Facilitating spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion and care.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

There's someone I'd like you to meet

The moment he hopped onto my hand I was filled with so much joy  that it took everything in me to remain still and to keep a straight face. I could feel the warmth of his tiny foot pads on my open palm as he stuffed his cheeks full of black-oil sunflower seeds.

I'd been working with Chubbycheeks the Eastern chipmunk for two days at this point. Of course, we'd seen a lot of each other in the back yard during the past four years, but this was turning over a new leaf.

I cherish every opportunity to get acquainted with my wild neighbors, and to make the acquaintance with Chubbycheeks felt extra special. After all, the vast majority of wild neighbors must simply be appreciated from a distance. The best way to love most of our wild neighbors is to give them space; space that is absent from us.

 Whether I'm feeding Chubbycheeks or watching distant hawks ride the wind high above, there is something special about getting to know my Wild Neighbors better.

There is a profound statement wrapped up in the term, "Wild Neighbor" and it has roots in the teaching of Jesus.

There is a moment in Jesus' ministry when a teacher of religious law asks him what’s most important. Jesus replies by stating that the most important thing is to love God with all of our faculties and to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

When the teacher of religious law presses Jesus further with the question, “And who is my neighbor?”, Jesus responds with the story that we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) 
It is a story of bandits who injure a Jewish traveler, two Jewish religious leaders who pass by, and a Samaritan person who stops to help the injured Jewish person. 

After telling the story, Jesus asks his listener, “Who was a neighbor to the injured man?”
“The one who showed him mercy,” said the teacher of religious law. 

"Mercy" is a word that can be translated to mean “love and kindness.”

By Jesus' definition, my neighbors are those to whom I extend love and kindness.

"Mercy" is a word that can be translated to mean “love and kindness.”

And to feel the full impact of this story we have to understand a couple of things. 

  • First, in Jesus’ time Jews and Samaritans wanted nothing to do with each other; because of religious and ethnic reasons they hated each other.

  • Second, with his story of the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus expands the meaning of Leviticus 19:18, which is the verse quoted which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you turn to Leviticus 19:18 you see that the full verse reads as follows, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.” 

It’s worth noting that “Jewish” and “Israelite” are interchangeable terms. In the minds of the majority of first century Jews, fellow Jews were to be treated as neighbors while others could be looked at as less than a neighbor, especially Samaritans. And Samaritans felt the same way about Jews.

This is a story that encourages us to expand the boundaries of community; to broaden the scope of who we count as a neighbor.

The best life includes all life; this statement is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus. 

"Who is my neighbor?" 

Each new day I ask myself, "Who is my neighbor?"  

It is with great joy that I live to extend love and kindness to wildlife, wild spaces and the environment counting each as a neighbor to me.

What Wild Neighbors will you make the acquaintance with today?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Virtual Wildlife Tour of Barbour Rock at the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon!

I hope you enjoy this Virtual Wildlife Tour.

A note for those who go in search of the plants identified in this video: If you choose to smell the leaves of these plants or others in wild spaces, please only pluck sparingly, taking only one or two needles/leaves for smelling. It doesn't take much. If in a group its better to pass those one or two leaves around to all in the group since the plants need their leaves/needles for energy production. Also, a leaf/needle that has turned brownish and may be close to falling off on its own can sometimes offer just as good of a whiff of the plant as a fresh green leaf/needle. 

For more information about upcoming Creek and Canyon Wildlife Tours visit www.bestlife.community or contact Rich at RHANLON@SUSUMC.ORG

Monday, September 23, 2019

Welcoming the Fall with a Widlife Tour

Once everyone was acquainted we started things off with a moment of silent attentiveness. To allow our senses to be brought in tune with this wild space. To allow our hearts to be brought in tune with the Creator of us all.

A word was shared about loving our wild neighbors as ourselves.

As we prepared to enter the sanctuary of this wild space, an excerpt was read from Albert Palmer's,  book The Mountain and its Message. There are five parables of the mountain trail included in his book. This reading came from Parable #4.

And down the path we went; over the road and through the woods to the Barbour Rock vista. On this beautiful morning on the first day of Fall what an incredible vista it was!

This was a special moment. The seven of us stood above the fog. Gazing upon the landscape before us from the top of the West Rim we could see the top of the East Rim, and a river of thick-flowing fog between the two. It was clear skies above. Sunbeams brought a bright penetrating light from the east.

The Pennsylvania endangered Dwarf Juniper welcomed us with its spiky carpet-like presence growing over rocks and sloping soil. As a tour-guide it's always nice to have something to point out along the trail that's not going to run away.

As we took in the beauty of Dwarf Juniper, Red Cedar, and Silver Rod; a reading was presented from John Muir's book, My First Summer in the Sierra, page 87. "When you try to pick out anything by itself..."

Continuing southward along West Rim Trail, we were greeted by some hermit thrushes. One seemingly young bird watched us through the branches of an Eastern Hemlock tree.

Proceeding along West Rim Trail we walked as we talked, all the while sauntering along as if this were our holy land. This sacred space. This dirt trail with rocks, roots, and living things all along it. The truth is that this was our holy land; to be given the gift of discovering something of God in connection with each other as we came to know our wild neighbors better; and through this to discover a strength and beauty in our own person and abilities.

During a rest stop under the shade of a couple of large hemlock trees, I revealed my surprise to the group; a fresh batch of Eastern Hemlock Tea that I'd cooked up the evening prior. To me it always tastes better when drank in the woods, as opposed to the domesticated setting of a kitchen or a dining room.

 If one looks over the edge of the rim at this place in the trial it seems especially steep. And this was the place for our third reflection from an American Nature Writer, this time from Aldo Leopold, from his book A Sand County Almanac, pages 137-139. The story is called Thinking Like a Mountain. Well worth a read.

To think like a mountain would be quite a feat. To garner the entire wisdom of wild spaces. An impossible task, yet a hopeful dream of people like me.

A slug on a tree in the woods is nice. Kevin jokingly said, "He's going nowhere fast!" to which Laura replied, "Or going somewhere slow." Nowhere fast or somewhere slow when most of us would like to get somewhere fast. Not so for the slug. Mostly not so for us either, at least when it comes to the most worth-while destinations. Even the simplest things in the woods can offer wisdom and commentary on life in general.

A little farther along there laid a feather next to some mushrooms on the trail. Laura found it, picked it up. Together we considered this relatively large black and white feather that looked like it could be the molted wing feather of our largest of wood peckers, the pileated.

We crossed Colton Point Road and after about 50 yards made our final turn in the trail where West Rim Trail intersects with Bear Run Trail. A short line from Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring was read here. It's about how people are part of nature's balance, not somehow separate from it. Words of wisdom for the trail as well as the farm fields, the shopping mall, and the well-pads.

A couple of mushrooms and an unidentified pine tree later we arrived back at the parking lot.

We took turns each sharing with the other what felt special about this morning's hike.

Laura, Mick, Cindy, Kevin, Tom, and Ken, thanks for coming along.

What a way to start the day, the week, and the first day of Fall. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Wild Neighbors at Barbour Rock (Prepping for a Wildlife Tour)

As I left the parking lot and started out along the trail the first wild neighbor to greet me was a hermit thrush. A loose flock of them were foraging in the undergrowth of the mixed forest. Farther along the path a big toad hopped along in an attempt to evade my presence. It didn't work, so she peed on me.

I eventually made it to the spot along the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge that is called Barbour Rock. I took a couple hours to do some plant identification. The plants are my wild neighbors too.

Honestly, this was the reason for my being at Barbour Rock Trail on this warm sunny morning. Above the canopy it was nothing but clear skies.

At the location along the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge known as Barbour Rock I took note of several notable species which included the following:

Dwarf Juniper- Note 3 needled whirls, white on top of each needle. Interesting smell; citrus, very aromatic, a bit more "fruity" than pine. Low growing creeping shrub looks like a spiky green blanket covering the ground, and even cascading over the edges of big rocks. Smell of crushed ripe fruit pungent and almost overpowering to my sense of smell.

Gray Goldenrod- Longish rounded leaves, slender, flowers all on same side of stem facing same direction, small hairs along stem with tiny leaflets near flowers.

Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod- Long smooth pointed leaves, flowers on leaf axils, plumb-colored stem.

Silver Rod- Only white species of goldenrod. stem and entire plant slender, wand-like. Crushed leaves smell like sweet tea!

Red Cedar- Rough flaky bark. Two leaf types; scales and spines. Small round berry-like fruit green to dark green. Some very gnarly looking growing around big rocks.

These are some tough plants. You have to be tough to make a living in such loose and nutrient poor soil. The steep slope makes conditions even more inhospitable for most plants. Only the strong and resilient survive here. Like plants of the ghetto, but this is no ghetto. Some of the most fantastic views of the canyon are seen from Barbour Rock. If only these junipers had eyes to see it!

Looking out over the deep open space separating East Rim from West Rim its easy to imagine a great flow of glacial melt-water carving it into its present condition.

Perched on Barbour Rock there is a colony of ants. As I watched them today they were busy transporting the abdomen of an orb-weaving spider that was four times the size of one ant. I wonder how they acquired such a prize!

Usually I'm looking up at birds, but with so many wild neighbors to make the acquaintance a change in perspective brings forth invaluable benefits.

Life is happening all around. Even as I look down to observe insects and plants I can hear the voice of a raven as it circles overhead; close enough for me to hear a series of almost musical muffled gurgling notes. The raven is closer than usual because I'm tucked beneath the sparse canopy as I gaze upon the fruit of a dwarf juniper. It doesn't smell as good as the needles so I think I'll leave tasting it to the wildlife.

I walked about a hundred steps to the north, still along the canyon rim. I found a cozy nook in the low hanging branches of one of my favorite trees; chestnut oak. As I write this, reclined on the nearly horizontal lower branch of a gnarly old lichen covered chestnut oak blue jays are sounding off in the forest with their "horn" call.

A tiny aphid walks along my hand to the top of my thumb; I think I'll help him get to the silver rod flower that's growing at the base of this tree.

Reclined upon the branch of this gnarly old tree, blue sky above, sunlight brightly streaming through a canopy of wide lobed toothed leaves that rustle about in the gentle breeze, I can feel the change in the seasons. I guess sometimes sauntering looks like lounging on a sturdy branch.

I feel humbled to be here.

To be in this wild sanctuary. To be present and aware as these sacred moments unfold. To welcome an acquaintance with so many wonderful and beautiful wild neighbors as they welcome me.

To exist in community with the wild neighbors who call this wild space home.

Where wild neighbors praise our Creator day and night.

All wild neighbors lend themselves to a unique expression of Divine creativity that is the collective praise lifted by this wild space. In biological terms this is called species composition. In my present state of awareness I'm tempted to call it worship.

Wild spaces have something to teach us; about life, community, and connection.

In our human society, people may reject you, cities, towns and villages my attempt to spit you out, but wild spaces will always welcome you home.

Our wild neighbors and the wild spaces they call home welcome us. And they ask something of us.

Have we eyes to see, hears to hear, a receptive mind and an open heart to join their chorus of praise with thankfulness, respect, and care?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sapphire and Sunshine

Shumway Hill Road 2:00pm 9/17/2019 

Wild neighbors come in a great variety of sizes and shapes.

Driving up Shumway Hill for a Communion visit this afternoon my attention was captured by the way that the sky, blue as sapphire was complimented ever so sharply by fields of goldenrod that seemed to me like golden-yellow sunbeams bursting up from the earth. And a great many insects were buzzing about, dancing on the wing, to share in the abundance of this wild space! 

This wide open field under open skies became as a great banquet hall for butterflies, moths, bees, flies and beetles in a way that would surely be the delight of any entomologist.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Building Community on the ADK High Peaks

Yes, I'm still going on about our recent trip to the Adirondacks.

What can I say, hiking a few of the high peaks was an incredible experience that left me feeling inspired and wanting to go back. I'm not sure when, but we will!

Sometimes its the sense of solitude that makes ascending a mountain so special. Sometimes its the people you meet along the way.

My experience with Cascade and Porter Mountains was a lot of both.

Here is my reflection from the trail:

I find a sense of community with my wild neighbors along the trail.

Boreal Chickadees, ruby-crowned kinglets, and red-breasted nuthatches flit about the branches of spruce and balsam trees in the Krummholz zone.

A pair of ravens dance in the thick of the clouds out of sight but not out of hearing range. 

The trunk and branches of balsam fir as well as the forest floor seem to be covered and draped with every kind of lichen and moss imaginable!

Wrapped inside of a cloud at the top of Cascade mountain it's the most incredible feeling of solitude.

Yes, I feel a sense of solitude, but also a very profound sense of community not just with my wild neighbors but also with the other people ascending the mountain today. I feel a sense of community with these hundred's of people whom we have never crossed paths with before and might not ever again; but here we are.

Among those who share this mountain trail in this moment, there are a few individuals for whom I am especially thankful.

Erin, there is nobody else I'd rather share these experiences with. I'm glad you picked this trail for us!

Summit Stewards Ryan and Isabella, thank you for protecting three-toed cinquefoil, bilberry, and other sensitive mountain plant species as well as the whole biotic community of the alpine tundra through your advocacy. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge of some of these rare and beautiful plants with us. Amazing!

Triathletes Steve and Tina, I'm glad we got to be part of your hiking community while you hiked your  first ADK high peak. You are awesome!

 The 46 Climbs for Suicide Awareness crew, (Kolby and friends!) you all could not have chosen a better cause for which to hit the trails. Thanks for bringing hope to the hopeless through your outdoor adventures!


Now, for those who feel they may be too introverted or too extroverted to build community on the trail, here are some tips from my experience:

1. Not everyone wants to converse while on the trail, and that's okay. A lot of the time, building community on the mountain simply takes the form of being present on the trail together and experiencing the same beauty and challenge that the mountain has to offer.

2. Once in a while, you may encounter people with whom a brief conversation seems good. To maintain focus on the present experience I like to ask things like, "what's been the most interesting part of the hike so far?" Who knows, you may have found someone who shares your interest in rocks, birds, trees, or something else.

3. In rare cases where you meet someone on the trail with whom you want to remain connected, it can be good to bring  a business card with your contact info on it if you have one.

4. It can be okay and even life-giving to allow silent pauses (not like awkward pauses) into your brief conversation; no need to drown out all of the beautiful bird songs with incessant talking.

5. While on the trail, it's usually best to keep conversations very brief, unless you really hit it off and have decided to join together to form a larger hiking party (that happened to me once, and it was a pretty cool experience)

6. My final tip for now is, don't get into talking about other hikes and other places too much. Be present in this space; after all, that's why you're there, right? To quote Henry David Thoreau, "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there is spirit." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA. 1991. Pg. 78)

Now that I've shared mine, what are your tips for building community on the trail?

(Me and Erin with Summit Stewards Isabella and Ryan)

(Top of Cascade Mountain...in the cloud!)

(one of the sensitive mountain plants; I believe this to be three-toed cinquefoil)

(the view from the top of Porter Mountain)

(the 46 Climbs group; hiking for Suicide Awareness and Prevention)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ascend the Mountain with the One who is Love

So many times during my vacation in the Adirondack mountains I found myself sauntering.
While I was hiking, climbing, and scrambling I was at the same time sauntering.

Of course as Henry David Thoreau put's it, "sauntering" is derived from the term "a la Sainte Terre," which means "to the holy land."

If you want to know more about what it means to saunter check out this previous blog post titled Peace for a Wandering Mind at Rocky Falls

And so whether I was hiking, climbing, or scrambling all the while I was sauntering to the holy land of the mountain top, recognizing every step along the way as part of a sacred pilgrimage.

I'd like to share my totally unrefined poetic reflection of my ascent of the Whiteface Mountain Trail. My hope is that it may spark some inspiration in your heart for your next adventure in wild spaces. To quote my friend Beth who leads a retreat ministry called Deep Green Journey, "We all could benefit from a return to nature."

I saunter along with receptive mind and open heart.
The Spirit of God stirs within me.
To ascend a mountain as an act of worship....to take the gifts God has given and use them...
strong legs, pumping heart, oxygenated lungs...
The Spirit of Jesus provides strength for ordinary steps and extraordinary perseverance, compelling me skywards.
To ascend a mountain as an act of worship we enter the company of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, and Jesus...
To be in the presence of God in the sacredness and full beauty of the mountain...
To know a peace and tranquility that surpasses all else...
To feel the power and witness the grandeur of on-going creation...
The one whose heart beats in tune with the mountain and with God's heart knows that there are no words that can adequately describe the sense of solitude, of community, and of oneness with all things that are the gifts of this experience.
And the greatest gift is the peace of being known by the One who is Love.
Let us go ascend this mountain as an act of worship today; every step an expression of thankfulness towards the one who loves us all more than life.

(the view from the top of Whiteface Mountain)

(Wow! It sure was windy up there!)

Monday, September 9, 2019

On Nature Writing and the gift of a Rare Thrush

Today I'm here to share the story of an average-looking bird with strange preferences.

But first I want to ask; have you ever felt inspired by the work of American Nature Writers like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Rachel Carson and others?

In case you're not familiar with these nature writers, here is a link to a recent blog I posted which highlights John Muir's account of the American Dipper: https://www.bestlife.community/2019/08/john-muir-reflects-on-dipper.html

In creative ways they managed to tap into the intersection of intellect and emotion in their experiences of our wild neighbors and the wild spaces they call home.

The great news is that we can too!

That's right, YOU can do some nature writing. Here's how.

  1. Note the general impression, size, shape, colors and/or patterns of the wildlife you are observing (or want to observe). Read about it in field guides, other books, and the internet. Seek to understand what the experts have to say about its life history, its habitat preference, and the role it plays in the ecosystem. (sometimes this research can come later rather than first)
  2.  Get a small notebook and a pencil. Go to wild spaces. Locate your wild neighbor. Record your thoughts on points 3 and 4. 
  3. What emotions does this wild neighbor awaken within you? Is there something about this wild neighbor that resonates with your own life experience?  
  4. Consider all of these things as you tap into the intersection of intellect and emotion, sharing your experience of a wild neighbor with your own words. 
 The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves. Every wild neighbor has the potential to awaken something of God in us.

      As we get to know our wild neighbors better we'll find that they ask something of us; that as a bond of kinship we might treat the inhabitants of every wild space as a neighbor, and as such a neighbor with whom we share the love of Jesus. What's it look like to love wildlife and wild spaces as ourselves? To afford each the right to a healthy environment to thrive, as we so rightfully insist for ourselves?

      Our wild neighbors ask something of us; that as a bond of kinship we might treat the inhabitants of every wild space as a neighbor, and as such a neighbor with whom we share the love of Jesus.

      I suggest that loving our wild neighbors begins with understanding, empathy, and inspiration.

      Now you are ready to go and do some of your own nature writing.

      But before I send you off into wild spaces, I'd like to share my nature writing about that average-looking bird with strange preferences.

      It is a bird that Erin and I had the joy of encountering during our recent trip to the Adirondacks, and it goes by the name Bicknell's thrush.

      Bicknell's thrush is a rare bird that manages to thrive in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in upper New York. It is in the same family as well-known thrushes like the wood thrush, hermit thrush, American robin, and Eastern bluebird. Bicknell's thrush is most closely related to the gray-cheeked thrush which breeds farther north in Canada.

      The Bicknell's thrush is at home in the high elevations of New York as well as Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia as well as New Brunswick and southern Quebec.

      When it comes to the Bicknell's thrush's future, there is a bigger story that involves us. There is a problem, rather, a challenge before those who would preserve this sensitive species whose population is presently on a declining trend.

      In a 2017 article about Bicknell's thrush for the Audubon Society, freelance journalist Laura Poppick,  reports the following:

      "As the climate changes, warmer temperatures creeping up mountain slopes could potentially push the thrushes off their mountaintops; indeed, Bicknell’s Thrushes have already disappeared from Mount Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts and only place in the state where the species has been observed." (https://www.audubon.org/news/as-climate-change-threatens-push-bicknells-thrush-north-scientists-are)

       And so our wild neighbor the Bicknell's thrush would ask us to work towards solutions to slow and reverse the effects of climate change on it's mountain habitat, and to preserve potential habitat in the higher elevations to which it may have to migrate to for breeding if the trend of a warming climate continues.

      My experience with the Bicknell's thrush that Erin and I encountered on Porter Mountain felt like a truly magical experience. I expected the best I might get was to hear one calling from the thick of the mountain pines. What we got was even better. One Bicknell's thrush flew in silently. It watched us from thick cover, and we could see it too!

      Here is a reflection of my brief encounter with a Bicknell's thrush the morning of 8/31/2019  as I recorded it with pencil and notebook in the field:

      I sense a tone of confidence behind your inquisitive gaze
      as you watch us noisy hikers from the safety of the alpine balsam thicket,
      offering a few good looks between the branches before vanishing back into the shadows
      like the introvert who is not afraid to be seen but prefers the solitary life.
      Your habitat and your population are in peril. 
      Yet your presence fills my heart with hope. 
      For you. For me. For all of us. 
      To find joy and hope in community with hikers, with beautiful and fragrant balsam fir, with thicket loving Bicknell's thrush. My heart is full.
      The Spirit of God is at work here. Awaken something new of you in me, Spirit of God.
      As I turn to hike back down the mountain I am a changed person in some sense. Of this much I am sure; the Rich Hanlon who now descends this mountain is not the same Rich Hanlon who started up it two hours ago. I cannot put a finger on it. But I know this to be true. 
      The mountain and all of its inhabitants are an expression of Divine creativity. The better I know my wild neighbors the more I discover myself.

      Thursday, September 5, 2019

      Peace for a Wandering Mind at Rocky Falls

      A roaring waterfall. Stream crossings along the trail. Shallow puddles filled with saturated autumn leaves that squish underfoot. Rainwater from the clouds above steadily drips through the forest canopy.

      My hiking pants and even my rain jacket, saturated like the autumn leaves that blanket the forest floor cause my clothing to cling tightly to my arms and legs. As I feel the cool water droplets running down the back of my neck and beneath my shirt I feel a sense of peace in my heart and harmony with this wild space. My heart is filled with deep joy and thankfulness.

      This is a description of my hike to Rocky Falls, but this is not how it began. No thanks to my wandering mind, this is how it happened.

      Erin and I originally had plans to hike one of the high peaks. Part of the beauty of the high peaks for me is that its something I cannot experience back home in Pennsylvania. But a high peak was not in the cards because the weather forecast called for rain in the morning and thunder storms in the afternoon. This meant the high peaks might be unsafe.

      Rather than risk the peaks, we chose to hike a level trail along the edge of Heart Lake. This trail followed a stream which led to a waterfall called Rocky Falls. As we hiked that level path next to the creek I got to thinking that this was certainly something I could have experienced back home.

      Enter, my wandering mind.

      There was no need to drive 6 hours to hike a level trail along a creek. Was this a waste of time?

      It sure was feeling like it. Speaking of which, I wonder what's going on back home. What's the weather doing back in Wellsboro? How did the previous day's church service go? I wonder if it was well attended in my absence. When I get back I'll have to get right back to working on church leadership nominations.

      When my wandering mind started thinking about church leadership nominations I had to stop myself.

      Why had I so effectively closed my mind off to the beauty of this place!!?? Here I was in the heart of the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks thinking about work!

      To quote Thoreau, "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there is spirit." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA. 1991. Pg. 78)

       Has your wandering mind ever done this?

      The roar of the waterfall is what snapped me out of my funk, helping me to open my eyes, my mind, and my heart to the beauty and wonder of this place.

      Sometimes we just need something to speak with greater volume than our own thoughts. Wild spaces are good for that.

      Though, I'll say this about wild spaces; sometimes its the big and powerful things that bring me to a state of openness and receptivity. Other times its like it was for the prophet Elijah. Elijah is said to have heard the voice of God not in the roaring wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the sound of a gentle whisper. A still small voice.  (1 Kings 19:12)

      I could surely sense the Spirit of God speaking peace into my mind and heart once my wandering mind ceased wandering. Maybe it was the gentle sound made by raindrops colliding with new-fallen leaves on the forest floor. Maybe it came from somewhere deep within my own beating heart.

      There are two things I want in my life and maybe you want them too. I go to wild spaces because I want to experience these things:

      • Peace of mind and heart
      • Harmony with wild spaces

      If you're longing for peace and harmony; I urge you to go to wild spaces. It doesn't have to be a week-long vacation in the Adirondacks. Maybe its a day spent at a nearby State Park. Maybe its a fifteen minute walk through a town park.

      But before you do there are three character types each of us needs to be aware of. One is to be avoided. One is to be preferred over the others. Two can be present simultaneously.

      They are:

      1. The Wandering Mind
      2. The Explorer
      3. The Saunterer

      The wandering mind has no place in wild spaces, but perhaps it is true that the one who struggles with a wandering mind often needs the solitude of wild spaces more than most. When I speak of a wandering mind I'm talking about the person whose experience on the trail is dominated by thoughts about the busyness of daily life.

      The explorer seeks to penetrate wild spaces for his/her own purpose, intent, and pleasure. This can be a healthy way of experiencing wild spaces; but this is not the way to peace and harmony.

      The third way is described by Henry David Thoreau in his book, Walking. Thoreau speaks of the etymology of the word "saunter" when he says that it is derived from the phrase "a la Sainte Terre," which, in the Middle Ages meant "to the holy land." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA. 1991. Pg. 71)

      For Thoreau, every step in the outdoors was about going to the holy land of forest, field, and swamp.

      My friend Amy shared a quote with me recently and it bears mentioning here. This is what English Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning has to say of the sacredness of wild spaces;

      “Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” ― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

      The explorer seeks to penetrate wild spaces for his/her own purpose, intent, and pleasure.

      The saunterer, recognizing the sacredness of wild spaces seeks not to conquer but to understand; to allow the beauty, wonder, and wisdom of wild spaces to penetrate his/her receptive mind and open heart.

      While traveling to the holy land of the bog and the mountaintop there are many sacred moments along the way; the deer leading her young of the year through the woods, the red squirrel extracting the seeds from a balsam cone, the song of the chickadee, the soft petals of a ready-to-bloom wildflower, and the mountaintop shrouded in a misty cloud.

      The saunterer, allowing these experiences to penetrate his/her receptive mind and open heart seeks peace within and harmony without. The saunterer experiences community in wild spaces in a way that the explorer never could.

      The one who goes to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart should expect to return a changed person in some sense. Maybe we can't quite put a finger on the change that occurs as a result of any single outing, and that's okay.

      The one who goes to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart should expect to return a changed person in some sense.

      The truth remains. To go to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart is, in other words, to exhibit a childlike sense of wonder!

      This receptive mind and open heart is the sense of childlike wonder that Jesus speaks of when he says, "anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15)

      The Kingdom of God is not some far off place. The Kingdom of God is to be found by the saunterer, who receives via a receptive mind and an open heart those great gifts of peace within and harmony without.

      I urge you; go to a wild space today. Your health, well-being, and your fullness of life depends on it!

      Leave your wandering mind at home. Go exploring if you will, and sauntering you must, with receptive mind and open heart.

      Go to wild spaces expecting to return a changed person in some sense.

      May the Spirit of God work wonders in you through your experience in wild spaces today!