The magic of the wilderness.

“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

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • hlynn117

    I love this piece. My enjoyment of nature and exploring was never tied to religion, so becoming non-religious didn’t change how I felt about the outdoors. If anything, it’s made me more aggressive in my need to explore — we only have one Earth.

  • noradrenaline

    Man, I gotta get myself the heck out of Chicago.

  • tynk

    As I was reading this, all I could remember was my trip to north eastern Montana. Laying on the ground at night, 40 miles from the nearest building and starring at the stars. There were times I would catch myself holding on to the ground because it felt like I would fall off the earth.

    It’s still one of my favorite memories.

  • Karen

    When Husband and I retire, it will be to a place we’re building now. (That won’t be for another 15 years or so, but you have to plan ahead — especially when you’re planning to construct the inside of the building yourself. :) ) It is in sagebrush with a few scattered trees, at the intersection of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Great Basin. Aside from a bit of inconsequential freeway noise, it is quiet. Birds sing. Tiny ground squirrels are everywhere. There’s evidence of mountain lions and bears. (And badgers, which are the only critters we’re really worried about. They attack tires.) There are interesting and new insects. There are lots of different plants in sagebrush country, each fascinating in its own way. There’s a spring, which feeds a little stream with tiny fish and froglets in the spring. The sky, on a clear night, is amazing.

    Many people don’t like high semi-desert country; they want lots of trees. I love it. I love the low humidity in the summer, the surprising variations of weather in the winter, the surprising flowering of bushes in the spring, the smell of sagebrush after a summer rain… all wonderful.

  • Tobias2772

    JT,
    I would argue that one might actually do a better job of fighting against the millstone that is religion if they sought out these natural respites a bit more regularly. I try to get out in the woods at least once a week (it’s pretty easy where I live). I find that it makes me feel better and do a better and happier job of promoting rationalism in my community. I would encourage you to try not to compartmentalize the two missions so completely. I’m glad that you are diggin’ our little heaven on earth.


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