Have you ever tried to swim upstream in a river that had even a mild current? Sure, it makes for great exercise, but it is a bit hard to get anywhere. How much more pleasant is it to drift with the current and enjoy the changing scenery? Your journey becomes nearly effortless.
Why the river talk? We can approach nature in two general ways. We can swim upstream, fighting against nature. Or we can flow with nature.
Some enter nature with a little bit of fear. After all, at first, nature can seem foreign and even somewhat threatening. There are no walls or locks to hide behind. And natural areas can be really BIG. What is out there? Might one get lost! What if bad weather comes or wild animals? As one lady put it, “There is not even anyone around to hear me scream!” Such apprehensions are real enough and not entirely unfounded. Nature is very different from the cities and houses that most of us live in. And the unfamiliar can be scary.
The uneasiness of the inexperienced often leads them to overcompensate and try to make nature as much like our closed-in kitchens and bedrooms as possible. This struggle against the “real or imagined” threats of nature can really diminish the experiences we have when we first experiment with hiking or camping. Swimming upstream is good exercise, but it makes it hard to get anywhere.
There is another way. Flow with nature. Work with nature, building the understanding that the natural ebbs and flows of wild places can not only carry us to new and wonderful experiences, but they can even be nurturing. But to flow with the natural world we have to learn a fair deal about it. We have to become more familiar with the rhythms of the land. We need to develop wild skills and understand how nature can provide perfectly for all our needs.
One of the best ways to do this is to STOP DOING so much. Sit down. Breathe. Observe. Watch the leaves as they dance in the wind. Enjoy the changing light as the sun slips from the sky. Enjoy the antics of the squirrels and birds. If you are really blessed, you might get to watch deer or coyotes as they go about their business. What can we learn from such experiences? Volumes, that’s what. But at first, we may only learn to be still and to breathe. Seems simple enough doesn’t it? But I know many who struggle extremely to do nothing.
Once you find your balance and meter, then you will start easily learning the other skills you will need to flow with nature. This is a life long journey and one of the most rewarding journeys anyone can take. Be careful though. You might just fall in love.
When hiking just above tree line one late spring morning, a wild snow storm blew through. I had a light day pack and a jacket and all I needed to weather the storm (at least if one counted all the resources that nature had to offer). But I observed the weather carefully, and found little threat in the passing storm. So I hiked on enjoying the absolute wonder of the snow and the wind and the changing scenes. It was a glorious experience. Had the weather been more dangerous, I was prepared to take shelter.
The storm stopped just as I approached a small rock cabin perched near a high mountain lake. The cabin had been built to provide shelter from the rages that nature often throws at this particular collection of high peaks. Out from the cabin came two rangers who had hid from the storm. They were burdened with heavy packs stuffed with enough gear to make a camel cower. Upon seeing me approaching wearing shorts and with only a light pack, they thought it necessary to teach me a lesson. I received quite the reprimand for my lack of preparedness. I was warned of hypothermia and many other (very real) dangers that do in the unprepared. After delivering quite a tongue lashing, the rangers continued struggling down the steep, slippery trail with their mountainous loads.
What the rangers failed to see was the gear that I carried between my ears. The storm was no true threat and I had enjoyed it immensely. And I was prepared. I carried less weight on my back because weighty knowledge is light.
The rangers were right. Sudden storms have killed the unprepared. Hypothermia is very dangerous.
But they were also wrong. Nature offered plenty of insulation and shelter for one who knows how to work with nature. And I had an experience that I have treasured for the last 20 years; hiking free and light in that glorious storm.
They hid. I flowed. I wonder if they have treasured their memories of the same late spring morning….
Don’t be reckless, but learn to work with nature rather than against it. Gain the skills to encounter nature on new levels. Be self-sufficient and free by storing up the gear between your ears!