May 1, 2020 by Matt Wooden
Stories of silver linings emerging from the quarantine have sprung up from so many sources. Among the “silverest” for our family has been the increased time out-of-doors. We have been especially thankful that the state parks have remained open and that we have had opportunities to visit our closest park, McCormick’s Creek, with much greater frequency than usual.
Early in Indiana’s state park years, Richard Lieber and his Conservation Department worked tirelessly to draw people to the newly formed state parks, of which McCormick’s Creek was the first in 1916. The earliest trail maps bear a statement from the Division of Lands and Waters called “The Intelligent Use of Leisure.” It reads:
“This trail map is given to you with the compliments of the state of Indiana through its Department of Conservation in the hope that it will direct your attention to the primary purpose for which the state park system has been established.
These recreational areas are parts of ‘original America,’ preserving for posterity typical primitive landscapes of scenic grandeur and rugged beauty.
Along the quiet trails through these reservations it is to be expected that the average citizen will find release from the tension of his over-crowded daily existence; that the contact with nature will re-focus with a clearer lens his perspective on life values and that he may here take counsel with himself to the end that his strength and confidence is renewed.”
I can’t read those initial words of hope for the state park system without thinking of the initial chorus of the book of Psalms. We hear for the first time what will be a consistent refrain of the psalmists: a charge to consider the activity of the natural world, created by the language and still persistently pouring forth the language of our God. Psalm 1 puts two natural images in front of us: a fruit-bearing tree planted by a flowing stream and the empty chaff of wheat blown by the wind. We are asked to consider which we most resemble: elements of God’s creation that are simultaneously being nourished and nourishing others or dead, spent shells of what was designed to be fruitful.
Interestingly, the second-growth woodlands that cover McCormick’s Creek State Park have sprouted over the past century from the chaff of the fields of the settlers’ farms. Just yesterday, my family walked alone through those woods, finding by the flowing creek a newly-born tulip poplar tree bearing just two small leaves. As Richard Lieber would have hoped, it made me consider my perspective and as the psalmist commands, it reminded me of the blessing of those whose delight is in the language of the Lord: the blessing of ever new life rising from the dead.
In this season, I hope that you too might be drawn to “scenic grandeur and rugged beauty” not only for their own sake, but primarily to be drawn into the images that spoke to the psalmists and draw our hearts to their maker and ours.