Friday, May 9, 2014

Nature and Community: Reviving the Spirit

A Menomonee Valley essay

On a trip through the high Sierras John Muir came upon a particularly lovely glen with a river running through it. He climbed a large boulder in the river, which he likened to an altar. After musing upon the power of spring floods to move boulders he rhapsodized about moss, the clear pool, blossoming lilies and light coming through overarching leaves. “The place seemed Holy,” he concluded, “where one might hope to see God.”1

Muir was hardly the first to equate nature with holiness. His descriptions of wilderness experiences often bordered on spiritual ecstasy and yet they were paired with keen phenomenological observations and precise taxonomic identification of plants and animals he encountered. Muir clearly was comfortable blending empirical science with personal theology. His rigorously analytical mind was open to mysticism.

I recently picked up a volume of Muir’s writing, thinking it was time for me to revisit his perspective on nature. I’d been asked to talk about the spiritual component of my urban wilderness escapades. It was not the first such request I’d received and, like Muir, I recognize and welcome the spiritual dimension of my own examinations of nature, urban and otherwise.

When I first began to explore the Menomonee River for my book, Urban Wilderness, my impulse was analytical and documentary. My episodic travels would take me nowhere that hadn’t been thoroughly mapped as well as completely altered by hundreds of years of human activity. Nevertheless, in a very real sense it was a journey of discovery. Among the many surprises of that endeavor was the spiritual presence I felt in undeniably compromised remnants of nature.

Please go to Urban Wilderness for the rest of this story and additional photos.

This post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency. For more information about the residency and links to previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.

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