If you had to choose a natural environment that was closest to a place of worship, the Suisun Marsh would not necessarily top your list. You might find its esthetic attributes wanting.
In terms of sounds, its most obvious noises don’t measure up to a church organ or Buddhist pagoda chimes They neither inspire nor soothe but merely reflect this century’s preoccupation with urgent travel, from the interstate and railroad rumbles to the overhead jet engine screams of aircraft from nearby Travis Airbase. Only rarely are there blessed silences when just the right wind direction and pauses in traffic combine to screen out civilization.
Its smells are not those of flowers or incense or human perfumes but of long-dead organisms that probably did not smell too good when still alive and whose death did not increase their social acceptability.
The landscape on a dull overcast day might strike you as merely a boring monotony of scrubby vegetation and dirty water.
And to the skin, the temperatures of a winter morning would far exceed the degree of discomfort that the Christian religion demands of the truly pious. The frigid stone floors of a properly austere cathedral are positively toasty by comparison.
But if these are your reactions, your ears hear not, your nose senses not, your eyes see not, and your skin just needs a bit of weathering.
It is all quite different for me.
Even though many of the magic sounds I used to hear are for me now gone forever – the whisper of unseen wings overhead in the pre-dawn, the chirp of a startled snipe, the soft splash of a landing duck – many more remain. What can possibly match the haunting yelp of a single Canada goose, high above – the embodiment of wild loneliness.
Smells? Well I am lucky (I guess) in having an almost canine appreciation of strong odors. No, I don’t want to roll in the marsh – not quite yet – but give me time.
As for sights, old Mike and his Sistine Chapel just didn’t have them. My only walls are the far horizons, my ceiling as far up as I can see. I am not fixed in architecture or single scenes but have never-ending parades of clouds, of sunrises and sunsets, of such sudden dramas as flights of sun-illuminated swans against a backdrop of black thunderclouds, or ducks seesawing in on set wings to the decoys.
As for tactile senses, yes, you may have a point. There is nothing colder on earth than a Suisun fog when the temperature nears freezing, or wetter than a Suisun rain, or drier on a hot Suisun day than a lunch box that lacks drinkables. Still, just a touch of later warmth, external toweling, and internal lubrication, and all will be made right. I can wait.
But putting aside the flippant rationalizations, there is one serious dimension that outweighs all else. After my fellow club members have gone home and I am alone with my dog far out in the marsh, I feel a greater sense of absolute peace than I have experienced anywhere else in the world. Along with that has come a feeling of intimate kinship with the entire surrounding environment, and a profound gratitude that I can feel I am part of it.
Years ago, on a very ordinary warm and windless midday, wading in from the blind under a faint overcast while my carefree yellow lab Su porpoised happily through the pickleweed, glad to be free of hunting discipline, all of these feelings suddenly overwhelmed me with a keen intensity never before felt. I sensed that my world was suffused with some hugely benign presence, and I could only stammer out, aloud, “Thank you – thank you very much” – not much of a hymn of grateful praise, but the best I could manage. And I got the immediate strong impression that whoever was running things Up There understood and approved.
I’ve never been much for divine revelations, but then and there I was convinced that my church had become consecrated.
I still attend services there whenever possible.