I spent much of last week in Ireland, walking among the stones and bogs of Connemara and the scoured grey flint of Inis Mor. The land was barely tamed, a thin edge of green around a dark and uninhabited center of bog and peat and wet earth that could draw you down for centuries until your browned skin emerged again, empty of bone, a wonder for future times.
The peaks were granite with a thin skin of grass, gray stones jutting forth to show what they were made of. By the relentless waters of the ocean, cliffs soared, the waves foamed into spray and scattered high on the wind. A few birds circled; a handful of tiny flowers bloomed, close the ground, where they would be safe from the wind. At night, the stars were thick in the dark, dark sky. The signs of human habitation were few and receding: stone fences; ancient, roofless chapels; a skull poking from the earth.
There is a thing about wilderness that restores us, centers us, brings us back to ground, draws us away from the empty conjectures and worries of the mind into what is real and tangible and now. It draws us to the truth that we are not what endures, that the rocks the stars and the sky were there long before we first drew breath, and will endure when our dust is scattered to the wind and the earth. And so we’d do well to pay attention while we are here: taste and savor this great gift of life we have been given for a time, until we pass away and are no more.
Again and again, Jesus urges us: Consider the lilies! Consider the grass of the field! The birds of the air! The grain, the fig tree, the sky! Consider! Consider! Look well and take note! For you will not pass this way again, and this day and this hour are yours to live and to notice and to embrace.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet. (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid”)