Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts.
Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.
All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love.
I have always loved pine trees. I love their scent, their magnificent height and the way their needles carpet the ground. Most of all, I love the sound of the wind through their branches. Anywhere that pine trees grow is a thin place.
I’ve been reading Wilderness Essays by John Muir, and I find myself full of longing for wild places. He speaks of mountains, glaciers and valleys, the sun setting over the ice floes of Alaska, the grandeur of lofty peaks and the gentle beauty of wildflowers scattered across a field. He lived a life full to the brim with adventure (and danger at times), yet his writing conveys not the sense of a man captivated by his own exploits, but of one who held a deep and abiding love for and intimacy with the places he explored. He cared deeply about all living things, and wrote much about our need for taking ourselves into the wild spaces of the world. He once said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
Robert Macfarlane speaks of this in his book, The Old Ways, in which he muses on walking across old pathways and remote places as a journey inwards, to our interior landscapes. There is not enough stillness I find, even in my home, with the television off and my phone on silent. There is the sound of traffic and lawnmowers. And at night there is no true darkness; the streetlamps and security lights outside my bedroom keep it at bay. I stay up late; electric lights making it possible to lengthen my day well into the hours of night.
I’ve taken to walking my dogs at sunset. I love the opportunity to pay attention to the way the light fades, the way the colours shift and melt into darkness. After immersion in the noise of my life, I find my mind settling into quiet; I can hear my heart begin to speak. I can ‘go in’ and take the time to ponder on what I find there. I arrive home feeling soothed.
Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” In September 2014, I took a picture of a stone at Glen Nevis, with this quote engraved onto it. That afternoon I was feeling sad; my aunt and I were almost at the end of the Scotland leg of a journey across the United Kingdom, and I didn’t want to go. We’d been walking the highlands for several days and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Muir said that going to the mountains was going home (he said the same thing about forests). Anyone who loves mountains and forests and wild places will know what he meant. We’re never quite at home until we’re there, where the sun is our timekeeper and the trees and caves are our shelter.