It’s the time of year for New Year’s Resolutions!
One of mine is to spend more time in the woods, and to share as much of that as I can. The question I’ve been asking myself is – Why?
Well, the most obvious reason is that it’s fun! I love being outdoors, connecting with nature. I enjoy the personal challenges of exploration, but I also love to sit quietly and observe. It’s those quiet moments when you start to notice subtleties, interactions between animals, changes in the wind and weather, and you realize just how big the world is – you think about what happens when you’re NOT there, and realize the enormity of existence, and how little it slows down or stops to accommodate you. For me, it’s spiritual, it’s humbling… and it’s also extremely rewarding to learn about and to understand.
I believe that deep down, this connection is core to who we are as a species, and as individuals. Most of us want to experience the world in this way, but many of us don’t know how, or we’re afraid to try.
Human beings are a remarkably creative, social animal, and we’ve thrived on our ability to develop community, to leverage talents of others, to specialize and trade what we know for what we need. That talent has also made us extremely co-dependent, and has isolated us, both as individuals and as a community, as we knowingly give up potential knowledge to focus on our own roles and contributions to a social society. In our support of progress, we’ve simultaneously walled ourselves in. Living in an artificial world of our own creation, we’ve forgotten how to live on the very planet that built us, and made us who we are.
We’ve become so disconnected, we’re now fearful of anything wild. Using the term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child In The Woods, we are now passing on our Nature Deficit Disorder to our children, in an attempt to protect them from the potential dangers that we adults understand less and less. The resulting conflict isn’t just emotional, it’s physical. Numerous studies have identified a link between exposure to natural settings and physical well-being, with associated reductions in stress, anxiety, blood-pressure, even pain.
Some of this is understandable. Fear of the unknown is natural, and the natural world is indeed unforgiving, a system that doesn’t necessarily conform to the idea that human beings are superior. After all, we haven’t always been, and in some places still aren’t, on top of the food chain. Wandering around in the wilderness is not necessarily as comfortable and secure as sitting on your couch in suburbia, with ready access to food and central air, but it’s far more enriching.
I believe that understanding our place in the natural world is critical. We can’t just wall ourselves off and pretend we don’t have to deal with it. In fact, that attitude is largely to blame for many of today’s problems – deforestation, species extinction, diminishing biodiversity, the rise of super-bugs, climate change and the associated dangers posed by shifting weather patterns and increasing human density. Understanding that we are simply part of a larger ecosystem is absolutely essential to saving it, and ourselves.
Lucky for us, it’s easy to make that connection, if we give it a little effort.
Nature is an equalizer. We’re all on equal footing when immersed in the wild, and there’s no better place to test ourselves, to learn how to plan, to manage risk, to operate as a team, and to build self-confidence and self-reliance.
It’s also beautiful. There’s a raw connection with our psychology – whether it’s in the sweeping vista from a mountaintop, the delicate structure of a flower, or the power of an ocean thunderstorm – it speaks to us in ways we can try to duplicate, but cannot match.
I’m not a prepper, planning for the apocalypse. Nor am I a survivalist, though knowledge and skills are powerful tools. I don’t see the wilderness as a place of last resort, a place to escape from, a force to be feared and reckoned with. Rather, I see it as a refuge, as a reality, demanding our respect, our understanding, but offering so much in return. To be clear, I, too, enjoy the comforts of technology and of a civilized life – I have no desire to give up all material goods and go live off the land, yet I find immense comfort in believing that I could. For all the comfort available in the modern world, I find myself longing for feelings that only nature can provide.
I do want to help us reconnect, and to understand. To enable that, I want to see you overcome the fear of the unknown, to develop enough skills and understanding to be comfortable with the outdoors, and to be confident of your place in it. Remove the fear, and replace it with appreciation and enjoyment. People talk of a connection with nature, an understanding of the whole, a recognition that every creature plays an integral part, and an ability to sense nature’s mood – changes in weather, behavior of animals, growth of plants. That’s what I want to foster, through sharing skills, experiences, and community.
So let’s start. Ask yourself some simple questions about where you live.
Can you name three types of tree growing in your yard?
Can you name five animals that live within 100 yards of your house?
Do you know what the phase of the moon is right now, and when it will rise?
Can you point north?
If you can’t answer these… why not? If you can’t answer, and that bothers you even slightly, then my hope is I can help do something about it.
If you can, then I invite you to join, follow along, and contribute.