I am a scientist by training, and as such, am a skeptic. Although I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), philosophically I lean more towards Buddhism, early Taoism (without the fortune-telling and longevity add-ons), and Stoicism, than Christianity, but am at my very core an agnostic. Still I can't say that I have never felt an elation that seemed like a religious experience. In my case it does not happen at a revival or even a religious precession or ritual. Oh, I tried when I was younger to have such an experience. My parents were, as I said in an earlier diary, nominally Christian and my father sang in a Methodist choir (although it is through him that I can trace my Quaker roots back at least as far as 1657, when a likely ancestor was "convinced" in Rhode Island.) My mother, who came from a long line of German Lutherans, listened to every Billy Graham Crusade on radio and then watched them after we had a TV. Of course I did too and I really tried to give my heart to the Lord. Somehow I never felt the joy that was supposed to accompany it.
However there were places where I did feel something and it was always when I was alone in some wild place or rustic area of countryside. Possible this was just a peculiarity of my limbic system, I cannot be sure, but it is what I have. It is, of course, part and parcel of my often solitary childhood and resultant introversion.
My best times were when I could be alone for at least a few minutes in the wild country. As a student at the University of Arizona I became heavily involved in the collection and study of arthropods, primarily arachnids and beetles. I acquired an old Rambler station wagon while a graduate student and began to visit various collecting areas around the southeastern part of Arizona. One day I ventured off alone (I did tell someone where I was going) and traveled down the twisty Ruby Road to beautiful Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarito Mountains of Santa Cruz County. After a rather "interesting" traverse of hills and canyons through which the Ruby Road passes I arrived at Hank and Yank Spring at the trail head. Only one car was parked in the parking lot and, as I recall, the people associated with it were having a picnic. They must have left shortly after I started down the creek toward Mexico. Within a half hour I was totally alone in the middle of a wilderness. Here, in the sunlight of a Southwestern summer day I felt an absolute connection with the landscape which I really can't exactly describe. A sort of melting into the rocks, creek, and trees, is about the best I can say. The creek flattened out as I approached the border and was flowing as a thin sheet over solid rock. At this point I decided to return to my car.
Other times include one solitary visit, of many, to the Tucson Mountains. I was sweeping shrubs with a net for spiders while approaching a high arroyo bank from below when I had the feeling of being watched. I glanced upward and there about ten feet above the canyon floor my eyes fixed on the yellow eyes of a coyote! It was lying down and regarding me with an apparent disdainful gaze. There I made some direct contact with a fellow creature. The coyote had apparently decided that I was harmless and seemed to be using me to alleviate a boring day.
I have felt similar elations in the rain forest in Puerto Rico and Trinidad, in the desert sky islands of southern Arizona, along the Camino del Diablo, on the Jornada del Muerto in New Mexico, in the foothills of the Animas Mountains, in the midst of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, along the River Styx and in the Big Scrub of Florida, the edge of the Sea of Cortez and in other places. Almost always I was alone or separated from my companions.
In reality I am not one to personify "nature" - no Pan, Gaia, or wood sprites for me - but I still, as a scientist, am aware that I and all my fellow humans are part of a great interconnected natural world and that does inspire a certain level of, if you will, awe. I really don't know the ultimate answers, and the mystery remains. The mystery is associated with my very being and well fits the title of one of Paul Gauguin's paintings "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" In the ultimate neither science or religion can completely answer these question satisfactorily for me.