January 6, 2014


“The righteous . . . shall grow like a cedar” (Psalm 92:12, KJV).

Eight blind campers walk gingerly behind me as I lead them along a simple trail through a Pacific Northwest forest near a mountain lake. We pause in the sunshine on this cool June morning to soak in a little warmth. As three college students at Sunset Lake Youth Camp near Mount Rainier gently guide a few stragglers into our huddle, I explain to these children how the lake off to their right is mirror smooth.

“There are trees bordering the opposite side of the lake. If you shout, you will hear an echo come back. Who wants to holler first?” Our enthusiastic troop all respond at once. A roll of howls, bellows, and screams pierces the quiet morning. Because of the bedlam, only the last shriek of joy bounces back for us to hear. I couldn’t find a better classroom of eager students.31 1 4 9

We slowly move through the forest as if we are traveling back in time. Tall trees—some more than 500 years old—stand here and there like giant soldiers. I soberly realize, as these curious pupils follow, that my teaching style in previous weeks had been largely shaped by sight. “Look at this flower,” or “See the number of leaves on this tree.” Now my mind grapples for new methods to show my sightless friends the beauty of God’s breathtaking creation.

We round a bend in the path, and there she stands: a magnificent western red cedar towering 200 feet into the sky. The girth of this aged tree easily measures 16 feet in circumference. This water-loving evergreen is growing next to the lake, gently holding out her lacy boughs for us to admire. My heart always stills in worshipful reverence beneath these cathedral-like pillars when I lift my eyes upward to their crown. But how could I help those who could not see to see?

“Come meet one of my giant forest friends,” I invite. The group hesitates. “She won’t bite. I want you to experience my favorite tree.” I guide them to the base, which is covered in thick, soft moss, and lead their hands to feel the rough, gray bark, explaining how it can tear off in great strips and be used for rope, clothing, or baskets.

We kneel and feel for her large roots. I challenge them to find the small, egg-shaped, scaly seed cones. Then I ask, “How big around do you think she is? Who wants to form a circle around her trunk? Four volunteers eagerly stretch their arms in a giant hug about her like children surrounding their grandmother.

Before resuming our grand tour through the woods, I ask a final question. “Do you know what God’s house smells like?” Silence. I reach up and break off small pieces of scale-like leaves from the drooping branches and hand one to each camper. “Bend and twist the soft needles in your fingers and then smell them.” Soon a rich aroma of cedar fills the air. Smiles tell me the children can see.

“When I smell the fragrance of a cedar, it makes me think of my Creator God,” I tell them. “I don’t really know what heaven smells like, but if I ever get a chance to meet God and visit where He lives in heaven, I think it will have the scent of cedar.” As we turn and head deeper into the sanctuary of nature, I notice a few campers reverently placing pieces of cedar needles into their pockets—holding on to the smell of heaven. n

Curtis Rittenour writes from Mead, Washington.