If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach. The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call “love of nature.” But it is only a graft. While we are actually subjected to them, the “moods” and “spirits” of nature point no morals. Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, somber desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, “Look, Listen, Attend,”…
What nature-lovers—whether they are Wordsworthians or people with “dark gods in their blood”—get from nature is an iconography, a language of images. I do not mean simply visual images; it is the “moods” or “spirits” themselves—the powerful expositions of terror, gloom, jocundity, cruelty, lust, innocence, purity—that are the images. In them each man can clothe his own belief. We must learn our theology or philosophy elsewhere (not surprisingly, we often learn them from theologians and philosophers).
But when I speak of “clothing” our belief in such images I do not mean anything like using nature for similes or metaphors in the manner of the poets. Indeed I might have said “filling” or “incarnating” rather than clothing. Many people—I am one myself—would never, but for what nature does to us, have had any content to put into the words we must use in confessing our faith. Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me.
…Nature does not teach. A true philosophy may sometimes validate an experience of nature; an experience of nature cannot validate a philosophy. Nature will not verify any theological or metaphysical proposition (or not in the manner we are now considering); she will help to show what it means.
C. S. Lewis
I’m of the opinion that spring breaks should be awesome. Go on a trip to New York, go on a cruise, spend a whole week in Arches or Zions—that’s what they’re for. But like an airline company that overbooks a flight, the mysterious gods who determine spring break schedules never make junior high school breaks line up with college ones. My wife is a school teacher, and her spring break is in two weeks. I would need to get creative to make myself an awesome spring break.
A recent development in my life as an engineer is a senior chemical engineering student chat on Facebook. As one person put it, “It took us only four years to be friends.” I decided to try my luck to see if anyone wasn’t already vacationing in the Bahamas or working over spring break who would be up for a hike. And I got a few enthusiastic responses. We were set to go this morning at 8:30 up Grandeur Peak.
Now, Grandeur Peak is so named for a reason. I’m going to try to give a playback of the experience in words. The trail begins in a little corner on the edge of a neighborhood in the east bench of the valley, snuggled right up against the edge of I-215. As you are ascending, on the left you can see all the cars making their way up Parley’s Canyon and on the Park City. The higher you go, you can make out Echo Reservoir and a huge open-pit mine. On the right, you can peak over to Millcreek Canyon and the mountains that make up the ski resorts in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The trail begins at an invitingly light pace. There is a slight change in elevation. The hike seems to follow car tracks at first for easy access to power lines that follow the canyon. Many people are out walking their dogs along the trail. You reach a bank with a road that seems to follow the Bonneville Shoreline. You follow it for a few hundred feet, and then you gaze shifts upwards to the trail ahead. And it no longer looks like a cake walk. The slope juts up sharply and continues on in a seemingly uniform incline towards the top. You can see three or four peaks nestled together, and you are coming to grips with the fact that the peak you are climbing probably isn’t in sight.
You begin to follow the path. It is unrelenting. No change in slope, no flat parts to ease the climb, no good rocks to give you some lift. There is a parallel slope to the left, and you see a lone hiker with his dog. He just keeps going, and you watch him pass you over the course of the climb. You envy him, and you are sure his slope is easier. He’s probably not even going to the top anyway, so you can keep your pride for the time being.
Eventually you reach the first “peak”, more of a small nob. The change in pace is nice, and it seems surprisingly easier at this point. Even though you’re still going uphill, it’s easier to keep a good pace, and you don’t really have to stop at all. Maybe it’s the cover of the occasional trees, maybe it’s the rocky path, maybe the psychological effect of the very occasional downhill portion. By now, you can start to peak over the mountains on both sides. You can see the mountains on the other side of Big Cottonwood Canyon, and on the other side, the university is coming into view, stadium and all.
You pause for a few selfies. Mandatory.
You pause to observe some of the geology. You can see layers of rock running up the trailhead—one continual slab on its side. The layers must have been built vertically at one point, but some seismic forces must have laid them on their side millions of years ago. You can see lots of red and the occasional green of copper. There are some shales as well with beautiful, smooth surfaces. Surprisingly, you can find some shells as well—proof that this was a lake at some point.
You continue to climb. The trail has changed from a sheer-force vertical ascent to a gentle zigzag of switchbacks. There was indeed a peak hiding behind the slopes. And it is snow-covered. Hopefully you won’t reach the snow for a while.
As you get higher, pine trees start to appear to the sides. There is the occasional bit of snow, but it’s not a solid layer. Eventually, you reach a ridge where the whole side is covered in snow. Thankfully it’s not the trail. The snow just stays on the sides of the mountain where the sun doesn’t hit. You climb along the ridge, snow on one side, a long climb down to the valley on the other. Eventually, the snow does cover the trail, but it has a crusty feel to it, and you can walk on it without trouble. It’s a quick shot to the top, and you make it within ten minutes.
The summit. You have all the trail behind you. It’s easy from here on. You can see in all directions around you, mountains and rolling hills that seem to go on forever in all directions. That makes the whole trip worth it.
I don’t have a lot to say about the trip other than that I felt refreshed spiritually. I was able to do something hard, but it wasn’t caught up in schedules or competition or deadlines. No one expected anything of me. The quote at the beginning about C. S. Lewis perhaps doesn’t sound the most positive about nature, but I think it explains beautifully how I feel when I’m hiking. It helps me interpret things in my life, and gives me a way of understanding them. It brings important lessons to my mind through the array of feelings at different stages on the hike—I feel overwhelmed, I feel exhausted, I feel ready to give up, I feel awe, I feel a deep sense of gratitude, and I feel reverence.
All creatures of our God and King!