Revelation in the Woods

The Woods. A paper birch (Betula papyrifera) grows among a stand of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) near a large moss-covered granite boulder. Photos and captions by the author.

I experience God the Creator most directly when I am immersed in the natural world. Surrounded by the forests, mountains, and ponds of New Hampshire, I feel awe and joy. It’s hard work to climb the high peaks: work I’ve done gladly, hiking all 48 of the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains. So the mile-and-a-half hike from the trailhead to Cole Pond, a gorgeous remote glacial pond, is literally “a walk in the woods” that I’ve done 100 times in the last 25 years. Along the path, I have made friends with the many varieties of clubmoss, eastern teaberry, hobblebush, mosses, lichens, and trees, enjoying the freshness of spring through the subtle beauty of winter. Several years ago, the path was rerouted slightly; I’ve always wanted to find and hike the “old” path.

On a Thursday in late August, I needed the solitude of Cole Pond. I put my sunglasses and my thermos filled with ice water in my fanny pack and drove to the trailhead. At 2:30 p.m., I set off. Walking briskly, I inadvertently left the path. This wrong turn seemed so obvious, the path so clear, that I knew I was on the old path and decided to follow it. There were places that were overgrown, but then I would see a way forward.

A Creation Friend. Among the fallen oak, birch, and beech leaves, the interrupted clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum) will stay green all winter.

After about 20 minutes, I saw a downed dead tree that looked familiar, not from years ago, more likely ten minutes ago! A series of clear and surprising realizations came to me. I was not on a path. I had likely walked in some kind of circle from which I would not be able to retrace my steps. I had no idea where I was, and I’d left my phone at home. I also hadn’t told anyone where I was going.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that I need to go left, I thought to myself. I should begin to see a copse of spruce, pine, and hemlock on a ridge. Maybe I can find the blow-down from a microburst last summer, or hear the stream that flows from the pond. After hiking up to a ridge where I looked left and saw nothing familiar and finding a stream that connected only to a boggy terminus, I looked at my watch. It was 4:00 p.m. I realized with great clarity that I was thoroughly lost in the woods where I might have to spend the night; it was predicted to drop to 47 degrees.

My first thought was that many people in this situation would pray. However, my experience does not support the idea of a Divine Being receiving human petitions and deciding which to answer. I sense the Creator most acutely in the Creation. So I looked at my forest flora friends and said, “Help me.” I needed guidance, and I realized that I had the sun. My simple plan was to keep the sun on my left and hike down, maybe up a ridge but ultimately down. At the bottom of the down, I would find water, and if I followed the water, I would eventually find a road.

As I followed my plan, sometimes I would find a game trail to follow, but mostly it was bushwhacking. Put your head down, draw in your arms and shoulders, and make yourself small. Once I hunched right into a cage: tree branches on three sides and nothing to do but back up. I couldn’t help but smile . . . and be very grateful that I’d worn jeans. What brought this smile was the sense that I was enacting a metaphor. In my spiritual life, I do tend to find myself bushwhacking. As clerk of the Care and Counsel Committee in my monthly meeting, I often introduce an agenda item with a pretty clear idea of the proper direction. When I step back and listen closely to Spirit working through the other committee members, however, I experience the direction changing. Unexpected and uncharted turns, twists and circles take us to new Spirit-led understandings and actions.

A place to spend the night? The roots of a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) encircle a boulder; both the tree roots and boulder support Cladoniaceae, a family of fungi that support lichen growth.

As my hike continued, I began to pass boggy spots and then reached a marshy area with moving water. There was no trail beside the water, of course, but by looking ahead and hiking around the inlet fingers onto higher ground, I could stay with the flow of water. Eventually, I heard a car on the far side of the marsh that seemed to be traveling parallel to it. I turned to the water where a five-foot-wide stream awaited. I removed my jeans and jammed them into the second water-holder of my fanny pack and stuffed my sweater in with my sunglasses. Then I heaved the bundle across the stream. Success!

Holding my shoes, I charged into the water. Immediately I was in mud past my ankles and water to my waist. The mud got deeper, but I quickly made my way to the other side and clambered out. I put on my dry clothes and shoes, and wading through 10 to 12 inches of marshy water, I made my way up to a road: a road I recognized, and it was only 5:30 p.m. While I was a long way from the trailhead and my car, with great joy I realized that I wouldn’t be spending this night in the woods. Within 15 minutes, an angel with a British accent picked me up and drove me to my car. Sitting in my car, driving home, showering, and fixing dinner, I felt a glowing sense of spiritual clarity, liberally mixed with humility and gratitude. I also felt deep awe, a sense that this experience was part of my dance of continuing revelation with the Creator and the Creation.

In the days that followed, I felt changed. I relived feeling lost but cared for. I re-experienced asking for help and collaborating with the Creation to make a plan. And I marveled at my sense that the Creator was present in both the “lost” and the “found” moments. About a month later, I attended a retreat at Pendle Hill study center in Wallingford, Pa. One of the exercises was to create a “Rule of Life,” a kind of mandala with our guiding spiritual experience in the center. I was casting about for some way to translate my recent experience of the Divine into language, when I found a quote by George Fox (in his Journal) about living in right relationship with the material world: “unity with the creation.” I felt tears of joy at the gift of that discovery. What I wrote and what I continue to claim is this: Live in unity with the Creation—the embodiment of the Creator.

Carol Shearon

Carol Shearon is an active member of Gwynedd (Pa.) Meeting, where she is clerk of Care and Counsel. She spends summers in New Hampshire exploring our wondrous planet as she hikes, kayaks, and swims. She has restored a small area of forest next to her home and loves sharing it with friends and her four young grandchildren. Contact:

4 thoughts on “Revelation in the Woods

  1. Carol is a dear friend and she related this story to me in person. Carol is one of the strongest, most spiritually centered, caring and loving people I know. No Philwonder she would use her mountain skills to get her home. And we are all grateful she did.

    1. Dear Pamela,
      Thank you for sharing your reaction to my reflection. I appreciate it. I just want to clarify that George Fox wrote “Live in unity with the creation.” It is my experience of the natural world and of the deep Presence I feel there that prompts me to add that creation is the embodiment of the Creator. How could it be any other way?

      If you can find a copy of Nothing Lowly in the Universe by Jennie Ratcliffe, please do!

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