I found myself up the Poudre Canyon, just inside of Roosevelt National Forest at 1AM, pulling off the side of the road to sleep. I had decided to drive up at 11PM, a way of a quick escape in a canyon I’ve only felt recently possessed more of the quality of “home” than my run-down basement bedroom. It wasn’t that my bedroom didn’t make me feel cozy or warm, it was just that waking up next to trees and nothing else seemed comforting. Pulling off the road, I knew it was time to sleep. I was tired. I had brought a tent to pitch, but it seemed like a terrible idea to put effort into setting up a tent in the dark (it was cold, I was tired, excuses etc. ad infinitum).
As my 1987 4Runner sputtered to a stop in a small turnout some ways into the park, the smell of exhaust and fresh air combined created in me some small thrill. I hadn’t come here for any other reason than to sleep, but it suddenly felt very important to sleep inside of the truck I had practically pushed with my puny legs up the mountain. Clearing space in the back, I nuzzled into my sleeping bag and passed out so quick I hardly remember being there.
The breath of the morning felt like resuscitation. Cool, clean, crisp air being forced into my lungs by some indomitable morning calm. I didn’t move much for quite some time and the sun was rising. The windows of the 4Runner were crystal clear, a surprise having slept in it all night and, I assume, been breathing the whole time. Condensation seems to love to stick to those puppies anytime I sleep in a car. However, this being my first time with the 4Runner (a recent purchase for me), it had enough leaks and holes and cracks from the years of neglect to let out all of my human heat, and keep me just warm enough to wake up comfortably. I shifted my body about 2 feet west, just to get a better look at the sunrise clinging to the eastern sky. Barely moving, I felt my body sink into the truck.
At that moment I experienced something.
I have spent nights sleeping in various cars, trucks (you can even add a good bicycle or two) waking up in the middle of somewhere to the sun beaming on my face.
A 2001 Subaru Outback in Moab.
A 1989 Plymouth Reliant K in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A 1987 Nishiki Prestige on the side of the road in Unaweep Canyon.
Even a 2010 Toyota Camry (too nice to be mine) in Rifle Mountain Park.
All memorable times that I cherish. All sweet connections to the “natural” world. Waking in my 4Runner felt different. For a moment, however brief, I found myself indistinguishable from the truck. As if it had seen the same sunrise as I had. As if the wheels felt the same dirt I did. As if we could sense all of the same things.
I’m not a truck guy. Clearly, based on my automotive resume above, I have owned the simplest of vehicles. Nothing particularly flashy, save a strong case for the Reliant K which would have made my grandmother the talk of the town in 1987. I can’t tell you why, but this truck made sense for me.
The reason: in the middle of Roosevelt National Park with that beat up rust bucket, I realized there was no distinction between a truck and nature.
There was no distinction between me and nature.
There was no distinction between the sunrise and nature.
There was no distinction between god and nature.
This frame of reference has been changing everything for me. For the majority of my life, I have carried nature as a place away. The natural world has always been a space to go to. To travel toward. To make a goal of. That day inside my old beat up vehicle, it was hard to tell the difference.
The fact is that everything has come from the natural world.
My “natural” sense of separation wants to take things that I love and separate them from nature. I want to think of coffee, pianos, tables, a bench grinder, my pesky younger brothers (just kidding, they’re brilliant), and even an old truck as separate.
But it’s all right there.
Breathing the same earth and air that I am.
Harvested from the same planet I just so happen to adore.
John Muir has always fascinated me. If you have never read any of his work, it will feel like a dry field manual with bible-length descriptions of birds, trees, and mountain ranges. You name it, he’s over-written it.
In subtle moments, John Muir’s voice slips into the divine. He’s become, to me, something of a personal encyclopedia of the normalcy of everyday mystery. In his account of the Yosemite Valley -- a space he was integral in preserving and was a part of establishing the boundary of -- he actively describes the “natural” phenomenon of my own disambiguation of self. The best example I can give, is right here:
“This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests (it) may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers.”
Muir had been passing through the Yosemite Valley, and ended up in Lake Tenaya. As he traversed the various ranges surrounding the lake, he began to reflect on the ecosystems of the upper Sierra Mountains, he realized how connected these spaces were.
It was simple for me. I felt the same. And for some reason, I felt it in my truck. I felt how I was a simple extension of that thing. How I could not be separated from the way I had driven into this Forest. How I was a part of the ecosystem, and how it was a part of me.
So why is god nature?
As Muir hinted, there is no separation. There is no way for me to identify a frame of reference outside of the context of nature. My truck is made of nature. It has been taken from its original place and crafted into a vehicle. So god, in all of it’s it-ness, cannot be fathomed without nature. Without everything that we see and know we would not see or know anything. How could god be separate from that?
The thing is, we want to spiritualize things, to make them seem outside of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, but they are all so carefully ingrained into everything and there is not separation for god itself.
It’s not wonder that the nature of the world and the nature of man are from the same root word.
It’s who we are. It’s where we are. It is everything.
If I am to believe that god is omnipresent, I am to believe in a god who inhabits nature. Who is nature.
There is no separation.
I found it in my own little way. So where will you find it ?