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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Several months ago I was asked to speak to the Murphysboro United Methodist Men.

Talking to people about nature, the wonders of Southern Illinois or even sports is a labor of love. However, this request came with a caveat. The presentation is to contain a spiritual element.

Initially, I was somewhat taken aback.

It’s not that I don’t have a background in religious or spiritual thinking. I attended 12 years of Catholic school. I’ve been active in parish council and Knights of Columbus.

But, I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve. This assignment forced me to think.

So, where does the modern man go for inspiration? Google, of course.

That first Google search yielded a nugget of insight that has more or less stuck with me. More or less, because I don’t remember the specific quote, nor do I remember who uttered the statement.

The gist of the quote was people constantly searching for God may find him/her in the earth itself.

In today’s vernacular, “Well, duh!”

The more I think of it, the more obvious it becomes.

Joyce Kilmer had it figured out more than 100 years ago when he wrote, “I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.”

During my life I’ve been fortunate enough to see the Grand Canyon, Denali and Pike’s Peak. I’ve watched ice floes calving at Glacier Bay. I’ve watched the Northern Lights dance across the Alaskan sky. I’ve seen the haystacks of the Oregon coast.

I’ve seen humpback whales fluking off the coast of Nova Scotia, seen dozens of snowy egrets congregated around a tidal pond at Sanibel Island.

And, perhaps the most spectacular sight I’ve ever witnessed was topping the rim of Crater Lake. In the blink of an eye, the entirety of the lake came into view. The cold deep waters of the lake reflected the blue of the sky, a blue that couldn’t be duplicated by Van Gogh, Picasso or Rembrandt.

I remember gasping and uttering, “Oh my God.”

We laughed the next morning when we visited the Crater Lake Visitor Center. We were told that everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, says “Oh, my God” when they first top the rim of the crater.

That moment may not be religious for everyone, but it is spiritual. You sense there is a force more powerful than you.

And, it doesn’t matter how many photographs you take, how many drawings you make, or how many words you write about the view, it is impossible to duplicate the majesty, the clarity, the color of Crater Lake.

The same is true for the aforementioned locations or any of the critters that live on the earth, swim in the seas or fly in the skies.

I have photographed a bald eagle snatching a fish from Crab Orchard, a pair of raccoon kits climbing on each other, great egrets stalking breakfast and monarch butterflies flitting through colorful zinnias. But, those photographs don’t compare to the actual creature.

They are simply reminders of the beauty that surrounds us should we choose to look.

As singer-songwriter Roger Miller once said, “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”

Walking in the rain is spiritual.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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