Being in nature has always evoked strong feelings in me. There’s the love I felt at Lake Louise and the plain of the six glaciers trail. But even that changed for me. It is easy to feel love, exhilaration in the bright sun or in the morning and early afternoon. As the sun gets closer to setting, more somber feelings take hold, as they did when we retraced our steps back toward Lake Louise in the dusk.
The beauty of being in nature is that I am faced with myself by virtue of experiencing the earth in a direct way. The land or ocean speaks, bringing forth emotions from love and awe, to unease and fear.
My times in natural settings at night have sometimes brought me fear of the dark, the unknown and the sounds of animals I could not identify. But I have also had profound feelings of peace. One such time was in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, a tiny town on the edge of Grasslands National Park. There, awakening in the night, I was in the midst of a quiet that I had never experienced. And there are the times I’ve looked at stars on dark, clear nights in the countryside that elicit a sense of awe common to many people who have shared this experience.
I’ve also experienced a change in feelings toward aspects of nature in my 40 plus years in Canada. When I first arrived, I had certainly been among conifers at some points in my life, but not to the degree that is offered when travelling north in Ontario. Though I could see their beauty when I was young, they felt austere and elicited loneliness in me. This has changed dramatically for me over the decades. It’s not something I willed to happen, it just has. Now I feel love for the same spruce, fir and pine that I felt such unease towards.
Beyond myself, it seems to me that our attitudes toward nature have greatly shaped our relationship with the natural world, too often in the destructive ways we are familiar with. I wonder if humans could learn to rest easier with our own feelings, whether we could view nature differently. Perhaps we could begin to view the natural world less as something to be dominated or feared, but as part of the life we all share on earth. Perhaps we could learn to know that we are part of nature and nature, part of us. In that sense, care for nature is care for ourselves.
My recent trip to the Canadian Rockies ignited in me an interest in geology. I looked at the mountains and wanted to know what had formed them. I’ve bought a few beginners’ books on geology and the history of the earth and am reading them with great fascination. This past weekend, when I was in Algonquin Park in Ontario, I was also aware of the boulders and outcroppings of rock and am learning a bit about how these were formed.
Contemplating the incomprehensible sweep of billions of years of creation and change that the earth has gone through has brought me some surprising peace of mind. I’ve learned that the rock in the mountains were once under sea, something I dimly recall hearing about before, but not paying any attention to. In some of the rock, the remains of shells are found. This has gotten me thinking about the oneness of life, in a literal sense. What we now see and experience as solid mass rising above us, was once on the bottom of tropical seas. Water, ice, fire, land and movement shaped the western mountains and the boulders in the east. And my existence here in this tiny speck of time is amazing seen in the context of the vast billions of years of earth’s history.
Many of us are afflicted or in some anguish at different times of our lives and perhaps unable to get outside of our own suffering. Despite this, I have begun wondering if the felt sense of the earth’s awesome history might also help other people feel less alienated from their surroundings, as it has for me. I don’t know the answer to this. But what I’m discovering is that the study of science at a beginner’s level is fascinating and quite do-able and, for me, calming.
Before writing about the time we spent in the Rockies, here’s a side trip to Algonquin and Arrowhead Provincial Parks in Ontario. I travelled north this past weekend to see the fall colours. The oranges, reds and yellows were at their peak contrasting with pale greens and the deeper green of conifers. We hiked in Algonquin Park, coming upon other nature lovers, among them families with young children. As before, we were gladdened to see parents introducing their children to nature.
Saturday and Sunday were cloudy and cool, but the rain held off until late afternoon each day when we had just finished our hikes on the Hemlock Bluffs and Bat Lake trails. I felt blessed to be among the trees and rocks, by lakes and streams.
We saw chipmunks, many chickadees, blue jays, hairy woodpeckers and a great grey owl on Sunday. This we found in the comical way we often do in parks. We came upon a large crowd of people pulled over by the roadway, with their telescopic lenses and smaller cameras all looking intently off to the side. We thought we’d see a moose when we joined them, but no, this was a much rarer sighting we were told. I had never seen an owl in the wild and was happy to see this bird who rewarded us at one point by spreading his or her huge wings and floating out of the tree toward the ground, perhaps in search of prey.
Our last day, Monday, we spent at quiet Arrowhead Park, taking a gentle walk to and from Stubb’s Falls. Monday was sunny and warmer than the weekend. We walked among the bright trees and onto boulders at the side of the falls. The deep colours, loud rushing water and the reflections in the river were a tonic and a joy to see before returning to the highways and the different rushing of Toronto.