There was a book I read in high school. I remember neither the title nor the author, but there is one line in it that I always remembered. The author shared his response to the question often put to him about why he walked. His response was: I walk to feel the earth beneath my feet.
I thought of that line this afternoon. One of the first things we did after settling into our room in a bed and breakfast in Ely, Minnesota was to tak a short hike on one of the trails on the B&B’s property. As we began the hike, we walked through an area of white pines. Then the trees changed. Before my eyes even registered the change or my nose picked up the new scent, my feet knew we had passed into an area of pine trees.
Like the author of the book whose name I can’t remember, I love walking. And his explanation is as good as any others I’ve been able to come up with. I love to feel the earth beneath my feet.
There are few things I love more than walking in a pine forest and what I love most about walking in pine forests is the feel of the bed of pine needles under my feet. It is hard to put into words the quiet softness of the feeling. It comforts me and it slows me down. My foot – even shod – makes contact with the needles and I instinctively stop, close my eyes and breathe deeply, savoring the moment.
And I smile, and say: Thank you God, for letting me feel the earth under my feet. And thank you especially for pine forests and the bed they make for my feet to walk on.
I’ve been enjoying sitting on the back deck in the evenings after dinner. As I sit with the sun to my back, my view is dominated by a number of large beautiful trees. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. They are so alive with God. I look at them and feel surrounded by God’s love and peace.
I glanced down at the base of the trees the other night and the thought started to form in my mind, “These trees are mine.” Before the thought was even completed I was bowled over by the absurdity of the such a notion. The trees are no more “mine” than the sun or the sky. They are not my possession.
It is true that in a legal sense I “own” the land on which the trees are growing and so I suppose I legally “own” the trees. But as I sat and thought about even that statement, I appreciated why the American Indians found the idea of ownership of land so incomprehensible. The land, the earth are God’s gift to all of us. None of it is mine to possess for myself.
In the words of Gaudium et Spes, “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all.” The same document tells us that we “should regard the external things that [we] legitimately possess not only as [our] own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only [ourselves] but also others.”
The trees are not mine, no matter what we do legally to carve up God’s land among ourselves. But I do like looking at them. And I am deeply grateful they are there.