Westwood Woods

By Dave Hanna

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The outdoors has always been magical to me. Alive, transformative, peaceful and restorative. It is the place I feel closest to its Creator, because everywhere I look I see the finger of God.

Each plant contains everything it needs to know so it can grow, stretch toward the sun, hibernate for the winter and return in the spring to continue its life. As I see each leaf, branch and trunk reaching to where it can receive the sun, I’m reminded of how I always need to seek the Son if I want to grow, mature and live a vibrant life. Nature is full of these analogies for me.

I have spent many hours of my life simply ambling outside, sometimes on a trail to a desired destination like the top of Algonquin Peak, yet sometimes with no objective other than to be there and simply experience whatever my senses can capture. It could be tasting fresh water, like from the Raquette River in Adirondack Park, or feeling the awesome power of wind so fierce on Mt. Washington that I braced for balance to keep from getting blown over, or the smell of pine on the trail in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, or the majestic sight of endless, rugged snow-capped peaks in Meribel, France, or the melting heat of the desert air in Joshua Tree National Monument, or the solitary sound of the rushing waters of the Mississiquoi River in Vermont that echoed through an otherwise silent, moonlit night. Every sense is on alert in the outdoors to experience what we so often miss or underappreciate in our busy, task-filled lives.

I wondered where this love affair began. The earliest memory I have is of my Grandparents’ house in Westwood, PA. Maybe their yard was an acre, but by my measuring stick it was a county. There was a trickle of spring water that ran down through the open yard. It was only a few inches wide and ran through a man-made ditch as it seeped its way towards the creek (or “cric” in local speak) at the rear of the property. To a 10-year old this was a watershed, not a ditch. It housed snakes, frogs and bugs and often swallowed stray baseballs or golf balls.

The creek was an even bigger treasure trove. In its deeper, wider waters were turtles, fish and muskrats. There was a special spot where the creek widened and slowed and the waters deepened. A large, old tree draped its trunk over the pool before rising high into the sky, as if to say, “hey, come and play here”. And so I did. For hours. Making dams, splashing in big boots across the creek and into the swampy woods or climbing the hill to the pond at the mushroom company next door.

This is where I first lost myself in the mysteries and joys of nature. What is even more reminiscent of the Westwood woods is that my father spent hours in that same special place when he was a boy, probably standing on that same tree by the pool, or a thinner version of it anyway.

Maybe that’s where it all started. I think so, but what is more important is that this romance never ends. It will endure on this earth as long as I am blessed to be healthy enough to venture out and it will flourish even more in the new heavens and the new earth. Oh, what that will be like! I would write some more, but I’m going for a hike in the Mt. Kearsarge State Forest.

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