All vacations must end, no doubt, but our annual sojourn to the Tucson area ended on a high note at least. On our last full day in the area, we had intended to take a "short" hike in Catalina State Park, a blessedly preserved area of the foothills and mountains just Northwest of the city, bordering the Coronado National Forest. I say blessedly because this enclave is being fast surrounded by housing developments or gated communities, many with homes in the $1-3 million dollar range. It's valuable property, and I'm grateful someone had the foresight and political will to preserve it for all to enjoy.
We knew the one mile relatively easy loop trail we started on, as we had been on it before. However, we were also, as we walked, toying with the challenge of proceeding on up into the canyons, over several ridges, to a place beyond view called Romero Pools, a series of pools of water, some quite deep (depending on the snow melt on Mount Lemmon above), formed by the runoff from the mountains. We knew it was 2.8 miles in, and then 2.8 back out, for a total of 5.6 miles, about as much as we could do with our children, and, somewhere along the path, we decided to go for it. We made two mistakes that cost us a bit: first, my son did not have his hiking boots, and second, we had no food. We did have adequate water. Neither were serious mistakes, but I won't repeat them. We endured some complaining from both children for some time, but both overcame it and actually enjoyed the hike.
It was challenging. After the first mile, the trail was rocky and mostly up, sometimes with no trail but only rocks to scramble over. We would go up and over a ridge, only to find another ridge to climb, maybe a total of 6-7 ridges to climb before we descended into a cool ravine where the stream and pools were found. The scenery was outstanding. The predominantly prickly-pear cactus and mesquite tree lowland gave way to abundant forests of saguaro cactus, ocotillo (flowering), and even some yucca. What was beautiful was the density of the vegetation and the bright colors against the brown of the desert and the clear blue sky. The colors of the desert always amaze me, the contrasts being so sharp. All this made it worthwhile since, sometimes, having scaled one ridge and seeing yet another, or having a senior citizen pass me on the trail, I considered turning back, but I couldn't. I knew something good awaited me at Romero Pools, and there was the satisfaction of simply getting there, of saying that we did it.
One thing that a hike allows is time for thought, for musing over what is seen, and I practiced that some as I went. It's an odd way to put it, I know, but I often ask myself what things I observe in nature are saying to me, or what they mean, much in the sense that is implied in Psalm 19:1-4, where Creation is is "telling" us something, where it has a "voice." And I do that through the lens of Scripture, that is, I look at God's revelation in Creation (general revelation) through the more particular special revelation of Scripture. I'm relating the more general truth to the very specific and less ambiguous truth of Scripture. In the right sense, though, both Scripture and Creation are God's Word to me.
Thus seen, I can't really look at anything without relating it to God. The hike of course, with its difficulties (rocks, exhaustion, pain, thirst, hunger), pitfalls (falling off the path, getting stuck by a cactus thorn, or simply losing heart and turning back), and unknowns (how far, what's ahead, is it worth it), becomes a well-known metaphor for our walk of obedience, for life itself. Or seeing the ocotillo cactus, I'm reminded that in times of drought (which prevail here), it musters its resources by dropping it leaves to save water, retaining water in its thick spine, and reaching far and wide with its roots for water enough to hang on. When rain comes, leaves and even beautiful red-tip flowers come out within 48 hours. It becomes a metaphor for spiritual dryness, for the need to keep our roots sunk in God's word, abiding, enduring lack of fruit for a season, waiting patiently for God to bring fruit, to bring a time of refreshing to us.
I could go on, you know. Looking at Creation this way can become a holy addiction. God hems me in. He's forever speaking to me, even shouting at times. And yet sometimes you'd think I was deliberately blind, moving through the day with my eyes shut and my fingers in my ears.
Theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards describes riding out into the woods around Northampton, Massachusetts in 1737, for his health, then dismounting and walking, and there among Creation having a vision of Christ's mercy and love for more than a hour, leaving him weeping but encouraged in the Lord. And that was only the first of many times he had such experiences. God is speaking through created things. The rocks cry out. The heavens proclaim Him. Everything is telling us about His truth, His beauty, and His goodness. I just need to look and listen and stay in one place for a while. I need to give myself over to this holy addiction.