Nature & the Nature of Hope

Can you imagine a desert as a place of life? The work of photographer Guy Tal captures the surprising vibrancy of Utah’s badlands. His landscapes are visions of desert wonders. He has lived and worked in the Utah wilderness for over two decades, and his identity is interlaced with the environment he loves. In his artist statement, he uses religious terms such as “temple” and “sanctuary” to describe his relationship with the land. Perhaps he has formed a subconscious spirituality based on the environment that has shaped him. And this worldview seems to have led to a place of dark expectation.

Tal expresses his lack of hope for the wilderness’ future in a recent blog post. His essay is a beautiful, but sobering read. In it, Tal laments the changes reshaping Utah’s desert. Once reliable creeks are drying up; plant life is struggling, and animals are perishing. Society is divorced from nature, and humanity is too selfish to care. What gives meaning to him is dying. Thus, Tal embraces fate. He tries to accept the degradation of the land he knows so well. He concludes all he can do is live fully today while taking solace in the fact that he tried. He expects that future generations will only know a shadow of the wilderness that has inspired his art and given his life meaning.

I am a landscape photographer, and Tal’s essay has me pondering my relationship to the land I love. Western Montana is also changing. Population growth is exploding, and not all new arrivals care about conserving Montana’s environment. More foot traffic means quicker erosion of Montana’s trail systems. A greater number of people litter or carelessly harm wild places (e.g., using trees for target practice).

Yet, to me, nature has always been a mirror of Someone greater. I believe there will be a time when God renews and restores creation.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 8:18-22

Even if the mountains crumble and the lakes dry up, I can walk in hope.

Does this mean I don’t care about conserving the wilderness I call home here and now? Not at all. Rather, my hope strengthens my love for God’s natural world and spurs me to action.

Do you have hope? If so, what is the source of your hope? I would love to hear your story if you care to share.

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