A mystical intrusion in nature

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A fresh water creek is rushing in the distance and the echo of kangaroo paws thump, thump, thumping along the dry grass vibrates through the nearby gums. The fading daylight is making my dull human eyes weak. As far as I can tell, there are no other people around for dozens of kilometres. And with the sun starting to play hide-and-seek behind the first mountain, I realise we are all alone out here — and it's about to get very cold.

Tent and car by a lake. (Photo by Francine Crimmins)Each natural sound in this mountainous arena is making up one instrument in a unique natural orchestra. Soon, it will be joined by the crackle and pop of a fire cooking a campside dinner. I can't help but be disappointed with myself as I take steps in my hiking boots. The thick rubber soles crunch the dry leaves, disturbing the natural soundscape. I am an intruder here.

As I pull my camera out of its bag to take one last photo, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. It's been five days since I've looked at my iPhone — after all, there's no reception out here. And honestly, it's a relief to be forced into solitude which no notification or phone call can disrupt. Out here, there's nothing to do but stare at the pastel orange sky which is slowly melting into a glorious pink.

I'd like to think this feeling washing over me is exactly what John Lennon felt when he wrote the lyrics 'No hell below us, above us only sky.' Because in moments like this, when we let nature consume our mind and our hearts, we are encountering nothing short of grace.

*****

As a child I was always taken by the silence in some Catholic churches. It was a mystery how even when an old stone building was filled with dozens of people, it could be so quiet that you could only hear your own breathing. And while, as I grew older I seldom found myself entering a church or cathedral, I still experience that same eerie silence when I venture beyond the urban sprawl and into the natural world.

Nature is always holding its breath, whether after the crack of lightning, or when a strong gush of wind has finally settled. Sometimes this reprieve only lasts a moment before the trees begin whispering again or the birds recover their song. But in this silence, nature is a beautifully complex and intertwined congregation. It knows when to sing, and when to sit and ponder in its own silence.

And then there is us, the observant traveller. We know that if we were to leave, right at that second, the natural world wouldn't notice our departure. It would continue its wild rituals in peace, and probably more happily, if we weren't there.

 

"I try to remember how it feels to be the guilty hiker in the mountains, unsure of how my actions will affect the ecosystem. But here in the city, our actions are so far removed from the consequences that we lose touch with our place in it all. "

 

Yet despite our insignificance, we also bear the burden of being custodians of that happiness. Because only human destruction is capable of tearing all of this beauty away. If we step on the wrong plant, make too much noise, or drop our food wrappers, we have the power to change the course of history in that place.

*****

When I was camping around the Kosciusko national park last year, I thought about the First Nations people who lived in that region for thousands of years. They were the ideal custodians, living in low impact dwellings, hunting only what was needed and walking on trails that were overgrown with natural shrubbery.

But when white explorers invaded, they erected stone huts on the mountainsides and ploughed walkways into the earth. Now part of a protected national park, the stone huts sit unoccupied, but the trees and animals which once used to live in their place will never return.

In her book Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, Sr Elizabeth A. Johnson describes the feeling of bliss for what we experience today, and sorrow for how it once was. She says that all species in these moments are related in the flow of life and death, which is a keystone of evolutionary theory. And perhaps, if humans spent more time in nature, we would be more in touch with our own humanity and mortality.

Johnson describes this encounter with the world as one of grandeur, the same feeling some adherents of religion experience when they visit a sacred site or enter a holy place of worship. In this way, nature is a mystical experience. For me, it's the closest feeling I get to an overwhelming presence that is all encompassing and all forgiving at the same time.

*****

Unfortunately my city-bound life means that most days I am entirely removed from this connection to the natural world. Sometimes I'm not even able to see the stars at night because of the artificial light pouring from millions of buildings. I feel that this separation from the natural world changes me, and makes me apathetic to my responsibility to care for the world.

In the city, I try to remember how it feels to be the guilty hiker in the mountains, unsure of how my actions will affect the ecosystem. But here in the urban sprawl, our actions are so far removed from the consequences that we lose touch with our place in it all.

For now, I have to force myself to take time and escape from the material world, and find a place to reflect on the wonders of nature. One day, long after my body has turned to dust, I hope young people will be able to hike these same trails. And I hope they won't be dismayed at what we failed to do to protect these sacred places.

 

 

Francine CrimminsFrancine Crimmins is a writer and radio journalist. She has also contributed to the ABC and The Wire. She is on twitter @frankiecrimmins

Main image credit: Francine Crimmins

Topic tags: Francine Crimmins, nature, mysticism

 

 

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Great writing! In this writing Francine, you have clearly identified the greatness of Creation and the presence of the Creator in his creation when unsullied by a self-interested human presence. Self interest progressively destroys creation and the secularisation of Catholicism after Vatican II has driven the perception of God's presence from his temporal man-made dwelling in the built environment of the Cathedral. Also you have described the awareness and spirituality of the Aboriginal people whose cathedrals God built and whose beliefs and humility before the Creator are preserved not in the art and liturgy of the cathedral but in ochre liturgied shrines in the outback of creation which we call tourist sites and even deign to desecrate. I once met a Frenchman who visited Uluru and refused to climb it because, he said, "I would not tolerate American or German tourists abseiling down the walls of the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris and I too will not abuse the Notre Dame of the Aboriginal people of Australia."
john frawley | 20 November 2019


Hello Francine. We love you.
Malthus Anderson | 23 November 2019


Well writen and conveyed Francine. As a recently retired wildlife biologist I still manage to get 'out bush' regularly and often not far from city home. Wonderful to also use my plant & animal identification skills to convey the beauty & blessings of nature to others as part of a contribution to 'silent walks' & retreats ...our creators presence is all around us, just waiting for the open heart to see and hear it...
Martin | 24 November 2019


It is great stuff Francine. Prose poetry. One constructive criticism, if I dare. I think we are in danger of conferring on Pre-White -Settlement Aboriginals the sort of 'Noble Savage' mantle the Enlightenment did. They were people, as their descendants are. Life, for them, as for our own Hunter-Gatherer ancestors would, in many ways, be nasty, brutish and short. Of course, our predecessors were responsible for horrible things, including the well documented Tasmanian genocide. Even though I came out here with my parents as a boy, I still live on land that once belonged to others. A sobering thought. Interesting your memories of the silence of Catholic churches and cathedrals. That silence is a sacred thing. Muslims believe the whole earth is one great mosque. Hence they can pray anywhere. You are right, we have lost that contact with nature our ancestors had. There are so many things in our broken world that need to come together. Teilhard de Chardin had a vision of that. You are doing the same thing but speaking in your own unique voice. I look forward to reading more by you.
Edward Fido | 06 December 2019


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