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The beauty of Western North Carolina has been known to inspire deep psychological and spiritual reactions in many of those who encounter its brilliant landscapes – reactions not too different from the aged yet fundamental respect and admiration to the bountiful resources the land provides. The Cherokee Indians, early inhabitants of the region, sought to protect and nurture this land not only for what it could offer, nor for its striking beauty, but through the belief that the land itself was alive. As it provided for the people, praises were returned and efforts were taken to safeguard its enduring vitality.
Cherokee land is traditionally held in common by the tribe, allowing individual family groups to occupy it as needed, thus providing a connection to the land that encourages responsibility for its conservation and protection – the more that is required, the more care is taken to ensure it continues to provide. Being that the Cherokee depended on the land for crops for food, herbs for medicine, materials for shelter, clothing and tools, and for artistic and spiritual inspiration, much was at stake. Such reliance prompted efforts of conservation on the concept of reciprocity – the belief that life is cyclical and actions have both short- and long-term consequences.
Another examination of human response to the natural environment was documented in a 1999 study, which confirmed that spending time in natural areas, specifically wilderness, provides people with a rich array of visual, auditory, olfactory, and other sensory cues that make them feel that the place has come “alive,” and hence spiritually inspirational.
The beneficial aspects of wilderness recreation include not only the potential for physical and emotional growth, but also the opportunity to develop spiritually. What’s more, once one is influenced to seek out spirituality and attempts to contemplate their own concepts of notions such as being or existence, they may find unique opportunities to project their understanding throughout their everyday lives to enhance their connection with others in their community or in the natural world.
We need wilderness preserved – as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds – because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there – important, that is, simply as an idea.–Wallace Stegner, from his Wilderness Letter
Western North Carolina abounds in churches of several denominations, denominationally affiliated camps, and retreat centers. Many visitors return to this area to seek the spiritual foundations and awe-inspiring beauty they once experienced as children at summer camp in the wilderness of Western North Carolina.
Spiritual Retreats by Theology or Denomination, 2010
|Adrian Dominican Sisters||2|
|Sisters of the Holy Cross||1|
|Disciples of Christ||1|
|Community of St. Mary||1|
|Church of Brethren||1|
Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. 2010. Spiritual Retreats. Personal Communication.
Find the Divine, LLC. 2010. “North Carolina Retreat Center Listings.” Accessed from: http://www.findthedivine.com.
L. M. Fredrickson and D.H. Anderson. “A qualitative exploration of the wilderness experience as a source of spiritual inspiration.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 19 (1999), 21-39. Accessed from: http://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/1999/nc_1999_Fredrickson_001.pdf.
Wallace Stegner. 1960. “Wilderness Letter.” Accessed from The Wilderness Society website 2011. Accessed from: http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-letter.
Landscape Photograph: George Masa, http://ashevilleart.org.
View of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Mt. Mitchell: D. Hiden Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville.
Table: Sarah Jackson, USDA Forest Service.