There have been many times, whether for work or for play, that I have found myself in very dense, pathless, forest.
I love being in this particular type of wildness. When hiking on an established trail, you can see shoe prints from hikers gone before…or you flat out see other hikers and cannot even pretend you were the first (or even a recent first) to tread there. In dense forest, however, with only half developed and infrequent game trails as a partially “established” path, you feel you are truly encountering wilderness.
However, your goal here is the same as on a well-used trail: to find your way. You still have to navigate a route through the trees.
When standing in the middle of a dense forest, looking ahead of you for the “way to go,” you often find yourself thinking that what lies before your eyes might just as well be a brick wall for all the clarity of direction it provides you. There is a little bit of fear here, and even a greater sense of despair – surely you are lost, surely finding your way is impossible.
If not impossible, then you at least feel that maybe all this dense coverage is a sign you shouldn’t try to move forward. It is easy to feel you are going the “right” way when the path is well-established, clear before you, such that you can simply move forward on auto-pilot, barely a participant in your journey.
However, there is no use standing still. For whatever prior catalysts, you are in this place, surrounded by trees in every direction, and there is no use staying put, to wait for what could be several lifetimes for the trees to blow down in a windstorm, deteriorate and leave a vacant space for you to walk through. To stand still is to avoid living. To stand still is to put your journey into hibernation, to put it to death.
In the blindness of tree cover, you consult your compass. It seems to you an intangible, somewhat untrustworthy, talisman dangling from a string on your neck. With it, you set yourself on a bearing that leads to some distant goal. Problem is – the coverage is so dense you can only sight on some tree 10 meters in front of you, as non-notable as the 100 cousins surrounding it. But with no better clarity, and no wiser plan, you strike out for it.
You continue in this fashion for a long while, constantly consulting your compass, repeatedly (and somewhat irritatingly) sighting on something a mere 10 meters in front of you, and make pathetic progress forward on a bearing you hope leads you to somewhere. At least you are moving.
As you walk in this way, however, you begin to discover that pathways are revealing themselves to you as you go. Almost like emergency walkways lit up to show you the exit path, your eyes are growing used to deciphering a path where you would have seen only a barrier before, only darkness. You become better able to puzzle out the most efficient and least-harry walkway through intertwined branches of a new-growth stand. You easily, and without hesitation, balance-beam walk over the tiled, chaotic puzzle of fallen logs. You reach out to tree branches to encourage your balance. You look up to the canopy to rejoice in the fractured pockets of sunlight.
It is then you begin to think that perhaps this is just exactly how you (and everyone) should always walk in nature – and how you (and everyone) should always walk through life. And that is to say – slowly, in near blindness, and always relying on faith in Your Compass.
Maybe this is exactly where you should be all the time – sightless beyond a few steps so that you always have to focus on the details of the present. So that you notice, so that you savor the treasure that are the details found in you next (figurative and literal) 10 meters. Maybe you are your best self moving slowly – unhurried because you can’t be fast. If you could see a horizon with easy footing to sprint to then your journey would be a blur rather than a rich collage of experiences to be savored individually at a slow-motion pace. And it is this which make your life uniquely your own. Moving at a snail’s pace you take time to look around, to look up. You notice bird songs, and leaf texture, and chanced glances at squirrels scurrying with inspiring agility along fallen timber. Moving so slowly and stopping regularly to realign yourself, you hear the whisper of the wind, savor the coolness of it on your neck, and appreciate the joyous dance of light and shadow of the sun filtering down through the tree canopy. You wouldn’t do this in the same fashion, would miss so many of these gifts, if the path were easy and you could move forward quickly and without mandated pause.
Maybe you walk closest with God when you are facing a life of dense woods, seemingly pathless, such that you have to constantly check in with Him, Your Compass, in order to move 10 meters forward into an equally pathless section of the forest. Maybe this is the only way to walk with Him. And, as you inch forward, you find you are getting better at navigating this life, better at finding a path where none existed before. You find you are actually quite content in the density, in the blindness, in the slowness of finding a trail in the trail-less with the regular conversation with Your Compass.
Maybe walking in a dense forest is the best place to learn about faith.
By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even when he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)