Use & Abuse

Use & Abuse
Two hikers make their way along the Eagle Creek trail near Tunnel Falls. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Two hikers make their way along the Eagle Creek trail near Tunnel Falls. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

My perfect hiking trail is isolated and untouched. It is well-maintained yet offers rugged challenge to my body and my wits. The consummate trail is a secret which few journey. My favorite trail offers unique natural geology, wildlife, and vegetation. It offers enough danger to periodically elevate my adrenaline levels but is safe enough to keep my wife from worrying about me.

The Pacific Northwest is brimming with all of the requirements for my too-good-to-be-true trail. Though they don’t come together on one trail, the cumulative effect of hiking the coastal, mountain, desert, and, of course, the Columbia River Gorge provides me with Utopia.

I guess this is why I was so surprised by the condition of the Eagle Creek trail west of Cascade Locks. The trail is known for remarkable natural and human created beauty but it also shows signs of use and abuse.

Some of the conditions along the trail relate to its popularity and proximity to a large metropolitan area. (I recently hiked it on a Wednesday morning and encountered over one-hundred others in my 5-1/2 hour journey.) The substantial traffic on the trail, particularly on weekends, shows in its widening footprint and  the densely packed surface.

These small ways in which use shows cannot be avoided but the trail also shows signs

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
One-Two Punch. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

of abuse. Two side by side trees have lost bark and been subjected to graffiti reminiscent of an urban underpass or the freight cars that travel the rails along the Columbia River. A fallen tree in the basin near Punchbowl Falls, likewise, has been abused. The unsanctioned shortcuts and side trails also reflect this misuse.

Despite the magnificence of the multiple waterfalls, the high trail through the the Eagle Creek canyon suffers from unnecessary damage. I don’t know why; I rarely see abuse on the other less-used trails I hike. Most hikers I encounter are diligent in their stewardship of the gift with which those of us in the Pacific Northwest have been blessed.

Maybe my ninth grade Citizenship teacher was right. Increasing world population is unsustainable. Maybe the abusive relationship hikers have with the Eagle Creek trail hints at the sociology of population growth.

Abuse. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Abuse. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

Consider that the human population that journeys and harms this trail is but a microcosm of our relationship with the planet. As our numbers increase we feel bigger and more important than the vast ecosystem that encompasses us. Our attitude becomes more arrogant and human-focused. Nature becomes our playground rather than sacred ground.

Is not this the flaw in our thinking that has led us to detrimental climate change? As Earth’s population climbs, we no longer see ourselves as part of nature. Collectively, we cease to perceive our vulnerability.

Forgetting our smallness and membership within creation, our self image (self importance?) grows bigger and our humble vulnerability diminishes. We ignore our connectedness to nature and forget the divine command to be good stewards (Genesis 1:26).

Once we are psychologically disconnected from Mother Earth, it becomes easy to carve our names in a tree or destroy ground vegetation beside the creek, rarely thinking about the impact of erosion when we go off trail. We’re just one person we tell ourselves. No harm from me. Except, of course, we are not one but one-hundred on a weekday and three times that on a sunny Saturday.

Likewise we burn fossil fuels because we’re just one person. No harm from me. I am

Unsanctioned Erosion. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Unsanctioned Erosion. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

just one except, of course, we are more than seven billion.

It has become easy because we’ve forgotten that we are kindred to the tree, the grasses, insects, and animals. We’ve forgotten that nature is our sister, brother, father, and mother.

Of course, neither forgetfulness or denial of our place within the earth is an excuse. Every hiker along the trail and each human on the planet is called by the divine interconnectedness to break with the hive mind of overpopulation. We can and must take personal and collective responsibility for the abuse we’ve inflicted.

Eagle Creek Canyon and Mother Gaia cry out in pain from our use and abuse. Will we provide the balm they need?


View additional photos and see a video of the human-created tunnel behind Tunnel Falls on Flickr.

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The Contentment of an Urban Squirrel

The Contentment of an Urban Squirrel
Photo by Tim Graves
Urban Squirrel. Photo taken by Tim Graves in Portland, Oregon. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Gathering with family in Portland last week, I spotted this well-endowed squirrel. “Oh yeah, that’s the big one,” said my daughter. She and her partner have an ongoing conflict with the many squirrels who inhabit their urban yard.

“We got five whole cherries off our tree this year,” sighs my daughter’s beloved.

Most squirrels I encounter do not have a personal cherry tree, a spare cherry tree, and an apple tree to call their own. Most squirrels I encounter are deep in the woods. Most squirrels I encounter move quickly away chattering at me, scolding me for my presence when I hike through their domain.

This squirrel, however, sat contentedly munching with a hefty belly even in January. This squirrel was unbothered by my presence as I walked across the yard to my car.

Today, I pray for the contentment of this hefty squirrel. I pray that I quit worrying about what I don’t have, what I wish I had, and what I don’t need. I pray I learn to recognize my full belly and stop worrying about the future. Amen.

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Mobility, Simplicity, & Divine Memory

When we sold our house last year we were doing more than preparing for our move west. We were also committing to a simpler lifestyle by choosing to become renters and giving up most of our possessions.  I recall saying, “By renting our ministry can be more responsive to the Spirit’s call on our life.” Little did I know that God was listening and would hold me to my words.

Portland passion. Photo by Tim Graves

Settling into our efficiency in Portland, we were finding joy in our quirky, big city life. I was delighting in the city that I fell in love with as an adult and recalled fondly from my childhood. My wife was doing important ministry with veterans and I was working on “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19).

But after five months, God lured us out of the city and into the Hood River area, a place famous for its windsurfing, breathtaking scenery, and outdoor recreation. I was, ahem, a tad stubborn. I didn’t want to leave “my city” but the Spirit reminded me of my commitment to faithful mobility.

The palpable presence of the Spirit in Maggie’s ministry as a clinical chaplain at Providence Hospital in the Gorge daily reassures me that this is our path. Opening myself to the pleasures of the Gorge I began hiking. On the trails of the Gorge and adjacent Mt. Hood National Forest I find God. I write about and photograph my spiritual adventures with gusto. (See some of my posts about Hiking with God here.)

It could not have happened without my brief stint in Portland nor without the sparkling allure of the Holy Spirit that enthralls my attention. I am now working on a project tentatively titled “Hiking with God.” I perceive the Spirit’s presence as I begin to outline and write a spiritual hiking guide to specific trails in the magical land called the Columbia River Gorge.

The “new thing,” the path upon which God lured me during a Holy Spirit moment in San Diego three years ago, has evolved.  God has me on a need-to-know basis. The single word “Portland” that I perceived during communion in San Diego was not a destination but a direction. I’ve learned that the divine deal works like this: I choose to be open to the Spirit and to continue removing clutter from my life. I also strive to respond to God not with “that can’t work” but with “how can we make this work?” and God nudges me toward responses that are loving to others and to myself.

Our God is a remembering God. God noticed that I committed to flexibility and mobility as part of following the Divine claim on my life. After a joyous summer of hiking, junior camp with the Oregon Region of my denomination, not to mention my near gluttony on the Gorge’s fruit and vegetable harvest, the Spirit called again.

And, so, I find myself in the remarkable town of Ione, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, so, I find myself in the remarkable small town of Ione, Oregon as an Interim Pastor while the settled pastor is on sabbatical. I spend four days a week in a town of three-hundred fifty. I cheer at local sports, I leave my doors unlocked, and I smile with abandon. I am privileged to have this opportunity to fall in love with the people of Ione Community Church and the town. In the vernacular, “who’d’ve thunk?”

Though my time will end in January, my time in Ione has already opened me to other movements of the Spirit that — if they come to pass — will allow me to serve God inside the traditional church and among those who do not find God within an institution.

Remembering God,

Help me to trust you. Help me to perceive your loving presence and signposts. Help me to keep the clutter that obscures you out of my life that I may always throw off my cloak to follow love, to follow you.