Nature Speaks: Reflections on Earth’s Wonders and the Many Emotions They Bring
My husband and I recently took a trip out West, where we drove through and hiked various terrains. Below is a short narrative of our experience in Rocky Mountain National Park — where we caught glimpses of the many ways in which Nature speaks.
A Snowy Surprise
Shortly after flying in to Denver, CO, prior to a planned hike through the Rocky Mountains, we learned of a massive snow fall heading our way, the earliest snowfall that was expected to hit in the last 20 years, some locals had told us.
My husband and I, both native natives to South Carolina, had very little experience in making our way through “real” snow, much less hiking through it. We were caught up with anticipation, feeling both excited and uncertain for what lied ahead. After all, we were exploring in early September, expecting to be pouring on layers of sunscreen rather than adding on layers of socks.
Unequipped for this unexpected twist, we headed to a local REI in Bolder, CO, and aimlessly fumbled through winter gear, purchasing what we thought would keep us warm and functional through the below-freezing temperatures that were soon to be expected.
That next morning, on the day of our hike, I looked through our hotel window and gazed at the winter fog and the parking lot below full of snow. I looked at the current weather forecast for the park, which indicated high 20’s through most of the day. Feelings of excitement and uneasiness filled me and Joey as we started packing on layers in preparation for what lied ahead.
We started on the Bear Lake trailhead with plans to make it to Emerald Lake. When we started on the trail head the atmosphere was dense with fog. The freeze that previous night came with such an unexpected force, likely taking the vegetation and wildlife by surprise. There was a harshness to the cold air that seemed to echo through the forests and the icy mountain streams. Every time my hands slipped out of my gloves, I felt a cold shock press in and pierce my fingers with numbness. In these moments, I was reminded of the fierce and ruthless voice that at times, nature speaks through its winds, rains, and freezes, unhindered by human forces.
We continued down the trailhead, attempting to maintain our balance amidst the icy trail. We laughed and chuckled at what we had actually gotten ourselves into, all the while hoping for a pain-free journey up and down this mountain.
At another point in our hike, we stopped at the base of Emerald Lake and laid on a flat rock overlooking the half-way frozen water. Because of the looming fog, we couldn’t see the full lake or any surrounding features. There was only a vast, cloudy grayness.
Here, I reflected on nature’s mystery, as she had her way of hiding parts of herself from plain view. Nature speaks through such detail and vividness, but at times so much is unseen to the human eye. I sat there, intrigued at what may lay just ahead. Yet in my curiosity I was also a bit annoyed and bitter that nature would withhold parts of her beauty from us. After all, this was the only day we had the opportunity to see and experience this particular landscape. I learned, however, to appreciate this side of her too, especially in light of what was to come.
We turned around after a few more moments of starting into the fog, and made our way back up the trail head. After finishing our first hike that afternoon, we drove to the city of Estes Park and enjoyed some hot coffee while considering another small hike down the road. We were still a little bummed by the weather, but knew it was expected to clear up later in the day. So we drove over to a place called Lilly Lake and started exploring a new trail head, somewhat off the beaten path.
Shortly into this walk, we came face to face with one of the most beautiful pieces of scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life. At the top of a hill we had just climbed, we gazed out over Lilly Lake and the surrounding landscape. The fog from the morning had finally cleared, and the temperature had risen to the mid-30's.
The snow appeared so clean and pure, and the sun released its rays in just the right places, dancing through the trees and glistening over the still water. Beautiful blue birds were flying about and chirping with glee (perhaps because they too could finally see!) and small chipmunks pranced around, walking in step with the sweet songs from above.
In spite of the lingering snow, icy trees, and my cold hands, there was a layer of warmth here. I couldn’t help but smile….which turned into something like a messy cry.
There was something about this landscape that pierced through the worries, doubts, and fears I had just recently been entertaining surrounding my work and home life. For even on the most magnificent vacations, the real world just won’t leave you alone.
Yet here, in the midst of this Christmas-card like scenery, I experienced waves of God’s grace and glory, along with a deeper sense of calmness and peace. My own troubles and problems seemed to melt away with the top layers of snow. Nature speaks through wind, rain, freezes and fog, yet she also expresses her beauty in the serene, quiet stillness.
We continued to walk around the lake, marveling at the beauty surrounding us. Finally, we were able to see parts of the park without the hovering fog blocking our view. As we reflected on the differences in our two hikes — one marked by a sharp coldness, dense fog, and limited views, and the other showcasing clear, beautiful scenery — Joey and I made comparisons of this scenery within our own lives:
“In places of darkness, just keep the faith, for the fog will eventually clear. And when it does, there will be untold beauties that you never saw before, but where perhaps there in front of you all along.”
Remembering to Hope
I was reminded, that there is always hope in places of darkness, fear, confusion or uncertainty. The fog may ebb and flow, but it will eventually clear. Maybe not in the ways we always expect, but if we listen and wait patiently, it may show us something about ourselves or our journeys that we may never have known or seen — had the fog not grabbed our attention in the first place. After all, we wouldn’t have appreciated this new landscape if we hadn’t first experienced the groans in this fog.
I was reminded of the words of K.J. Ramsey, as she so beautifully writes,
“Suffering brings us again and again to opaque places of confusion and frustration. We experience both long seasons of darkness and sudden storms of lightning-like fear. We repeatedly find ourselves in the foggy incomprehensibility of circumstances that make it difficult to sense God’s presence. Our eyes see a mountain with no peak, an ascent with no trail, a fierce landscape no one wants to occupy. But it is in the cloud that we are transformed.”
K.J. Ramsey, When Suffering Lingers, p. 98
After taking dozens of pictures and soaking in my “mental memories,” we headed out for the day. Following this park, we explored the Narrows and cliffs of Zion, and the hiked into the colossal mouth of the Grand Canyon.
Throughout this trip, I was amazed at the many different ways that nature speaks, and the wide variety of emotions and sensations it can evoke. I squealed with joy and excitement one moment, and shed tears of awe and amazement the next. Feelings of euphoria, delight, and exhilaration flooded me at one point, only to be swept away by sensations of fear and uneasiness with certain changes in landscapes. Nature holds such beauty, but it also has a way of enhancing my own sense of powerlessness and lack of control.
I find in myself, when looking wide-eyed into nature’s splendor, somewhat conflicting urges to squeal and embrace, yet turn away and hide. Maybe this is why nature is so captivating — it embodies the beauty, awe, fear, mystery and wonder of our Lord.
And when I think of the Creator behind this brilliance, I fall into a trance, and aside from my shaky breath and 1–2 tears falling down my face, I’m unable to move out of deep respect and awe.
For Nature speaks so beautifully our Lord’s power, wisdom, and glory both on the heights of the mountains, and in the deep walls of the canyons. And His grace flows from from simple songs of the birds, the pitter patter of the chipmunks’ feet, and in the flowers that grow in unexpected, seemingly impossible places.
Ramsey, K.J. This too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2020.