“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” ~ Galileo
Every day since being in Arkansas I have gone for a walk or a hike in the woods. My family’s land is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to real magic. It’s a place where all the extraneous noise is gone and the imagination is free to run wild. In the woods, which are lush and green after a spring of plentiful rain, I can imagine myself as a hobbit marching through the shire. I remember my mother’s lessons on which plants are safe for me to eat (believe it or not, red is often nature’s warning light saying “don’t eat this”). I’ve seen deer, turkeys, birds of every sort. Sometimes it’s like a Disney cartoon where the animals almost have no fear of me.
And then at night I am privy to each and every star free from the manufactured lights of man. There is serenity in being alone with the stars and my thoughts, and there is comfort in sharing them with the whippoorwill and the chuck will’s widow. There is camaraderie with the cosmos when I know the locations of Betelgeuse and Rigel, and can appreciate their immensity from light years away. No thanks to god, but praise be to the astronomy courses into which I sneaked during my college years.
And then there is the rain, and being outdoors to stare down the crackling of thunder.
For most people, being surrounded by natural beauty would probably grant them a sense of awe at god’s handiwork. For me, it’s precisely the opposite. As someone who reads several news stories each day and writes about only a handful of what religious belief is doing elsewhere in the world, being among the trees and the animals in a space unmolested by the influence of religion and noting how peaceful it is…it’s spectacular. There is no turmoil here, no demons to battle. It just…is.
It reminds me of the piece I wrote a while back about reluctant warriors, about how activists forsake this kind of serene, separated life to work for a better world. But it’s good to get away from it every now and again to remind ourselves of the splendor of the world and to reignite our desire to understand it, not just to merely say god did it while our ignorance lives and spreads.
There is no celestial garden awaiting any of us after our deaths. However, there are verdant forests and gardens of wonder right here on earth. For even someone as rooted in terrestrial reality as I, it’s been a few years since I’ve put myself in a position to go on these walks. How many of us miss the real Edens entirely, even while searching for the fake ones?
One day maybe I can convince Michaelyn to retire somewhere like this. I’ll miss it when I leave. Because I’ve decided that fighting the influence of religious dogma is what will fulfill me the most in my life, I will miss out on a great deal of exploring. I imagine I’ll be due to make up for it one day, but not now.
“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” ~ Roger Miller