The Canopy and the Cosmos: What Kilmer Knew, What Sagan Never Dreamed

So away we drove, armored with a GPS and comfy shoes, on the Great American Road Trip.  We set off, sans itinerary, to visit relatives in Ohio, our son in South Carolina, and then….???

These past ten years, I have been a frequent flyer—jetting here and there, facing jet lag but not road fatigue, frequenting airport terminals instead of gas stations. This time, though, we would be roaming along the highway, getting up close and personal with forests and fields, traffic circles and freeway overpasses.

“Oh, good!” I thought. “I’ll have plenty of time for blogging, and for completing a few editing projects for the office.”

But that was before I fell in love once again with the land—with meandering streams and farmers’ fields gone fallow, with mountain vistas and fog-shrouded meadows.  As one mile stretched into another, I gazed at the reflection of God in the verdant forests of pocosins and loblolly pines.  I imagined His handprint in the brick-red South Carolina mud, and in the sprawling wisteria, fragrant blooms drooping from boughs of sweetbay and willow oak.  The beauty, the mind-numbing variety, the creativity…. well, I couldn’t stop looking.

“Billions and billions of stars!” exclaimed astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan on black-and-white TV in the 1960s.  An avowed atheist, Sagan—if I may mix metaphors here—couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  He saw the beauty and the enormity of the universe, yet he never looked for the One who brought the cosmos into being.

Here on terra firma, I see the trees—billions and billions of trees—and I find irrefutable evidence for a benevolent Designer.  The showy crapemyrtle, the leathery leaves of the magnolia—well, I see those graceful things, and I just KNOW.

Carl Sagan looked at the cosmos and saw a frontier awaiting exploration—but that’s all.  The poet Joyce Kilmer looked at a single tree with wonder, and extolled the praises of a great and mighty God.  You may remember his poem from back in high school; but here it is in its entirety.

by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

  • David F

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” PHIL 4:8

    From todays optional reading for St John Bosco

  • JRT

    We just got back from a trip to Colorado and I had the same type of awe-inspiring experience. I kept thinking about the trees in the mountains and how many pine needles and snow flakes God made. Wonderful. Thanks too for including a favorite poem.

  • SKay

    So true. One of my favorite poems also.

  • Mike

    That is a beautiful picture of the lone evergreen tree. Nice story.

  • Peter Brown

    I recently watched a _National Geographic_ film on the progressive shrinking of the Greenland icepack. What absolutely blew me away in the film was the unbelievable creativity of the place where the ocean meets the ice. The seawater carves the ice into these fantastic, beautiful artistic shapes–and then, at the next tide, does it all over again. (The camera work in the film was wonderful–again, this is _National Geographic_.)

    The overwhelming majority of this naturally-occurring ice art is created and destroyed without ever being seen by human eyes. Depending on what lives in those tidal waters (I’m no biologist), a lot of it might not get seen by *any* eyes. God makes it, as near as one can tell, purely for himself, for his own pleasure in creating. As he makes us, of course.


  • Kathy Schiffer

    Wow, Peter, I’m looking for the “Like” button for that insight!

  • Susan”Trees.”…In.fact,,and.I.can.still.remember.the.tune…..Sorry,