I was raised in a small, flat, Florida town that held quiet streets and familiar faces. Evenings were so often spent watching the sun settle in for the night over the water, reflecting so boldly on the waves that there seemed to be two great spheres of fire, not just one. The sun never seems brighter than it does in those last few moments, as it stares you in the eye as it leaves, covering your face with an orange glow. Then suddenly, gone. It’s like love that doesn’t last – it’s big and passionate and bright and the only thing that is lovely enough to hold your gaze, and then it just.. disappears. Once the sun finally dipped himself beyond the horizon line, the skies would dance like children sneaking out of bed to play once their parents were asleep. Cotton candy colors all across the sky that became more and more lovely as it became darker and darker, till finally the clouds fell asleep. It’s true what you’ve heard – those Florida sunsets are tops.
I was raised in a small, flat, Florida town with sunsets and sand… but my heart yearns for the mountains. For forests and trees and greens and browns. For scrapes on my arms from branches, for collected leaves and full lungs. My heart yearns for the mountains because my heart yearns for God, and my spirit never feels Him more than when the only thing above my head is a canopy of trees. When I look out beyond where I am standing and see woods, not buildings. We all feel God, see God, experience God so incredibly differently. For me, I feel a little bit closer when I am standing amongst trees who are reaching their branches up to Him.
This Thanksgiving I had the inconceivable joy of going to Natural Tunnel State park in Duffield, Virginia with my beautiful family. At 4am, Thanksgiving morning, I found myself awake. I peeked through the blinds to take in the Virginia mountains, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, it was snowing. I jumped out of bed, put on a coat, and ran to the door.
Standing outside, in my purple slippers and polar bear pajama pants, I felt taller – a fullness of my spirit. The air was cold and it chilled my lungs as I breathed it in. The sound of the snow as I walked was thick and crunchy. The smile on my face was from ear to ear. I have always loved the sound of rain, but the sound of snow settling on the ground and trees and cars was the most delicate and magical sound I had ever heard. After having watched flurries dance past street lights, I understand why Loreali Gilmore had such an affinity for snow.
As my little cousins and beautiful family awoke, the mountains were filled with laughter. We got trays and plastic bags and slid down hills, shrieking till we hit a flat plane. We built snowmen and drank hot chocolate and laughed as our fingers froze. It was the most magical break from jobs and worries and troubles. Just us all together, nestled in a cabin while outside God created a winter wonderland.
My love and I took walks together through the trails that traced the mountain. We held hands and searched the ground for pristine tulip tree leaves. Tulip tree leaves remind me of dainty little fox faces, poised and fierce. I had never seen them until autumn in Memphis and now my heart jumps when I see their faces because I’m reminded of the simple happiness finding them gave me when I was so lonely in a lovely city.
“You know what I love about winter trees?” I said to him as we walked along the trail of leaves.
“What’s that?” he replied.
“They stand so unapologetically. All their leaves are gone and now they’re just sticks but they still stand so confidently. They aren’t sorry the lovely bits of them are gone.”
“I think it’s because they belong to God. I mean, everything does and we do too – but trees are one of those things that man can’t claim. They were made before we were. They respond to the seasons that God creates. They don’t owe us anything because they aren’t ours.”
And that’s why I love him. And that’s why I love the forest. All of creation belongs to God – but my goodness, it’s so obvious that the mountains do. Undefiled land, just dirt and spirit. It’s as if the ground wanted to get as close to its creator as possible so it pulled itself up: creating slopes and peaks and walls of rock, trying to be as close to the Father as possible. And trees, too, pointing their branches up to the heavens. Nature knows who God is.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
God doesn’t always feel big to me when I am bustling around the city. When I am not focusing on Him as I should, He just fits amongst the buildings and cars – wedged like a tetris piece into the city design. But when I am in the mountains, when I am shorter than every tree around me, I couldn’t ignore God if I wanted to.