Dozens of tourists exited the green or brown buses at the Eielson Visitor Center 66 miles deep into Denali National Park in Alaska. A group of women paused to photograph a ground squirrel that ran around on the outside sidewalks darting here and there quite close to people. Actually, the women were charmed by the squirrel, and excited. A young man walked around the Visitor Center with his camera, stalking the squirrels, possibly hoping for the perfect cute picture.
On one of the park buses rolling down the road, a tourist bellowed MOOSE, MOOSE, MOOSE upon seeing a fine bull specimen. This bus stopped at every caribou on the tundra or white specks of Dall sheep on cliffs. Another time, a dozen people on a bus jumped up and shouted WOLF! WOLF! preventing anyone else from seeing the creature cross the road and vanish into the willows. On rare instances tourists would see wolves or brown bear chasing a moose with a calf.
Another bus paused now and then for the passengers to view grizzly/brown bears—sows accompanied by a cub or cubs. One cub was digging frenetically and didn’t notice when mama moved away, and then the cub scampered after her. At the Savage River checkpoint, a lynx trotted out in view of four or five buses.
Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of visitors to Denali National Park walk far enough from the safety of a bus or a vehicle accessible campground to be on equal footing with moose, caribou, wolves, bear, wild sheep, or lynx, but you see, when security is gone, self reflection occurs.
When the lynx trots by as you rest on the ground, when you find huge fresh wolf tracks on the braided river bar, when the caribou feed during the bright summer night near your tent, when the grizzly is bearing down on your children as they filter water along a noisy stream, when there is no protection between you and the moose, when hordes of mosquitoes swarm around you, when you stand where Dall sheep stand, when the rain beats down and the wind threatens to tear your tent into shreds, and when you rise up from a green tundra bed at 2:AM to see the highest mountain in North America 25 miles away blazing clear in golden sunlight, then you can better reflect upon your purpose and position in the world. Or, you can afterwards.
And in Denali National Park some people have even more intense experiences as they ski cross country or dogsled in a 20-40 minus degree F. winter, or as they attempt to summit the mountain.
One does not necessarily need actual wilderness immersion to prompt self-reflection. Wilderness really is more time apart from routine occupations and customary comforts. Wilderness removes barriers between you and the Creator, and other experiences also can supply this condition, like fasts, true retreats, and or even tent camping and early morning walks at the beach. Civilization is a tool, but it can also be an impediment. We can be so busy maintaining our stuff, and flying around to all the fun or “necessary“ social functions, or responding to the crisis of the moment, that we have little left for reflection.
Wilderness forces reflection. Jesus spent time in the wilderness. John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness.
So, what exactly can be gained or learned from “the wild” when it comes to our role in the impediment to the killing of pre-born children and its continued imbedding into our culture?
Preparation. Train for anticipated challenges, study the conditions you will meet and expect to learn as you go.
Discipline and Planning. Too much gear will hold you back. Learn to leave behind what is not needed and take only the essentials. Extra food and clothing is essential (and bug nets).
Trust. If God can take care of the amazing tundra flowers that can survive bitter winters, He will take care of you.
Focus. Accept the reality around you and deal with it. Do not indulge in denial about your situation. Be alert to needs and dangers.
Calm. When you yell at the bear, chances are it will run away. Know what to do next if it does not run away. In the wilderness, you assume certain risks.
Courage. Continue walking and your path will emerge step by step.
Humility. The universe is bigger than you feel it to be, and natural order rules. We are weaker than we feel we are.
Joy. The world is far more beautiful than anything we humans can make, and more so than we can imagine.
Perspective. We can not live long in the wilderness—it is a place only to visit. But without it, we can not live at all.
APPLICATIONS: Every so often I read the daily headlines from Lifenews.com . The stories are much the same as they have been for years, except for names and dates. With Obama in the White House we seem to be settled in for a time of little progress, and perhaps not a little regress. Unless there is an earthshaking event, I expect for no improvement in the big picture for years to come. As I scan the political horizon, there seems to be no human deliverer on the way—no one to provide the leadership we need. Yes, someone will point to Mr. Y or Ms. X who is full of promise. How many of these great people have fallen away or have not measured up? Of course, lives are in the balance every day. This is where we can focus and be fruitful. —These likely are the realities we must accept. We must continue in the routine of what is helpful and also we must wait upon new, daring, creative ideas and projects, not fearful to embark upon them when the Lord calls. Those ideas can grow out of our wilderness experience—from new perspective and courage developed by trials. Remember the proverb that says, “He who continuously stiffens his neck will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” We have seen many nations in history suffer such a fate, and ours appears to be becoming one of them. Let’s become prepared and prepare our children for great struggles. Challenge yourself by accepting new and difficult tasks that reach to the heart of the matter, but also allow time for rest and healthy, vigorous recreation.