Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Dwarfing Power of Nature

Since I had the day off from teaching yesterday, I spent the day climbing Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills (4,180 feet). In the photo on the left by Scott Larsen, Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the background.

This hike was a favorite of John Burroughs, a 19th century naturalist and nature writer. He was the John Muir of the Catskills and there is a plaque in his memory near the top of Slide. Here's what he wrote about the view from the summit:

"The works of man dwindle, and the original features of the huge globe come out. Every single object or point is dwarfed; the valley of the Hudson is only a wrinkle in the earth's surface. You discover with a feeling of surprise that the great thing is the earth itself, which stretches away on every hand so far beyond your ken."

I, too, had a sense of looking into eternity while on the summit of this heavily forested mountain. On a clear day, you can see 34 of the 35 peaks above 3,000 in the Catskill range, as well as the Hudson River valley far in the distance.

John Burroughs reminds me that the works of nature dwarf the works of humans. That's a humbling, yet uplifting, thought. When we become aware of how vast and endless is the universe, we recognize our own smallness and insignificance. Yet, as the Psalmist observed, we are each valued and loved by the Creator of all that is. Significance has been bestowed upon us as an act of grace.

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