It’s spring in Washington… one of our two all too brief seasons when we can enjoy outdoor activities without either freezing or melting. One of may favorite spring activities is picnicking. I don’t get to do it all that often, but when I do, what a gift it is.
By it’s very nature a picnic pulls us out of our normal routine… gets us to look at things differently by placing us in new surroundings. Since picnics work best bucolic settings, they can also be a chance for us to strip away the worries of the world and get back in touch with our truest nature. Two easily reached picnic destinations I’ve enjoyed recently are: The C&O Canal and Sugarloaf Mountain (see photos throughout this post).
The Canal was intended to be a great water highway connecting the capital with the western hinterlands of the new United States (i.e. Cumberland, MD back in the day). Never able to turn a long-term profit, the canal never really worked out. Thanks to preservationists though, it has become a hugely successful national park with ample opportunities for hiking, biking and camping from here to western Maryland.
Sugarloaf Mountain (in Dickerson, MD about an hour northwest of the city) was a privately owned estate that has now become a nature preserve with trails for hiking, climbing and mountain biking. It also boasts some wonderful opportunities for animal watching and great views of Montgomery and Frederick counties.
Picnicking with friends is obviously a great chance for conviviality – a subject covered in previous posts. That said, don’t discount the blessings of a solo lunch-in-the-wild. Consider the following thoughts from 20th century theologian Fr. Romano Guardini:
“…man’s attention is broken into a thousand fragments by the variety of things and persons about him His mind is restless; his feelings seek objects that are constantly changing. Composure works in the opposite direction, rescuing man’s attention from sundry objects holding it captive and restoring unity to his spirit.”
This “rescue” mission, Fr. Guardini goes on to say, restores man to his fullest sense of self allowing him to face the world in a more genuine way.
Guardini applies his teaching to composing ourselves in preparation for mass, but I think we can reasonably extend his thoughts to another type of meal: the picnic. Eating out in nature is a great exercise in composure. It’s a chance to focus on the basics: eating, breathing, perceiving the beauty around us. Over time, the storm of other sensory and emotional distractions calms… or rather all these “other” things enter orbit around the joy of the meal. We might even suggest that if a picnic on a beautiful day is a manifestation of God’s love for us, then it is precisely his LOVE that restores order to our chaos.
So, if you’re feeling a little frayed at the ends this week, take advantage of the good weather, grab some food and a blanket, and enjoy a picnic… you might just come back from it a better version of yourself.