Nature, if I look at it with an open mind, a patient heart and a passionate spirit, kindles a question inside of me. The contemplation of this great and terrible force puts us on the edge of a hidden mystery and fills us with a question: “Who are you?”.
Already when I was three or four years old, and my family lived in the city, I looked out the window at the trees in the courtyard and watched the shadows swaying, shaken by the night wind. They filled me with a sense of wonder and terror. A few months after, we moved into a small village, situated in the heart of a forest of tall trees. Once, on a cold and windy day, while my sister and I were walking in the woods, she stopped me and said: “Listen”. Then I heard the deep creaking, almost moaning, of the gigantic trunks that leaned almost imperceptibly in the wind. “They are talking to us,” she continued. I never thought that the trees were strange monsters speaking in code. I understood that they were the active signs of a mystery that was making itself known to us through them.
Certainly nature does not show us only a benevolent face. I will always remember a dialogue I had with a family that had lived on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, a volcano that became active again in 1980. They did not want to talk about that catastrophe, and they told me that they could not stand hearing platitudes about beautiful and kind nature. That destructive power inspired awe, but certainly not good feelings.
Still, that same power of creating and renewing life also speaks to us from an unstoppable positive and imaginative force. For five summers I worked as a teacher in a Catholic summer camp. How easy it was to speak of God, as we watched the clouds of stars in the sky after a long day of exploring the river, or admiring the great blue heron that glided over us, or after having had a close encounter with a bear, surprised to bump into our sleeping bags.
Once, during a walk with a girl, I was taken aback. “Why must you always bring God into it when you talk about nature? Why can’t you just see the trees as trees?” she asked harshly. I did not know what to say.
Today I would say that the mystery is the essence of the appeal of nature. It makes us want to know it and understand it, giving us a kind of nostalgia for its face, that it reveal itself and reassure us. Today like yesterday, when I close myself in my house to escape the icy wind that howls outside, there I can still hear a voice, and the question still arises: “Who are you?”.