When work takes you to the woods

I met a former me this afternoon, thanks to a walk in the woods. This is to be expected in such places. God makes Himself known wherever life thrives in abundance.

This walk occurred because work required a group of us to plan an upcoming training at a state trout hatchery. This one happened to be the oldest in Rhode Island. It was my first time there.

It's a series of ponds and streams nestled in the forests of a village called Carolina. You drive in and park by a pond that sparkles at the base of a grassy knoll. A little ways up, there's a sturdy white farm house from 1736. Around you are the hatchery’s barns and shacks that look like you’d imagine barns and shacks to look when they’ve been around for close to a century, or more.

It was a warm day for March, with enough of a breeze to rouse the pines with their ghostly chorus of whisper. The ground was thawed and gave off the sweet scents of spring. Thousands of trout splashed in the clear water of the natural raceways.

These sights, sounds, and smells brought me back to when I’d been a hiker of mountains and a walker of trails. Those memories and the newness of a late winter’s spring day awoke in me much that I had, sadly, forgotten.

Nature does this.

I should also introduce the chief caretaker. He's a quiet man named Peter. Within minutes of shaking his hand you can tell his job is a vocation and his life is the waters and woods and the people that tend his trout. Peter was delighted to take us city folk around his garden. His pride was evident and his peace was something for which many strive. Peter and his crew – like the hidden treasures of their hatcheries – provide hundreds of those who fish, old and very young, with great joy. And they do it not for earthly glory, but for the love of the sport, of nature, and of helping introduce nature to those who may not ever have been swallowed up by its pine needles, light, and breezy silence. Of course, I couldn't help but think of another Peter, who also had a profession that involved fish.

As Peter led us along the paths of the Carolina hatchery, what struck me as especially poignant was that I had written and submitted my March column just days before on the topic of nature and silence in our lives and in our prayers.

The walk in the woods made the theology of all this even clearer: As Christ would retreat to the wilderness to pray, so must we. After all, we were created to live in a garden. It’s no wonder that we can respond so well to a walk in the woods.

May God guide us all to protect and preserve such forests, streams, and all natural areas. May He give us the wisdom to use the glory of creation as we should: with respect, with temperance, and without ever forgetting how calming and good such places can be.

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.