Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Outdoors

Connecting with outdoors is a true 'blessing'

Wildside column: Connection with nature hard to put into words

Bird researcher Jon Stravers of McGregor surveys a scenic valley from Larkin Overlook in Yellow River State Forest on a recent misty morning. “You go into these wild places and put yourself in the spiritual zone, and something will be revealed,” he said. (Tim Murphy)
Bird researcher Jon Stravers of McGregor surveys a scenic valley from Larkin Overlook in Yellow River State Forest on a recent misty morning. “You go into these wild places and put yourself in the spiritual zone, and something will be revealed,” he said. (Tim Murphy)

Most people who spend much time outdoors, myself included, feel strong connections with nature.

Such felt connections are often left unspoken because they are hard to put into words.

Some people, again including me, call those connections spiritual because the feelings they elicit seem to transcend the physical or mental.

Trees, rocks, water and wildlife most often do it for me.

Every time I sit in the shade of my ancient bur oak, I feel nature’s kinship and benevolence. Water splashing over rock rivals the best music. A column of bald eagles flying up the Wapsie at treetop height stops me in my tracks.

Gram Parsons, the godfather of country rock, captured the ineffable character of such feelings with his ode to a long-lost home:

“But now when I’m lonesome, I always pretend/That I’m getting the feel of hickory wind.”

So did Thomas Wolfe with his “Look Homeward Angel” motif: “Remembering speechlessly, we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.”

An expert on cosmic connections — perhaps “the” expert — is Jon Stravers of McGregor, whose talents include discovering birds’ secret lives, decoding birdsong, writing books and songs, interpreting nature, photography, singing, playing the guitar and making and keeping friends.

Hawk, as he’s widely known, has earned his living in northeast Iowa expanding human knowledge of red-shouldered hawks and cerulean warblers, among other species of birds.

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There, through bird walks that always include references to the cosmic connections afforded attentive communicants, he shares and extols the reverence for nature that the ancient mound builders displayed in their effigies of bears and falcons.

For those open to the experience, Stravers said sacred spots abound in nature and especially in the wooded bluffs and backwaters along the Upper Mississippi.

“You go to these wild places and put yourself in the spiritual zone, and something will be revealed,” he said.

Stravers said he counts such feelings as blessings.

I do too.

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