Categories: The Parish Column

Finding Strength, Hope, and Balance in Nature

by Carolyn Peirce, Member of St. John’s Eco-Action Team

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains; the world, and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carson

Wilderness helps preserve our capacity for wonder, the power to feel, if not to see, the miracles of life, of beauty, and of harmony around us.

William O. Douglas

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread… where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. 

John Muir

As many parishioners began participating in St. John’s Lenten Eco-Action Pledge for Hope to help make a more sustainable world, that world swiftly changed with the arrival of the coronavirus. In a previous Crossroads article (April 10th), Jane Houlihan drew parallels between the two. Our Eco-Action team members are eager to continue to support our St. John’s parishioners as we adapt to a “new normal.” We all need to find new ways to sustain hope and to regain a healthy sense of balance and wholeness. We suggest that can be realized by discovering beauty and wonder in the natural world. We invite you to get outside!

I have enjoyed many long walks in the woods during the past several months, evoking a feeling of awe at the magnificent heights of some of the trees, and looking higher at the blue of the sky and the ever changing cloud formations. Being in the woods and open meadows is a wonderful way to awaken your senses. Imagine the pleasure that can come from the sounds of nature, such as a woodland stream flowing over rocks, the flute-like song of the wood thrush, the deep croaking of bullfrogs, or the high notes of the spring peepers. Or enjoy breathing in the smells of the fragrant blossoms of the woodland phlox, viburnum, or spicebush. For treating your taste buds, why not try wild blackberries, violets, paw paws, or day lilies (all safe). I always enjoy touching the barks of various trees to compare textures as well as the delicate fern fronds and smooth rocks in a woodland stream. The sights in the natural world are perhaps the easiest for us to readily enjoy, such as the bright orange and black of the Baltimore oriole, the extravagant bright red of the male northern cardinal, or the flashes of yellow and black seen in the dipping flight of the american goldfinch. And if you’re lucky, you can delight in seeing the iridescence of a male ruby-throated hummingbird. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The joy of looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” 

So, where to go and when, and how to be safe and healthy? It is best to go in the early morning on weekdays, if you can, to avoid crowds. (People are expected to keep socially distant on all trails and are encouraged to wear masks.) A few suggestions for nearby places: Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary, Rachel Carson Conservation Park, Rock Creek Park, Wheaton Regional Park/Brookside Gardens, Pennyfield, Violette’s and Riley’s Locks on the C&O Canal Tow Path, and Little Bennett Park. A good reference book is 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Washington DC (including MD and VA) by Sklarew and Cooper.

And in addition to water bottles and masks (to use if you encounter others on the trail) , bring along your binoculars to look at the birds and the tops of trees, and a hand lens to look closely at plants, mosses, and lichens. Kids especially love to discover new worlds in miniature! 

And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all our troubles. 

Anne Frank
A bird singing on a branch