• author
    • Dave Van Manen

    • October 10, 2014 in Columnists

    Why do I go to Nature?

    That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m here — This refrain from a James Taylor song is accompanying me as I leave the road and lazily work my way along the trail to a nearby canyon known as Devil’s Canyon. It may be September, the month when autumn officially begins, but it is still a hot summer day today, with triple digits mentioned on the radio this morning for parts of Colorado. I am not up for all the sun, so I am opting for the park’s shadiest trail.

    That’s why I’m here now, sitting on the cool floor of this park’s iconic canyon. Well, the cool shade is one reason I’m here in this part of the park. Of course, I could have just stayed indoors to avoid the heat of the sun. There is a lot more to why I am here among these towering granite walls than to find a spot of shade. Why do I routinely go out into wild Nature? As I ponder this question, I look up and see a cloudless bluer-than-blue sky framed by the pink, gray and green walls of the canyon. One wall is in bright sunshine, the other – the one I am sitting at the base of – is all shade.

    The canyon rock to my right is covered in a sizable patch of rich green moss, interspersed with lichens of several colors – pea soup green, creamy gray, fluorescent yellow green, dull gray… The rock itself may not be alive, but there is life all over it. Here and there are some tenacious plants that have found just enough of a crack to grow in – a small golden aster about to open a couple of yellow flowers; a few grasses boasting healthy heads of seed; the blossoms of a couple of goldenrod; and a handful of flowerless small shrubs – waxflower and mountain ninebark.

    I narrow my focus to a few square inches and find a short white hair clinging to the branch-like appendages of a moss; a tiny red spider mite; the cell-like structures of a light gray lichen; another hair, much longer and brown (probably unknowingly left here by a hiker who rested in this same spot); the dried out wings of a small butterfly; a strange looking ant, maybe a millimeter long, that seems to float over and not walk on the rock.

    A strong gust of warm wind forces its way down through the narrow canyon and takes my focus away from the rock. I listen to the many sounds associated with it – the subtle rustling of the needles on some nearby white firs; an oak leaf moving across the rocks strewn over the canyon floor; the bigger sound of the wind whipping through the crowns of the trees further down the canyon. I hear the call of a canyon wren and hope that it will break into its iconic canyon song.

    Seeing, feeling and hearing all of this is the main reason why I am here. I go to Nature to break free, at least for awhile, from the shackles of days full of too many things to think about and too many things to do, to get away from the mental clutter that so often accompanies living in our fast-paced, modern world. Nature is my doctor’s office, my therapist’s couch, my sanctuary and church. Nature is my meditation, and it is my medication. Nature is my real home, and the lichens and the birds and the wind are my friends.

    The wind has settled down and the canyon has become a much more silent place. I keep listening for the magical song of the canyon wren, but not yet. A chattery squirrel breaks the silence, soon followed by the scratchy squawk of a Stellar’s jay.


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