December 8, 2019

Priceless Moments in Nature

One October night when I was a child, I was fast asleep in my grandparents’ house when my grandfather unexpectedly woke me. He carried me outside and said, “Look up.” 

What I saw and heard opened a new world to me. Canada geese were flying across a full moon, their plaintive cries filling the night air. I was mesmerized. Ever since then, I have been drawn to the natural world.

Through the years, nature has held many surprises for me. Once, as I stood in the middle of a trail at night, two red wolves passed me, one on each side. Another time, a doe and her fawn walked with me as we avoided a large bear headed our way. 

Now when I enter the woods, I do so with an air of expectancy, excited to see what God will bring my way.

Capturing the Moment

A few years ago, I discovered the joy of photographing wildlife in their natural settings. This type of photography is particularly challenging because you cannot rely on the subject to pose or for the environment to produce the right conditions. Yet, capturing a special moment in nature preserves it for years to come and gives a sense of satisfaction in recording some aspect of the wildness and freedom of God’s creation.

One time I was taking pictures of a doe, and instead of running away, she moved toward me until she was too close for a picture. Spontaneously I said, “You want to lick me, don’t you?” and offered her my hand. The deer licked me and then ran off, leaving me with a sense of wonder.

Living in the Southeast of the United States provides wonderful opportunities to connect with the natural world. I love spending time in the Great Smoky Mountains, where I’ve photographed wild boar, bears, red wolves, coyotes, deer, birds, and a myriad other creatures. My travels have also allowed me to experience nature in other parts of the world, including Kenya, which dazzled me with its beauty and wide variety of wildlife.

Surrounded by Nature

I am privileged to serve as president of a university surrounded by nature. Southern Adventist University is nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and it is not uncommon to see deer feeding in the early morning mist. Our 1,300-acre (about 525-hectare) campus — 800 (about 325) of which are forested — offers many opportunities for not only our students and employees but also the community to enjoy being outside.

While the natural world is not what it was when God created it, being in nature reminds me of God’s love, His majesty, and His goodness. I marvel at earth’s beauty, revel in its wildness, enjoy preserving it through my pictures, and praise God that He reveals Himself so powerfully and wonderfully through His created world. I praise God as the psalmist did long ago: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:9, NKJV).

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Southern Tidingsnews site.