Persons, places and things: On the trail with our domestic church


By Barb Arland-Fye


A boater in a runabout traveling upstream on the Hennepin Canal waved and said, “Hi,” to our family as we strolled the Hennepin Canal State Trail just outside of Geneseo, Illinois on Mother’s Day.

The canal, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has become our “Happy Place,” which Psychology Today (Sept. 29, 2022) describes as “often a place where you experience positive emotions like joy, hope, and happiness. For many, it’s a place where they feel carefree, relaxed and away from the hassles of life, doing things they love.”

Trail hikes are a family tradition for the Four Fyes — Steve, Colin, Patrick and me. A year or so ago, we decided to check out the Hennepin Canal State Trail because it is a relatively short drive from our home in LeClaire, Iowa. The trail’s abundant foliage, the call of the birds, the placid greenish-brown waterway, and the mesmerizing view of water spilling over the ancient lock, captivated us. This atmosphere provides us with a sense of peace.


Colin and I always lead the way, often walking silently, caught up in our individual thoughts. Steve and Patrick’s slower pace accommodates their long conversations and Steve’s occasional leg cramps. Other people enjoy the trail, too, but we meet very few of them during our walks, which enhances the quietude and our attentiveness to God’s creation.

None of us “can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace with him or herself,” Pope Francis said in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’” (“Praise Be to You, On Care for Our Common Home”). He describes inner peace as “related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.”

“Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions,” the Holy Father asks. His answer is eloquent and hopeful. “An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence ‘must not be contrived but found, uncovered.’”

Our family contemplates the Creator on our outdoor walks and hikes; God sometimes catches our attention with bug bites or the prickly seeds that adhere to our socks. Fortunately, those minor annoyances did not occur on our Mother’s Day walk.

The bonding we experience on our walks with God and with each other speaks to another aspect of our faith. Like all families, we’ve navigated difficulties as well as celebrated happy times. These life experiences, through God’s grace, shape our understanding of the meaning of love, drawing us closer together. “The experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength for the life of the Church,” Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).

Who could have imagined 117 years ago, when the Hennepin Canal opened, that it would become a state park where families like ours can celebrate God’s creation and our relationship with God and with one another?
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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