Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finding My Bearings

When I look up into the clear winter sky, I delight to see the bewildering array of twinkling lights. But no matter how many stars fill the sky, I always find comfort and orientation once I see the Big Dipper and Orion. They are my compass points.

When I was a Boy Scout, every First Class Scout had to be able to point out the North Star and 5 constellations. The idea was that it was good for a Scout to be familiar with the night sky as an aid to navigation and also simply to be knowledgeable of the natural world. To pass that requirement, I remember learning to point out the Big and Little Dippers (each a part of the Great and Little Bears, respectively), Cassiopeia, Leo, the Pleiades (Seven Sisters), Orion, and Taurus. Once I had learned this skill, I found myself any time I was outside looking skyward into the night sky for these familiar friends.

And I am comforted that even now, 40 years later, the Big Dipper and the others are still right where they belong. The sight of the Big Dipper always helps me feel secure as it points the way north. Once the Dipper is found, locating Polaris, the North Star, is a simple matter. Once on a road-trip through West Virginia our family even used the Big Dipper to help us navigate when we were confused on the country roads. In any season, no matter how turned around I get, a mere glimpse of the Big Dipper settles the matter and I am oriented again.

The Hunter, Orion, is a seasonal visitor, but he is just as dependable and often easier to see above the trees. In winter Orion strides boldly across the evening sky walking from east to west across the southern sky each night. It makes me feel somehow more stable remembering these nighttime friends are always there, and they're there whether we notice or not. The Hunter and the Great Bear keep vigil over us, standing guard and pointing the way.

I have friends who will think I'm remiss if I don't say that God is the same way, always there, guarding, and pointing the way. But I don't think it's necessary—at least not if your winters have been marked with many wordless moments looking into the cold starry night. The Great Mystery is always there, whether we notice or not.


One of the most magical things in the world is a campfire, and I would like to write about its mysterious effect some day. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do much writing lately. I have (at least a little) been able to read and think. Author and wilderness advocate, Sigurd Olson, has dominated my reading time lately, and I often find myself saying, "I want to write like that." So with my own thoughts allusive as wood smoke, I turn again to Olson's essay, "Campfires," from The Singing Wilderness (1956) and share these words with you. If you his words strike a chord for you, I hope you will then seek out Olson's books yourself, dream of wilderness places, and "make life the adventure it was meant to be."


"Campfires," by Sigurd Olson
Something happens to a man when he sits before a fire. Strange stirrings take place within him, and a light comes into his eyes which was not there before. An open flame suddenly changes his environment to one of adventure and romance. Even an indoor fireplace has this effect, though its owner is protected by four walls and the assurance that, should the fire go out, his thermostat will keep him warm. No matter where an open fire happens to be, in a city apartment, a primitive cabin, or deep in the wilderness, it weaves its spell.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Winter Respite

This morning the torrential rain that last night beat against my house has become liquid music flowing from the rocks in the heart of the hollow. Warm sunshine, singing birds, and the stream's flow fill the woods with thoughts of spring. Wildflowers wait in the warming earth. They know their time has not yet come.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Walking through Holy Lands

"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of taking walks daily, —not [to] exercise the legs or body merely, nor barely to recruit the spirits, but positively to exercise both body and spirit, and to succeed to the highest and worthiest ends by the abandonment of all specific ends,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering. And this word “saunter,” by the way, is happily derived “from idle people who roved about the country [in the Middle Ages] and asked charity under pretence of going a la Sainte-Terrer,” a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds." — Henry David Thoreau, Journal, Jan. 10, 1851
Oak carpet
Holy Ground