When I was seventeen and a college freshman, I read Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is often cited as the first English novel. It packs a lot boys and arguably many men gravitate to imaginatively–(sea) adventures, voyages, tests of one’s mettle, shipwrecks, miraculous survival, Providence, isolation, savages, exotic islands, dangers from hurricanes, floods, madness, survival, improvisation, primitivism, ingenuity, gratitude vs. ingratitude, beasts, kindnesses repaid, friendship (the unforgettable character Friday), love, sacrifice, and more. Not bad for one book, right?
I packed my little paperback copy in my ruck on the way up to the ridge during a recent hike. It was nestled in there between hammocks and some bottles of red Gatorade. I had only a few pages left but I wanted to read them from what I felt to be a proper place–a place where I could take more in visually. It was a sunny day, so I knew I would be able to see a great distance once I got to the top.
During the ascent, I paused to take sips of my Gatorade. I felt something staring at me. You know the feeling. I was hiking a spur up to the ridge. Down to my right ran the creek. There was a tunnel of view in the rhododendron and laurel. I could hear the creek running, the water splashing on the rocks. I peered down through the tunnel, and I saw what first saw me. A doe was lying down beside the running waters. Her black nose was up in the air. I assume she was smelling me, as I was already sweaty from my climb. I reached into my right pocket to retrieve my phone in an effort to capture the moment. But when I set my hiking poles down to reach into my pocket, she popped up and scampered down the hill, from the direction I had come. How does one capture such moments? Why do they seem so important to me? Why do I feel the need to share them? I don’t know that I can answer my own questions. But there is something about the hike, something about the smell of mountain laurel and rhododendron thickets, and the sound of water rolling over the rocks, and of the way a deer sizes you up long before you see her, that moves me. It is soul food. I am of northern European stock, but I have the soul of a Native American in many ways. I like living close to the earth. Give me small town life. Buckhead has its perks but it’s far from my soul.
My climb continued. I intentionally was hiking the steepest way up, just to test myself. Occasionally, however, I would hit a relatively flat area. Variegated mushrooms dotted the forest floor. Kaleidoscopes of fungal color everywhere. I took more pictures. Why? In order to remember, I think. Danger lurks when we downgrade beauty; the soul atrophies.
I continued. An hour or so later, I was at the top. I could feel the winds now. Birds did figure eights in the skies, their eyes dialed on prey hundreds of feet below. I strung up my hammock, unlaced my hiking boots, sipped more red Gatorade, and opened Crusoe again. And I am grateful. Crusoe learned gratitude throughout his adventures in the novel. He learned to thank God for His mercies, for provisions in the forms of beauty, Scripture, the incarnation of God, friendship, and even suffering. Obviously there are millions of people who prefer concrete jungles of downtowns. But I cannot feed my soul there. Some will understand. Indeed I am grateful for days like this on the ridge with Crusoe.