MUSINGS FROM THE BACKWOODS
by Andy Buchleitner, OFS (received 7/22/2018)
I’m writing this message to you as I sit overlooking an absolutely pristine lake in upper Michigan. I’ve lived with the animals (and a few people) in the Upper Peninsula backwoods, kayaking, fishing and trail bike riding, for the last three weeks. I went on this back-to-nature retreat/adventure to experience God in His beautiful creation and, without a doubt, I found what I sought. Perhaps what most impressed me in this experience was that there is constant conversation going on all around us that we, many times, do not notice or may just take for granted. As I sat silently in the forest, I became more and more aware of my surroundings and found myself especially enjoying my talks with the animals. Waking to an alarm clock of a gathering of Wood Storks got me started each morning. I never realized how loud these creatures were! And what were they saying? Perhaps, “Good Morning - it’s time for your morning prayers!” And then there was the large duck that noisily chased me on my way to the outhouse, telling me I was getting too close to her brood. Looking to the treetops, my heart was warmed by the eaglet happily (and hungrily) chirping as his mother returned with breakfast. My favorite was the chipmunk that rattled on about something to do with sharing my lunch. And I certainly won’t forget that beautiful beaver that constantly snuck up on me and slapped his tail on the water right next to my kayak every time I forgot where his house was. I came close to turning the kayak over a couple times.
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live in the Garden of Paradise. Maybe God gave me a glimpse of how He intended us to live - at one with nature in a responsibly managed world. As I come back to the “real world” however, I unfortunately see, once again, the hand of fallen man in his “management” of our natural resources.
To St. Francis, nature was something to be respected. God tells us that we have command over His creation but only as stewards. We are called to give God glory in our use of His great blessings. Let us, especially as followers of Francis, spread this awareness before the animals stop talking.
As a postscript, I would also like to relate an interesting event I experienced on my travels. While up in the “woods” I found a Catholic mission church that provided a Sunday mass. When I finally found it, it seemed like an oasis. In the middle of the wilderness there stood a small, but exceptionally well maintained church. What especially struck me were the numerous beautiful flowers that surrounded it. Arriving early for mass, I noticed a person collecting some of these flowers for the altar. Upon approaching her, I found out that she was, in fact, a Franciscan nun. In talking with her I found that she alone took care of this little church and ministered to the parishioners as well as the needy in a forty mile radius surrounding her home. It turned out that the St. Vincent de Paul center she worked through was actually the main source of support for the whole area, an area that had lost nearly all of its previous industry as the local resources depleted. She spoke of the great needs in her area but said that she also knew of two fellow secular Franciscans that were actively doing their part to help. There is something special about Franciscans. We are called to not only show that we are Christians by our love but that we are Franciscans who joyfully spread the Good news wherever we are.