Sunday, July 5, 2020
Gretel Van Wieren went on a retreat to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon’s western Cascade Mountains to reconnect with the natural world. She grew up on west Michigan’s lakeshore and her favorite childhood memories were of fishing with her dad, hunting for morels, digging in the garden, boiling maple sap, identifying birds, and generally spending time outdoors.
She decided to treat her writing residency in Oregon as a "spiritual experiment" to try to recapture that sense of deep connection with nature she had when growing up. Living a busy life of a college professor with a husband and three teenagers had her feeling over-scheduled, over-screened, and over-stressed. The question was whether ten days in the woods would be enough to spiritually reconnect with the natural world. She wrote about her experience and what she learned in Listening at Lookout Creek: Nature in Spiritual Practice (OSU Press).
The book describes Gretel's time at the Andrews Forest, what she did and saw and what she thought about while she was there. She looks back at her childhood and experiences with her husband and children. The unifying theme of the book is her spiritual practice and how it connects her to the natural world. Gretel first realized that her childhood experiences of nature influenced her spiritual outlook when she was at Divinity School. Later, when working as a pastor in rural upstate New York, she began to explore the world of nature mysticism, which inspired and informs much of Listening at Lookout Creek.
While this book has more trees and moss – and fewer bugs (thank goodness) – it reminded me a bit of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I loved despite the bugs. Reader's who enjoyed Dillard's classic will enjoy Listening at Lookout Creek, as would parents thinking about getting their kids outdoors more and on screens less, the fishing and hunting community, and spiritual seekers. It's a book that made me want to slow down and spend time in a forest.
Read my Q&A interview with Gretel Van Wieren here, where Gretel talks about getting kids outdoors, a spiritual connection with the natural world, and her new book, Listening at Lookout Creek.
Read Gretel's 10 Tips for Getting Your Kids Outdoors.