I love summer, and especially summer in my home state of Colorado. I spend as much time as possible outdoors hiking, camping… and just being. There’s nothing that makes me feel more alive and more at peace than gazing across a mountain ridge laced with sun-bright snow. The summer’s first wildflowers — yellow glacier lilies, purple iris, and deep blue penstemon — make the slopes sparkle with color.
When I was growing up, I would go looking for high places in the wilderness. A mountain ridge was best, but any hilltop would do. Gazing at the vista from such places, a feeling of wonder would come over me: why was the sky such an endless dome of stars? How far did the forest go beyond the horizon? What species lived there?
I suppose, even in those days, I was already showing signs of becoming a storyteller. Such places would stir my heart as well as my imagination. And something more. Those places have always stirred the feeling that anything is possible, that my soul is as wide and unlimited as the sky. All of us are part of something much larger and wilder when we are in nature – planted like a tree on a windswept slope.
The wilderness can make us feel as big as the grandest vista. On a clear Rocky Mountain night, so many stars blaze overhead that their light almost fills up the dark and fathomless voids in between. The Milky Way becomes a glittering river of light—to my mind, jewels much more beautiful than any display of diamonds in a store window!
But this same huge expanse also reminds us that we are as tiny as the smallest pinpoint of starlight in the dark sky, or a lone wildflower in a mountain meadow.
That’s something I love about being in the wilderness: It makes me feel both large and small at once. In nature, we are dwarfed by the great expanse of creation – and also enlarged by it, because we ourselves are part of that vast creation.
Contemplating the stars at night, or examining each perfectly-formed petal of an alpine blossom during the day, are both good ways to cultivate humility, a quality that we don’t find often enough in human beings and the “civilized” institutions that we’ve created.
I am certainly not suggesting that individuals don’t matter — readers of my novels know how highly I value each individual human being. In fact, I think every individual has magic down inside, and has the capacity to change the world. That magic takes the form of courage, creativity, generosity, loyalty, and love.
We need both feelings in order to be fully human — being one with something big and wonderful and awesome… and also being mindful that we’re only one small part of the whole.
I hope you’ll take the time this summer to seek out the wild parts of our Earth — whether you find it in a quiet corner of a city park or in an expansive wilderness meadow. May you feel the magic of nature… as well as the magic of your own life!