Out among the birds and deer, under trees whispering in the wind, and by water singing in streams I have found a place where I feel close to creation, a realm where I feel myself truly a part of the larger force that binds it all together.
One can read about nature, but in truth it is experiential. Without direct contact, one cannot know what nature has to teach. One cannot intellectualize about that which is meant to be partaken with all the senses. And so I go out as often as I can, most often to the surroundings that are closest: a nearby park or the campus on which I work. I have special places that I can go to feel apart from the world of humans and be closer to trees and birds.
But my favorite of all outdoor experiences is camping. I like sleeping in a sleeping bag, in a tent, under the trees, with owls chanting like avian monks. I love getting up in the wee hours and looking at the stars wheeling overhead (the best planetarium of all!); their sparkling light like diamond dust spread across black velvet. I think camping brings me closer to the way humans were really meant to inhabit the earth—as nomads, moving from place to place, using only what is needed to survive, and enjoying the blessings of the natural world as they are given.
This past October a friend and I spent a few days in Morro Bay, at Morro Bay State Park. It turned out to be a wonderful and magical time. There were hills to hike in, copses of trees to explore, and edges of the estuary to walk along at sunset. A near-full moon rose over the shoulders of the hills each night, its silvery glow contrasted by the setting sun, which cast an eerie, numinous light on the landscape.I have always been fond of the hour before sunset, when light is drained from the land to make way for the world of night. As dusk approaches, the sky takes on a magisterial indigo; the first stars pricking the blue curtain as it falls with their white light, as harbingers of the coming dark. Each dusk at Morro Bay proved to have all these qualities. And the moon shone brightly, weaving in and out of the trees as we walked back to our campsite.
A stroll after supper on the last night brought us to a rise overlooking the estuary, where the moonlight shone on the channels of water running through the wetlands like silvery fingers, and seabirds calling in the distance added a mournful soundtrack. Overcome by this sheer mystical beauty, I wanted to shed my clothes, walk out into that dark landscape and disappear into it, become one with it, be absorbed by it.
There have been many glorious books written by gifted naturalists that can touch us and make us aware of nature's wonders, but all the truth there is to learn can only be had by spending one night alone...naked...in the forest…
[Composed to "Thiocfadh Leat Fanacht" and "An Gille Bean" by Capercaillie]