I take my dog for a run in the woods almost every day. Although this consumes a significant chunk of the few precious hours I have while the kids are in school or camp, I find it preferable to having my house trashed by an under-exercised, over-energetic hound dog.
This Monday, after dropping the kids off at camp, I drove the 15-20 minutes to my favorite woodland trail in Saxon Woods. As I turned into the driveway up to the parking lot, I passed a car parked right at the entrance. Barreling by with the radio blaring, I almost missed the fact that a man in a park ranger uniform had gotten out of the car and was waving wildly at me to stop.
I stopped, turned off the radio and rolled down the window.
“The park is closed today.” the man said, in a heavy Spanish accent.
“The whole park?” I replied, incredulous. In three years of going to this park, this had never happened. The park is huge – hundreds of acres. Surely there was enough of it to go around?
“Yes – is closed. For filming. They making a movie. All week” was the reply.
I briefly debated just parking my car and making a run for it into the woods. Unless the actors were squirrels, my dog would not bother them, and I have never had any paparazzi tendencies. Who would we be hurting? But being the (mostly) law-abiding person that I am, I turned around and went to a different park.
As I walked along this other markedly less beautiful trail, I contemplated the irony of the situation. A select number of human beings were denying me access to the beauty of nature because they needed it for their artistic expression. In the act of creating, they were getting in the way of God’s Creation. It brought to mind one of my all-time favorite paintings by Rene Magritte, “The Human Condition”.
What I always loved about this painting was how it expressed the irony that man, in trying to capture the beauty of nature, just ends up blocking the view. It captures the frustration I often feel as I try to retain, share or recreate the experience of being out in nature. For example, this past weekend I took this picture from the top of Bear Mountain:
This photo is beautiful (and impressive given that I took it with my Android). But it doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it felt like to be standing on that bare slab of rock with my daughter and (of course) my dog, with the sun warming me with its glow and an oh-so-welcome breeze coursing through my sweat-soaked shirt as I gazed out at this stunning vista stretching out towards the horizon. Even these words don’t do the experience justice. My attempt at expressing what it felt like to be on Bear Mountain, just like Magritte’s painting, is just a pale shadow of glorious reality.
I realize that these musings are an appropriate follow-up to my recent post about the challenge of describing what if feels like to experience God’s presence to someone who has never had that experience. The same thing is true about trying to explain what it feels like to be on the top of a mountain on a glorious summer’s day. I can wax poetic on the subject (to the best of my abilities). I can show you some nice pictures. I can even play a piece of music that evokes the warmth and awe of hiking up a mountain. But you’re still not gonna get it until you do it for yourself. And even when you do, maybe it’ll be a different experience for you than it is for me.
Over the next few weeks I’m going on some hikes I organized with my church. I have no idea how many people will show up. Summer is busy, lots of folks are away or have other commitments. One person expressed concern that there might not be enough people to make the hikes ‘worth it’. But actually, to my mind, it is simply the act of connecting my church community with the glory of Creation that makes it worth it.
And with that, I’ll stop trying to express myself. It’s time to go hiking.