‘Donald Trump needs to go camping,” I thought as I was taking down my tent after three days of “roughing it” in the thousand acres of second-growth forest and sand dunes at Point Beach State Park along Lake Michigan in northeast Wisconsin.
A strong dose of nature would do him some good. At least, it does for me.
Beauty – There is something about being in the beauty of nature that puts me in a better place. Except for sleeping in my little 4 x 8 REI tent, I was outdoors for most of the three days I was at Point Beach. No walls. No ceiling. No doors. I was surrounded by hemlock and oak and maple and white pine. Above me on the second day was the blue heaven. We humans are capable of creating great beauty, but this little corner of creation surpassed anything I’ve seen home decorators come up with.
For the Navajos, beauty was perhaps the widest portal into the spiritual world. The closing prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony goes like this:
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
Nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have that kind of deep down, contented happiness. Most of the time, neither do I. Being in the midst of natural beauty gets me closer to where I want to be.
Humility – No one, neither friend nor enemy, would ever accuse Donald Trump of being humble. Being in the middle of nature humbles me. One time I was camping on Rock Island when a 40-mile-an-hour wind created 4-foot waves, preventing even the ranger from making the short trip over from Washington Island. That left me the only person on that little piece of land in the middle of Lake Michigan.
I remember walking out on a gravel spit in the teeth of the gale with the waves crashing on both sides of me and feeling very, very small; and the smallness felt wonderful. If I had my wits about me, I would have turned to Psalm 8 and prayed, “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of us, the children of mortals that you care for us?”
Compared to the 99%, Mr. Trump is larger than life. Compared to the universe, compared to the long, long stretch of human history, he’s an insignificant speck. There is something salutary in remembering that.
Not in control … or grace – Tom Skilling is unable to predict the weather with 100% accuracy, let alone make it behave the way he wants. There is something about being in nature, so vulnerable to meteorological whims, that reminds me I’m not in control of much. On the one hand, I couldn’t prevent the rain from spoiling my first day out in the woods.
On the other hand, I had nothing to do with the last two days being perfect. If it’s true that bad things happen to good people, it’s also true that good things happen to bad people — or in my case to a guy who had nothing to do with the blue sky and sunshine coming my way.
Years ago I was leading a three-day, father-and-son canoe trip down the Wisconsin River. It had rained, off and on, for most of the first two days and we were stoically trying to make the best of it as we ate our hot dogs on a sandbar in a light drizzle at the close of the second day. Then someone said, “Look!” We turned our heads to the west, and there, where the clouds were at last parting we beheld a gorgeous sunset and with it the promise of a better day tomorrow.
Then someone else exclaimed, “Oh wow, look!” We turned around, and there in the east was a 180-degree rainbow created by the sun’s rays, refracted through the drizzle. We stared in awe at breathtaking beauty. It was a gift we had done nothing to create. All we had done is to get ourselves to a place where that kind of thing can happen.
Donald Trump declares that the world is made up of winners and losers. I assume he means that he and the rest of the 1% are the winners and the rest of us can go to … well, you know.
In my opinion, Mr. Trump needs to go camping. He needs to experience the vulnerability of being in nature, where everyone is a winner sometimes and a loser at others — to experience a way of leaning into life that is sometimes called empathy.