Professor Nature Beats the Freeze-Dried Eggs


A recent hike in the southern Shenandoah Valley provided me with the best of the natural combined with the artificial of the manufactured.

I became a student of the wild but desperate for the domestic. While I gazed down from the Blue Ridge Mountain cliffs during the day, the darkness hosted the frantic attempt to secure base needs, mostly from manufactured human sustenance and devices.

In this three day hike, which included the lugging of a pack and all the necessities for the space of time, I enjoyed the best of nature. Along the Appalachian Trail (AT) northwest of Roanoke lies the Triple Crown: Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob, and the Dragon’s Tooth. Their vistas were unmatched by the regular miles along the AT from Georgia into Virginia. This twenty-five miles stretch provided these three ledges with acres of landscape laid before the hiker’s eyes, along with intermittent vistas along its ridgelines. The miles were anything but regular. The breeze blows cool, the feet dangle from the cliffs, and the spines of mountain ranges entertain the eyes. Psalm 19:1 describes the stage that the mountains provide for the performance of the blue sky: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims the work of his hands.”  

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When darkness sets in, one seeks desperately to escape the nature so loved in the daytime. A silicone polymer coated tent shelters one from the elements and gives a false sense of walled protection from black bears. Iodine pills are applied to nearby stream water, secured at dusk in a polypropylene water bottle. Propane stoves heat food that is relished by the weary hiker. No flint or cotton is needed when a box of manufactured matches was packed up the side of the mountain. In order to minimize weight for the ascents of the day, supper and breakfast are freeze-dried lasagna and bacon with eggs. I delighted in the Italian cuisine, hydrated with purified water and cooked over propane. In that moment, my blogs on Italy with its finest of foods were eclipsed by the warm sustenance from a package at the end of a wearying day.

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Yet, the innovation of human science on the following morning could not provide the satisfaction needed to rightly call the next package “eggs and bacon.” After tasting them and expelling them, I just ate fruit instead. The best of humanity was outmatched by the simplicity of nature—a theme perpetuated during most hiking experiences.

Hiking has a profound effect on the psyche, reducing one to the basest of needs and providing contentment in the simplicity of nature and the comforts of manufacturing. Both are rewarding. Belden Lane describes this transformation in Backpacking with the Saints: “Being pushed to your limits [in the wilderness terrain] you discover things about yourself and God that you wouldn’t find in the safety and comfort of your home” (xv). Nature rewards with simplicity and its biological wonders; science rewards with innovated accommodation of needs. For the weary, both are welcome.

Yet, in an age of technology and artificial alternatives, nature plays its trump card on the strongest of scientific suits. Its beauty and its rigor invite an escape from the synthetic lives we live. By the way, the comradery of three friends who provided both the water for lasagna and the conversations for laughter at dinner are to be classified among the natural, unlike the e-friends that contact me each day. A tall tale from a campfire comrade is better than one in an instant message window, and the taste of organic eggs fried over a flame is better than hydrated freeze-dried egg beaters. For that matter, the view from Tinker Cliffs pictured above is better after painfully ascending the mountain and breathing deep its fresh air.  

Nature is a teacher of the soul, warranting this blog to be lumped among Tour of Teaching. Like a student in a class, at times Professor Nature was cruel and her curriculum was difficult. Yet, with my credits earned, I insist she was hard….but fair.