Nature gives and gives to us: food, shelter, the building blocks of life. Pretty much everything we need, physically, the Earth provides. It also provides spiritually, too, with a solitude and beauty that feeds our restless souls. Getting away for a few hours to hike, take in the beauty first-hand, is a way to reconnect with nature, ourselves, and even God. Hiking can make you a better person, and here’s how:
There’s nothing more humbling than stumbling up a steep slope and thinking, “Wow, I run every day, and I’m winded. Maybe I’m not so fantastically in shape as I thought I was.”
Then there’s being lost in the majesty of nature, and that’s humbling on a different level. As you look out on tree-shrouded mountains dotted with glimmering lakes, you see the world as God probably sees it: a grand jewel, a thing of beauty and wonder with so many moving parts that mesh perfectly together. Something that’s bigger than us. Senator Jake Garn said:
“The universe is so vast as to be impossible to comprehend. But I did comprehend the hand of God in all things. I felt his presence throughout my seven days in space. I know that God created this earth and the universe.”
Just like Jake Garn saw God in his time in space, so can we. Nature is a testimony of God, a testimony to us of the Creator of the heavens and the Earth. Like David says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1) or Alma proclaims:
“all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).
While you’re there taking in the breadth and glory of nature, listen to the whispers of the wind bearing witness to the God of all.
Hiking can help us feel gratitude and appreciation for all that God has given us. In fact, hiking can remind us of what we have instead of what we have not. Elder M. Russell Ballard, in his General Conference address of April 1988, advises us to enjoy nature:
“To truly reverence the Creator, we must appreciate his creations. We need to plan to take time to observe the marvels of nature. Today, we can easily become surrounded by brick buildings and asphalt surfaces that shelter us from real life around us. Plan to share with your family the miracle of buds changing to fragrant blossoms. Take time to sit on a hillside and feel the tranquillity of the evening when the sun casts its last golden glow over the horizon. Take time to smell the roses.”
Perhaps hiking and nature can teach us a little about obedience, something that’s difficult for the wild, impetuous nature of man to grasp. Luke 8:25, in reference to the Savior, says, “even the winds and water, and they obey him.” Then Moses parted the Red Sea through the power of God “and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). We know that upon the death of Jesus Christ, nature mourned (1 Nephi 19:12), followed by some of the greatest destruction the world has ever known.
In all these examples, nature is subservient and obedient to God. All nature, that is, other than man. So next time you go hiking and see the wind blow and a wildflower bloom and nature function in obedience to its God, take a lesson from it, and bow to His greater wisdom as well.
We can glimpse through hiking the love God has for his children. He created this world for us with everything that we could possibly need to sustain life: “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17). Everything you can see on that mountain or that bluff or down in the valley is for us.
Mark J. Nielsen states evidence of God’s love for us in the March 2004 Ensign:
“We can draw three lessons from nature’s grandeur: first, God exists; second, God is powerful; and third, God loves us[…]We are surrounded by signs of God’s love for us. The beauty of Creation itself is ‘love which from our birth over and around us lies.'”
We can show our love, in turn, by appreciating nature, showing gratitude for it by experiencing it as much as possible. We can show love for God by teaching our children to love nature, by being responsible for our stewardship of the Earth.
To show gratitude, appreciation, and love for the gift of this Earth, we need to take care of it. Hiking can help us not only feel a responsibility toward taking care of the Earth, but a desire to do it as well. Nothing’s as inspiring as climbing through trees to a vertigo-inducing view. And nothing would be as disappointing than seeing those hikes disappear or those views become blocked or the ground littered with trash.
Mark J. Nielsen explains, “Proper dominion over nature requires us to use the earth’s resources wisely. They are here for our benefit, and it is pleasing to God when they are used well.” President Ezra Taft Benson seconds this: “In fact, we are morally obligated to turn this land over to those who succeed us — not drained of its fertility but improved in quality, in productivity, and in usefulness for future generations.” Elder L. Tom Perry cautions us to “Teach [children] the basic knowledge that the earth is the Lord’s. He has a marvelous system of replenishment and renewal so long as we care for, conserve, and waste not.”
However, sometimes we hike to reach an inner silence within. Sometimes we just need to luxuriate in the beauty of nature, to replenish out reserves. Let’s let that pure beauty become a part of us in all ways. As President Gordon B. Hinckley declared,
“I believe in beauty. The earth in its pristine beauty is an expression of the nature of its Creator….I believe in beauty—the beauty of God’s unspoiled creations, the beauty of his sons and daughters who walk without whimpering, meeting the challenges of each new day.”