St. Paul said that faith is the essence of things hoped for and the evidence to things unseen. I have faith in transcendence, which I sometimes feel but can’t articulate. When my father died, I was depressed. I was surprised at how sad I was. I lived away from home, across the oceans. My contact with him was episodic. How much practical difference could it make? It did make a lot. Then awhile after I had a very vivid dream, and the gloom lifted. Details there were none, only a feeling. Everyone was there: the living and the dead, along with the unborn generations. They were all there in a vast eternal present in the multiplicity of all the aspects of their changing personalities. The only existing analogy I can think of is when I see my kids. I don’t see only what they are today; I see what they were and what I hope they will be. It was kinda like that, only all encompassing, the alpha and the omega. I have faith that there is more to life than the life we know. It is a dream I have that I won’t give up. I can’t give it up. I am not religious enough to be an atheist.
I had a long time to wait for my flight, so I decided to take a walk to the forest on College Avenue. I used to go there a lot in high school. Now it is a part of the Milwaukee park system, but then it was just a forest. Around 1973, there was a big outcry when a trucking firm wanted to tear down the forest and make a parking place for the big rigs. Everyone said that this was one of the last “virgin forests” and should be preserved. I am happy for the preservation , but it is not a virgin forest as even casual inspection reveals. Many of the older trees are broad and branched almost to the ground. Trees do not grow this way in a forest where they have to compete for light. Beyond that, there is a the stone wall that once separated tilled fields. This is a new forest. Since the park service took over, the trails are less defined. Where I used to ride my bike is now almost impassible. Nature returns. As I got to College Avenue, it started to rain – hard. I had my Gortex coat, but my pack and all my stuff got wet. I hunkered down in the shelter – below pictures. Forest shelters are lonely places, especially in the rain. Besides the occasional school field trip, they are not used. It feels good to build them and to have a dedication. The forest shelter is a lot like the exercise bikes people eagerly buy, but never use. I expect most people who live near this forest are only vaguely aware of its existence. The other pictures are the stone wall and the old bike trail that still exists. The last picture is from our back porch in New Hampshire. I only had three pictures from the forest and wanted to add a fourth for symmetry.
I have been wandering forests for my entire adult life, most of my adolescence and some of my childhood. I have learned to identify the trees, soil types, & topography. I love forests, but my thinking about them has changed. I used to like to wander lonely as a cloud. I didn’t want to see the signs of human kind in my forests. Maybe that was because there was little chance I would get my wish. I have changed my mind. I don’t really like wilderness in the sense of land without man. There was plenty of that in the countless eons before man and there will be plenty more after we are gone. Will “time” stop with nobody left to count the minutes, hours and years? It might sound arrogant to say that man is the measure of nature, but it is even more arrogant and downright ignorant for any human to say that he can understand nature in any other way. Raw nature is nasty, cold and incompressible. No human can respect nature in its natural state and it really doesn’t matter if we do. There is nothing the human race can do to add or detract from nature. If we managed what we arrogantly fear (but couldn’t really do) – if we destroyed the entire surface of the Earth, would that make any difference to a nature that encompasses an endless universe of worlds without end and billions of years of time at its disposal? Is there anything any of us could do that will make a difference a billion years hence? It would make a difference to humans in the here and now. We can only add or detract from the human interpretation of nature. Now I am happy to see signs of “good” human intervention and sometimes even the results of a bad intervention healed. More than a century ago, a great man-made catastrophe transformed N. Wisconsin. The great Peshtigo fire burned everything from the middle of the state to Lake Michigan. You can still see the signs in the type of vegetation and soils. We now call it old growth, but it results directly from inadvertent “bad” human intervention. The people living now benefit from this horrible tragedy of which most of them are unaware. Sitting in alone in a forest shelter in a downpour puts things in perspective. I take refuge in my ignorance and fall back on faith.