Finding God on a nature hike
There was much to see on a series of nature hikes taken this summer at a western Pennsylvania kids camp.
But one of the best lessons came from what wasn’t seen. The camp, sponsored by the state’s western branch of the Wesleyan denomination, offered a slew of outdoors-based activities ranging from rock climbing to natural waterslides with a number of devotional rallies held throughout for kids in second through sixth grades. It was an inspirational five days in nature, and an experience I share through several previous blog entries.
As a first-time camp counselor, I was honored to be asked to run a nature hike activity that tied into various spiritual applications. One of those lessons that really seemed to make an impact I shared in this blog entry.
Each morning, I’d have a different group of youngsters eager to hit the trail. Before trekking up a small mountainside to the actual trailhead, I asked the children what sort of wildlife they thought lived in the forests surrounding the camp. They were quick to suggest deer, bear, turkeys, coyotes and other typical woodland creatures.
I then offered each group a challenge — a friendly little competition to keep the minds focused on the task at hand throughout the hike. Each child was encouraged to keep a list of various nature signs he/she saw during the hike. It could be animal or plant based. The boy and girl in each group that had the most signs of nature listed by the end of the walk would have access to the prize stash in my backpack.
The line was baited, the hook set and each group of children really got into the competitive aspect of looking thoroughly for signs of nature. The trail itself offered many options to those who were looking closely enough. Several old rotted trees were pitted with a series of woodpecker holes, birds flew past offering a nice sample size of their singing skills, frogs jumped into mud puddles along the trail, animal tracks were spotted in a small sandy area and near some standing water and so much more.
At the end of the trail was a small pond teeming with fish, frogs, dragonflies, water striders, tadpoles and other water-savvy critters. Just a few yards further up a hill was a vernal pool of standing water that was home to literally hundreds of frogs. The children loved seeing so many active amphibians in such a small area.
After a period of exploration, each hiker was given a chance to add up the list of wildlife signs on his/her list and prizes were handed out. Then, we had our discussion about what was seen — and more importantly, what wasn’t.
The children saw plenty of wildlife in person. Fish, frogs, birds, tadpoles, various insects and much more. However, we talked about the animals they talked about before the hike — the deer, bears, turkeys and coyotes, specifically.
Nearly 50 people went on the hikes scattered out over three days, each of them looking carefully for wildlife and signs of wildlife. There wasn’t a single deer, bear, turkey or coyote sighting.
What did that mean? Where were all these big-game animals? How could these children be so certain that deer, bears and the others lived in these woods?
And, in each group, there would be an answer.
Because of the signs. Deer tracks, buck rubs, piles of scat. Bears leave behind tracks, scat and trees that were scratched in hopes of finding a tasty insect or two. Turkeys scrape up leaves in search of food, a pack of coyotes can leave behind quite a lot of tracks where the ground is damp enough for impressions to be left behind.
All of these signs and many more were how hunters were able to track the wildlife they were pursuing. That’s why you’ll typically find a treestand near where heavily traveled deer paths cross, where the biggest bucks shave bark off saplings while scratching the velvet off their antlers and where deer huddle together long enough to leave a wide assortment of droppings.
Ultimately, we don’t need to see a deer to know they live in the woodlots, fields and fencerows in our favorite hunting spots.
And so it is with God.
So many non-believers suggest there is no higher power because they’ve never seen Him. They can’t believe on faith alone, they say. How could anyone trust in a God that didn’t show Himself from time to time.
And yet, true Christians know that God does show Himself. He does so through numerous signs.
Like a deer leaving behind a hoofprint near a bubbling mountain creek, God leaves behind so many signs of His own.
He can be seen on mountainsides ablaze in bright oranges, yellows, reds and other colors on a crisp, sunny autumn morning. He can be seen and heard as a pitch-black forest comes alive during an early morning sunrise, as the squirrels scurry through dried leaves looking for acorns, turkeys fly down from their roosts, pheasants cackle before taking flight and deer start picking their way along their interwoven series of trails.
He can be seen in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly or a tadpole into a frog. In fact, proof of his existence, purpose and compassion can be found as close as your bathroom mirror.
Yes, there are deer, bears, turkeys and coyotes in the forests of western Pennsylvania. And yes, there is most definitely a God.