completely untouched by humans. Coming down to earth to meet up with the trees, the sun has nourished them from childhood all the way to their now massive bodies reaching back up towards the one who gave them light, and life. The shadows created by the canopy are anything but contrary to the sun. Rather, this shadow beautifully contrasts the light creating a symmetry that looks more akin to a joyful dance than the battle between the light and dark that we are used to in our sharply cornered homes. I am so small compared to these trees, and they make me recall my place in this world. We came into this world as dust, or clay; there is so much around here, and I am so happy to become one with it again as I get to go back to the simplicity of nature. Listening intently, I hear the call of birds across miles of woods. I hear bugs and squirrels rushing around, crawling through the sticks and leaves that adorn the ground. This cacophony of noises all come together to fill my senses, and bring about joy. There is no structure to it, yet it is comforting to hear the noises present in this contained system. This is rest, the indulgence of our senses into this beautiful world, without a care of what is happening apart from this one area. My thoughts drift towards nothing but reverence of what I can experience here, and more importantly, the One who made it.
I get up and journey back through the path from which I came to be here, and in doing so, all the thoughts and worries of the world come rushing back. At the first sign of humans' touch, all those forgotten worries come rushing back. When it comes down to it, I am a part of a society that draws my thoughts and mind away from the simplicity and joy of nature. Getting back to the parking lot, I experience what I can only imagine is the weight of the world that people are so keen to mention. In reality, the natural world has no real weight at all, but rather, the stresses and burdens we put on ourselves and others are what really bears heavy upon us. Because of this, it is no wonder Jesus often used natural analogies. It brings about peace, and as we’re often told in the Bible, we are to worry for nothing, which is much easier when surrounded by the serenity of nature than the fast pace of life in our society. This place, the woods I love so much, have a way of taking the worries I have become so often burdened by, and making them a distant memory at least for a time. The forgetting of every one of those things, that seemed so important not an hour prior, is what I imagine glorifying God will truly be like in heaven. All I know is this: that feeling must be what is meant by peace that passes all understanding…