Picking up trash and nature’s religion

I’ve been attempting to take my 3-year-old son on little adventures form time to time for some father-son bonding.

Back in the spring, I took him fishing. But, we caught no fish. I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes.

On Sunday, I took Aidan hiking in Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area, one of Pennsylvania’s newest state parks. It’s a nice area with some beautifully tall trees, easy trails that wind around the north side of Blue Mountain in Dauphin County and periodic bird calls dancing over your head.

Aidan also liked the fact that we were snacking in the woods. I had to remind him not to pick up sticks — you never know where a snake might lurk — but he did well most of the day, even with hiking up the hills. We never made it to the top of the mountain. That might have been too much for a 3-year-old on his first hike.

In these moments I have with my son, I’m trying to pass on my religion to him. It’s a reverence that I learned long ago in quite walks in the woods with my father.

When people speak about religion, they talk about synagogues, mosques and churches — buildings. They talk about statues, complex spiteful deities and books written thousands of years ago by people who understood very little about the world around them, much less about how to treat each other.

I’m not teaching my son these things. I find them to be misguiding cults that separate man from the world by elevating him above all else. Such a ridiculous principal! Man as master! Ha! Laughable!

You need to see a polar bear or a tiger or a cougar only once to realize man is no master over nature. The illusions he creates by dominating nature are fleeting and ultimately will lead to his own misery and destruction.

No, nature is the true temple. God is present everywhere there. In the birds, the trees, the mountain, the rocks, the streams…yes, even in the poison ivy. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor, right?

That’s my belief. That’s what I know. It’s what fills my soul again when I drink of the intoxicating scents of earth and wood carried on the wind. It’s real. No one had to demand that I feel this, demand that I worship this. No one threatened me with hell or damnation if I didn’t walk in the forest. They only had to show me the wild for me to embrace the wild within me.

So, I’m trying to give my son that same experience. He was pretty amazed when I pointed out a big bullfrog hopping across some mud on the edge of a pond. He was happy sitting on a hill, eating a Charleston Chew with dad. That’s a good start for a 3 year old.

And he was curious when I started picking up trash. A beer bottle, plastic bags, candy wrappers, broken glass, a whistle, a bullet, a plastic box for baby wipes, all polluting my temple because someone was too lazy to put their trash in their pocket and take it with them.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” I’m picking up trash. “Why?” Because we always pick up trash when we go hiking. “Because it’s good for the environment?” Yes, but also so that the next person will have a better experience. “Oh. Why do people throw trash in the woods?”

I didn’t know how to answer him. Sure, it’s laziness, but would he understand that? It still makes no sense to me today why it’s too much work for someone to put trash in a trash can. How can I explain that to my son? I guess that will take more thought than I have in me now.

But that trip reminded me of when I was a boy, hiking on the Appalachian Trail in lower New York State to a set of waterfalls where you could lay on your back in the moss and let God trickle over your head and chest and toes.

Fall days, I would follow close behind my father on his uncle’s farm, past gnarled oaks and maples through the woods, just to have lunch and listen to birds. And then I’d bump into him as he stopped on the walk. There before him was a wrapper, or a foam cup. He’d pick it up quietly.

Then he’d turn to me. He was serious, but instructive and warm. “We always pick up trash when we find it in the woods.”

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