Excerpt from Let All The Earth: A Contemplative Journey in North Woods

By the river there is a little cove that flows along our land in the north woods where we've mowed the weeds down to a pleasant little spot from which to enjoy the view. Alongside the cove, on either side of it, are bulrushes and a few lily pads. In the evenings the water bugs dance and mark the surface like disappearing pencil marks, and make minute ripples that last for just a moment and are swallowed by the still water.

Occasionally, a fish will roll on the surface of the cove, probably eating the water insects. But there are always many insects on the water in this protected spot. The water soon calms and the insects write on it until dark when you can't see what is on the black, still surface, and the fish roll after them.

A few evenings ago while I stood several feet back from the shoreline, a bat whizzed past me and made a graceful series of banks and turns, gently dimpling the surface of the calm water while eating the bugs on it. The display of flying was amazing and wonderful. Swallows are like that too. And the larger, more graceful night hawks. The bat put on a fine aerobatic display, then was gone. Across the river against the darkening sky, other bats turned and dived, pursuing relentlessly and beneficially unseen flying insects. The bats flicked against the remaining light, and I watched until I could only see an occasional flash of bat against the dark sky.

In the cove a beaver swam quietly, almost gliding along the water, only his upper head and part of his back visible. He slid into the bulrushes and disappeared. Soon he returned, nibbling a twig or plant of some sort, and when he saw me, slipped noiselessly under water in a complex-looking swirl, the only visible thing by now.

There is an order here. Not unfathomable, but sometimes hidden. Hidden by too much of a culture's superficiality, and hidden by a fear of looking deeply at why we are, and where we are from.

The question, for instance, of creation must arise. And from that, the study of it for thousands of years and the logical thrust and drive, comes really only one answer. And what an answer. This order in which and of which we live comes from the ultimate of Order. The order includes us, we also are a part of nature, and we do use nature. Certainly nature can destroy us, but it wouldn't know it. We call the ultimate Order that knows, God. And it is more, too, more than Order. But what a place to begin.

Sometimes the order of the cove is frightening. The shriek of a rabbit caught by an owl, frogs trapped by raccoons standing in the water. Even the insect battles. Yet there is an order and a purpose. We do learn from nature because we, our bodies and souls, are part of created being. They tell us part of what we are, they are not simply our "possession," but part of creation. That order. From higher Order. From God.

The cove elicits metaphysics from many people because it's there. Like we are. The beauty of the cove is sometimes ignored, or passed over casually, or hidden, or forgotten. But it is surely there. Some people might say it is not beautiful. I have not heard that. Of course, no one can say it is totally inconsequential. If the cove were to disappear, it would not perhaps have a lasting effect as if a human disappeared. But an effect would have been lost or changed.

The trees across the river from the cove reflect the mystery and present a mysterious stage. They reflect in the river, especially on very calm mornings and evenings when the current is invisible. They tease the imagination to portray what lies only a few feet within them. Perhaps they offer what explorers have always reacted to-a sense of seeing what is ahead, or beyond-a curiosity perhaps of what has been and is not now seen. A desire for awareness. Mankind has that desire to know. And it's not just a biological reaction or instinct. Rather, it appears to be a matter of choice based on a series of alternatives. It is an essential and intellectual thing, rather than strictly a bio-pathological one.

Those trees across the river are especially lovely in the fall in the way the river reflects their colors. The colors appear to constantly change almost imperceptibly, but really with the actuality of the clock, until the winter peels the last leaves from the baring branches. They look thin and ghostly in the night, particularly the white birches, yet they still look lovely. Still majestic, like all the things of nature are majestic, although the prey and preyed upon, still not quite understood, can baffle, unless one finds the key in fallenness, in incompleteness. But that always reminds one that man's things are majestic too, even in their fallenness and incompleteness, if they move toward the fullness of truth.

Colonnades in buildings and the variety of architecture are amazing. They reflect nature like the river in another way. They reflect the ambience of order, not the individual tree, or area, or relationships. They reflect a balance and harmony which does exist in the seemingly haphazard. The order is so massive we sometimes miss it. We see one pine needle and miss its significance in the order of countless pine needles. We see no order in a dozen pine needles, but they fit into an ordered pattern when complemented by the pine trees and by other types of leaves.

The art which has survived, which passed the test of time, reflects order as well as manifesting a special perception. The artist, whether poet, musician, painter, or sculptor, perceives in a special way, and places his perception into the vehicle of his art, the technical expertise, the concrete element. The development of that art depends on apperception, the amalgamation of countless experiences relevant to that moment's conception, and then the artist works in the concrete, technical expertise of the particular art form. The act, the art of creation of all things, the First Cause, does it another way-with total love.