Updated: Feb 14, 2020
In early February, the light begins to change. Without much warning, the steel gray of deep winter gives way to intimations of a softer season ahead. Daylight lingers longer into the afternoon, and the appearance of light reflecting off distant skyscrapers seems to battle the forbidding coldness of the moment. And in the late afternoon, when the sky is clear, the setting sun paints the western horizon in orange and reds, intimating that the cloistered winter months will soon be past.
This is the time when I begin to feel the draw of the hills, meadows, and mountain of the countryside beyond, the shores of this water-bound city. Though snow and ice still cover much of the surrounding land, I instinctively begin to plan to head out to the territory of the Appalachian Mountains and the trail that connects the twelve states between Georgia and Maine.
I am often asked why I leave the comforts of home to walk the many miles of the Appalachian and other trails, and I suppose I have many reasons, but what I always come back to is the way the trail connects me to the mysteries of this life we have been born into. I may inhabit a world constructed by the hands of man, and I may marvel at all its complexity and brilliance, but the city of man, with its activities and diversions, is never enough.
Solomon attributes this longing to the way God made men and women, for while we live in the temporal, we yearn for things eternal (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This longing to embrace the beauty, majesty, and mystery of all creation is captured by David in one of his psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
So, even though my feet are planted on the hard ground of this sea-bound city with all its marvels and diversions, my heart is somehow tuned to those eternal inclinations that are buried deep within, urging me to return to places where “the hills are clothed with gladness” (Psalm 65:12).