Sensory and informational overload, God and a fern…

I know, another photo of the beauty up here. But I can’t help it! This weekend we were privileged to tour a national park and it was so amazing. The couple we shared it with made the weekend even better. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed with input. You know how sometimes you can just get sensory and mental overload? I got that. My brain was blurring what I was seeing. Too much nature over too long of a time. LOL. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? That I saw too much beauty and my brain shut down? Sadly enough, it did. Perhaps if I lived in a completely different area, it would seem different or fresh. But it quickly became “more of the same.” Yes, it is stunning and amazing and beautiful. But when you drive in a bus for 8 hours in a national park, your brain starts to rebel a little bit. I had to fight to not take a nap!

Have you ever felt overloaded with information? I know that my kids have complained about it while studying for exams, and I recall the feeling in college, too. You actually look forward to the test, in some perverse way, to spout all that information you have been cramming inside your head, just to get some relief. When you study for the test, cramming just gives that information temporary residence. Once you take the test and spew it all out, most of us retain very little of it. And I was worried about that this weekend. I was seeing so much beauty and nature, I was concerned I would not (a) appreciate it to its fullest, or (b) retain my memories.

Sometimes when we are around something too much, we forget the beauty and the incredible part it plays in our lives. Sometimes we even forget we live among beautiful things, because we have had it all our lives. I’m going out on a limb here, but sometimes it reminds me of former smokers or drinkers, who love to talk about how life is better now, while you sip that glass of wine. Or, worse yet, converts. To whatever it is you already belong to, a convert’s joy and fervor almost drives you away. Ha-Ha. Unfortunately, I am a former smoker and a convert. So I have been teased and teased again for my excitement and fervor.

This weekend, I met some people traveling by cruise ship, who were bussed and took the train to where we were visiting. We had a nice chat. One lady was from Los Angeles and the other had retired to Tennessee. They meet at this hotel each year and go on cruises together, with this national park as their starting point. Their perspective on the state I live in was interesting. They love looking at it, but “could never live here.” Too much sun in summer, and not enough in winter. Although they did say they loved the long, summer days and mild temperatures, the winters scared them.

And I found myself listening in my head to all the things I had heard and seen this weekend, and some thoughts came to me. It made me sad that others loved where I lived, but “could never live here.” How often do we become lax and cynical about our faith, because it has always been there? For those of us who are new and discovering our faith (I’ve been learning and discovering for over 30 years now) we seem to notice all the little details and nuances, because we are learning. When it becomes old hat or repetitive, we need to take a look inside. Just like I was dismissing all the grandeur around me this weekend. I had to mentally slap myself in order to amp up my excitement and joy over what I was experiencing. I also knew I was cramming a lot of information into my little brain, and I desperately did not want to lose any of it. I quickly did a photo album on my FB page, to share with others, and I am posting photos here, as well as thinking about all of it. I am hoping it will stick!!

Some of us are suited to small, intimate gatherings and crowds just don’t cut it for us. We can relate one-on-one, but could never speak in front of a crowd. Sometimes we get what is called “over stimulated” and cannot wait for quieter, simpler interactions. I spent 8 hours on a tour bus peopled with complete strangers, with a wide range of personalities and excitement levels, not to mention traditions, cultures, and even languages. It was a good experience for me, but I could not wait to get back to the quiet of our little car and just the 4 of us in our party. I felt so full of voices and sounds and sights…I needed quiet. So off to our hotel rooms we went, to rest up before dinner. We had some down time and then enjoyed a patio dinner before rushing inside to avoid the rainstorm! What a memorable trip with some really fun traveling companions!

Do you ever attend Church at a new place? Like when you are on vacation? And you don’t fit in, or you stand out, because you are different? We stopped at this little town on our way home and went to the most amazing little place, the “Roadhouse.” What a great experience we had. It is a family-style restaurant and hostel for people who are going to scale the large mountain we had just visited. The place is not fancy in any way. And I loved it. They had chairs and benches, lots of old photos and flags, telling the stories of people who had scaled the mountain, and those who had lost their lives attempting their climb. I enjoyed the best Mushroom/Swiss Quiche I have ever tasted. They are not afraid of mushrooms! And we all tasted some raspberry/rhubarb wine that was divine. I even brought home some hand-made cinnamon rolls we had for breakfast this morning. It is a place I will gladly return to again. But did I fit in? Not really. In some ways, yes I did. But one of the funny things is that I truly didn’t care. I just took it all in and found enjoyment where I was. We ran into people we know, whose daughter lives in a small town in Northern California, where dairies are around every turn in the road, and we know people in common. How random and how perfect for our weekend!

How often do we become “sensory blind” and not notice what is around us? How often do we miss little joys like a fantastic mushroom quiche served in a building that has been there since the 1800s? How often do we miss the nuances of life because we have become inured to them and don’t notice?

This can happen in our faith life, too. Every once in awhile I have an amazing experience where God physically and emotionally touches me, and makes me know He is truly here with me, in person. But for the majority of time, I trust. I have faith that He is here. I don’t worry about finding Him at each liturgy I attend. Some people look and if they do not see Him or “feel” Him, they leave. They want an “authentic” experience each and every weekend. And sometimes looking so hard overloads their input….like I experienced this weekend at the national park. We have to be conscious of our surroundings at all times, looking for the gentle whisper of God everywhere. I experienced that this weekend, imbuing myself with nature and the grandeur in which I live, learning to appreciate this all over again. Each and every time we pray, we read Scripture, or we attend Liturgy, we need to renew ourselves and our faith. And quite often, we will find something unexpected, like a fern growing so far north…

“Be still…”

Mirror Lake

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

This quote, by John Lubbock, spoke to me. We have had friends visiting from the “lower 48” this week and I know experiencing some pristine nature is never a waste of time. I have watched them visibly relax. I have seen the wonder on their faces and their joy burst forth when coming face-to-face with bears at the Wildlife Preserve, with watching the salmon jump as they climb to their spawning grounds at our Hatchery. I love sharing the blessing of where we live with people who do not get to experience it as often as we do. This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, and I would not expect others to embrace where I live just because I do. I know it took me more than 40 years, once I first imagined this place, to actually live here. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). It is amazing to me how close to God you can feel, immersed in nature.

PalmerAK

I jokingly asked our visitors if they needed some time with asphalt and smog, with all this “nature overload.” And we chatted about how tired they are because of processing all that they are seeing, hearing, breathing, and tasting. It takes a lot out of you to travel to an environment that is so foreign to your daily routine. As we meandered along our coastline and mountains, we all remarked about how brave the early explorers were. We were imagining the native peoples making their home here, and the early explorers and then miners, making their way through these near-impenetrable mountains. There are places here that have never experienced the footfall of man. How remarkable that we live here, in among all the stupendous magnificence of a God who loves us.

Salmon ladder

Occasionally nature needs our help. In this state, we encourage natural activities and assist in raising the live birth numbers of many of our indigenous species. Most people who come here to sports fish would be sorely disappointed if nature was the only provider! Our Fish and Game Department is doing themselves proud with how they are helping our salmon spawn successfully.  There were approximately 6.5 million fish released into the waters of Alaska in 2016. Pretty impressive. We recently learned that an entire herd of Wood Bison, over 130 of them, were released successfully from our Wildlife Conservation Center. Wow! I love walking through our hatcheries, learning the stories of the many fish we have here in Alaska. At the Sealife Center in Seward, they work so hard to rehab the different animals back into the wild. In amongst all this nature, thriving here, you certainly feel humbled.

Aurora August 2016

One of the things that people always want to see is the Aurora Borealis, or the “Northern Lights” when they visit us. In the summertime, that is pretty hard because it doesn’t really get dark enough. Last night we got notices through our news and weather sites that the Aurora possibility was a +6, which is high. We stayed up until 1:30am, and even got up again at 3:30am, but it was either too light or too cloudy where we are. The photo above was taken north of us last night. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24). When you see the magnificence in the heavens, where the stars seem to dance, you certainly feel small, humbled, and in awe.

The experience of nature, up close and personal, away from the noise, smells, and interference of thousands of people, can ease your suffering and your pain. It makes your spiritual connection strengthen. I know for me, when I go to Church and can watch the snow dancing on the windows, and the candles are burning brightly, I can feel God. Learning to be still and seek His presence can be difficult in the midst of asphalt, smog, freeways, and social insanity, but it can be done. I found God in the middle of Southern California’s rush hour lifestyle. But I was constantly seeking my peace elsewhere. My prayer is that more and more can experience God in the stillness of His creation. It is truly magnificent, humbling, and breaks open those walls we place around ourselves when we live in a crazy, crowded world. Prayer seems to come naturally, in nature’s wonderland.

Be Still