My grandfather was a gentle giant who eagerly shared his quiet affection for the Ozark Mountains he had lived in all his life. Every time my family arrived at his small town home, after we had been fed and watered, and our personal things were stowed away, he would ask who wanted to go for a ride in his old pick-up. For my Grandfather that meant to drive as far as possible into the forest, get out of the truck, stand at a rivers edge, comment on the subtle changes that man or weather had brought to the water- way, and then hush, and let the serenity of the wilderness rejuvenate his soul.
Rejuvenation of his soul is certainly an idealized way for me to express what the wilderness actually gave my grandfather. I don’t know precisely what he gained, he was a quiet man, and rarely articulated what his relationship with the forest offered him. What I have to help me understand his deep appreciation for the natural world are my early childhood memories of following him over ridge tops and down into the hollows, through the shallow creek beds, meadows, and fields, as well as his physical response to many of the beautiful places we visited.
These memories of observations may be assumptions about the gentle giant’s perspective. But that is okay, because what is important is that it was his calm affinity for the wild lands that was pivotal in developing my own deep appreciation for the natural world. Whether this appreciation was built on assumption, or fact, the reality is that something precious has blossomed inside of me.
My grandfather participated in church service to be a part of a community. He made pilgrimages into the woods to visit with God.
There is one seminal moment in the relationship with my grandfather that, for me, has catalyzed nature’s ability to heal the spirit. I was six or seven, and we were wandering around a forested hilltop; he was filling his pockets with acorns and simultaneously turning over rocks to see what kind of bugs had established residency. I was kneeling on brittle leaves with a stick in my hand, fixated on poking a cluster of hideously looking ground mushrooms.
When I had finished defacing the fungus I stood up and noticed grandpa was much farther away than I had realized. He was standing on the edge of the hilltop between two enormous oak trees, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun. In front of him were three fall foliaged Ozark valleys converging in to one. I wanted to approach, but my young intuition told me to be still. From my position, it appeared he had undergone a transformation— as if he had absorbed the same earthly nutrients as the giant hardwoods he stood by—and expeditiously became just like them—rooted to the edge, reaching for the sky.
He had never carried on that far from me before, and his idleness had began to concern me—was he going to return? Of course he did. And when he turned, and moved towards me, I stayed in my place and watched him saunter by. He glanced at me only once when passing, and in that moment, looking back in to his delicate eyes, and at his relaxed posture, I began understanding why he made so many trips in to the forest.
My grandfather participated in church service to be a part of a community. He made pilgrimages into the woods to visit with God. It was the cool rivers and streams, the rugged hills, and dense forest of the Ozarks that were his sanctuary—where there was an abundance of peace and tranquility.
That day on the ridge I believe he was reminded of how grateful he was to be alive. Perhaps like me, he stood there looking out at the beautiful world thinking about the wonderful things his grandpa shared with him.