Last weekend during a church retreat, I went on a hike through some of the foothills outside of Madrid, and it was such a blessing to be out in nature, inhaling pure air and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Imagine, if you will, a chaparral-esque forest, with scrubby evergreens rubbing boughs with craggy old oaks, which combination of leafy heads and shoulders does enough to provide generous shade while at the same time allowing large portions of the sky to peer down at us as we wind our way along the faint outline of the trail between the snagging fingers of bushes and thorny vines. We pass plenty of wild lavender, stopping every now and then to rub the perfumed leaves between the tips of our fingers or take apart of small piece of the herb to carry along and inhale its fragrance at will.
In some parts, our feet kick up little puffs of dust in the dry, brown earth; in some parts, they flexibly navigate the crevices and curvatures of many small stones that seem to stick up their heads above the ground at random angles, almost as though they are groggy sleepers trying to figure out what in the world is going on above them. In one part, our toes gingerly hop from one stone to another, avidly avoiding getting wet in the water of the stream that laps so close to the surface of the stone; in some places, they brush through the soft heads of long grasses hanging over the path like foot soldiers falling asleep at their post.
If we sniff the air, we can smell the forest around us. We can smell that faint scent of forest-y things that will always remind me of freshly boiled artichokes – it smells green, it smells warm, it smells delicious. We can smell the sunshine gently warming the plants around us; we can fairly smell the sap flowing up from the awakened roots of plants long dormant and of plants sending up fresh growth into the new heat of approaching summer.
And if we listen, we can hear the forest around us. We can hear the crickets playing their merry song in orchestral unity, their many different sections spread out around the path as we walk along; we can hear the tiny sparrows adding their lilting flute-like voices to the melody and the woodpeckers punctuating the score with a good, solid drumming of some tree or other.
As we turn the corner, walking, smelling, and listening, we suddenly find ourselves in front of the most gorgeous of gorgeous meadows. It opens out among the trees of the forest, a luxurious carpet of grasses and wildflowers that invites a picnic, a blanket, a book, and a nap. If we were to lay down out there, I’m sure we would completely disappear from sight, our entire world framed by nodding wildflowers that seem to be conversing with the breeze as we lie on our backs, gazing up at the brilliantly blue sky and soft white clouds. We continue on our walk though, and soon enough, another, grander meadow opens up before our delighted eyes! It’s as though we are taking a tour of the jewels of the earth, the forest offering up for our inspection the gem-like fields it hides in its interior.
So very different from walking through throngs of people, over cobbled streets, right next to the many cars that fill the city with their rumblings and their exhaust. Don’t get me wrong. I love the city. But this walk out into nature was exactly what I needed.