Among the many heart-felt reasons people turn to the church, ones that resonate with me are to look for peace, to find a purpose, and to seek a connection to something that goes beyond our understanding and our lifetime. For me, the place I find these things is a mountain trout stream.
There is a feeling I get as I come into the forest and hear the river – a calmness from being where things are as they were meant to be. Seeing bright green moss on the rocks, hearing the laughing sounds of small waterfalls, sensing the strength of tall poplar trees watching over it all, and seeing the clean, clear water gathering and then flowing and then gathering again as it comes down from above and heads to where it can find its own level. If it is an old and natural place, you feel that it has always been that way with the rocks worn smooth over thousands of years and the soil rich and deep from generations of the forest falling there – and the river always alive and at the center of it.
This past weekend was no exception. Hiking along a beautiful, small stream in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the sounds and the coolness from the water made every step seem a little easier and the pack a little lighter. After several miles, we got to where it was time to pull out the wading shoes and the fly rod. This is where my church is. Looking upstream, the river comes down through the forest, bathed in filtered light from above. It is a cathedral in nature that happens in many places if you look for it. The alter is just a little farther ahead.
And the confirmation that this is someplace pure comes when a native Brook trout, whose ancestors have been here since the Ice Age, takes the fly. If the river was alive before, it’s even more so now as it cuts around rocks and through the pools. And then to hold this beautiful fish, with bright colors and sleek shape, before letting it go confirms that in this place, all is right with the world.
The good news is that this stream, its forests, and its trout are protected as part of the national park. Too often though, that is not the case. With less than one-half of one percent of our nation’s rivers protected by “Wild and Scenic River” designation, protecting more rivers is important work. It is the goal of our 5,000 Miles of Wild campaign, which you can read about here. What a wonderful calling to keep these natural cathedrals the way they were meant to be.