Among the many reasons I admire John Muir, besides his gift of beautiful prose that he shared with the world, and his passion for protecting public lands, I adore how he could take his strict religious upbringing and translate the spectacular scenery he encountered into religious celebrations of its majestic beauty to help those who never traveled to eastern California to understand the cathedral-like magnificence of Yosemite Valley. As if the granite monoliths wouldn’t blow your mind, imaging the entire valley swallowed up by a giant river of ice and rock overwhelms the striking view of its lovely bucolic scenery, for those who attribute the work to geologic construction.
Undoubtedly a large number of visitors gasp breathtakingly at the myriad of vistas and easily describe the creation as a work of God’s hand. Likely many other scenic points earn the same accolade in their grandeur, such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. The crafting of nature, whether by spiritual being or centuries and millennium of natural sculpting, typically comes to the forefront of our recognition when faced with epoch scenery – the most brilliant of views – and we only stop to contemplate the role of divinity when it really strikes us as being noteworthy.
My least favorite travel experiences obligate me to arrive swiftly and therefore deprive me of the opportunity to enjoy a meandering journey simply due to the need to make good time. My last power drive takes me from Central Florida nearly to Saskatchewan in four days. I push forward with the force of a hurricane – coincidentally, and a story for another day – and by the time I cross into Tennessee, I know I can muster only a couple more hours of daylight and driving. The kind folks at the welcome center direct me to a couple state parks where I can pitch my tent near the edge of that radius. And so it came to pass that I spent the night among the Cedars of Lebanon.
Despite its name from scripture, this small swath of campground may not inspire the awe of El Capitan or draw climbers onward along the chain guides of Half Dome, yet each tree that grows in this small forest east of Nashville deserves the precise prose of Muir. While many have quoted his inspiration, “The mountains are calling and I must go,” read deeper into his lofty descriptions of the flora that inspired him. Every branch, leaf, needle, bark, height, girth, and fragrance of trees Muir recognized and detailed; the author of Psalm 92 likewise drew inspiration from these leafy sentinels. You need not be religious to understand that this grove where I briefly laid my head after a long and lonely stretch of highway, likewise reminded others of their significance and beauty, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” The scenery need not be breathtaking, sometimes it only needs to be breath giving, to inspire.