In the introduction to Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash states, “…civilization created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who represented our species for most of its existence, ‘wilderness’ had no meaning.” He later discusses how as soon as we as a species separated civilization from wilderness, we romanticized and sought out the wilderness for our spiritual needs. The wilderness was a place where Biblical figures went to talk to God or have an epiphany. Thousands of years later, many of us still desire to escape civilization to recharge, mull over a tough situation or heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Just think of Cheryl Strayed and Wild. Obviously now, “wilderness” doesn’t just have meaning, it is where we go to find meaning.
I am certainly no exception to this human trait. Even just a walk outside amongst the trees, prairie dogs and mallards in my neighborhood can significantly change my mood. The bigger the issue, the deeper into the woods I need to go. As I write this, I am preparing for my fourth attempt at my first solo overnight trip (first three I had to turn around for various reasons, more on that in another post). We recently moved to Colorado and only six weeks in, I quit my new job. It was the absolute right thing to do and it allows me to focus on what I want to be doing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. So, I’m going into the wilderness to clear my head, get my mind right and in the process, face my fears. Because make no mistake, though I have spent many, many nights out in the woods, doing it by myself for the first time is going to be a little bit scary. However, everything is going to be fine and when you conquer one fear, it gives you the confidence that you can conquer others as well.
You don’t have to go into the woods alone to have this experience. I take two trips every year with old friends and it just so happened that in 2017, both of these guys got married. Jeff and I went to the Wind River Range in Wyoming and had a great week-long trip where we mixed backpacking and car camping all across the Northern Rockies. Jeremy and I went to Alaska as usual and spent four days northwest of Fairbanks in the bush and also in a cabin near some hot springs. While I enjoy the trips I take with these fellas every year, last year’s trips were special. We had lots of heart-to-heart talks about serious topics such as marriage, family and work. We had lots of laughs, both at situations and ourselves. We also had long periods of silence where we worked through our own thoughts. Though perhaps some of the obstacles we overcame provided the most amount of personal growth, whether that was roping up and crossing ice cold rivers, holding each other’s life in our hands or simply me walking eleven miles with fifty pounds on my back, feet bleeding, and deciding not to complain about it.
Ultimately, whether alone or with a loved one, time in the wild, if you’re open to it, will improve you. Maybe you need a little peace and quiet to deal with a tough situation or maybe you need to challenge yourself in some way because you feel hindered in your everyday life. For whatever reason, until you cut the cord with the civilized world for at least a short time, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. The world is there to fill us with information and noise. In order to know what you have to give to the world, you have to take the time to dig down deep inside yourself. Wilderness has been there for us since the dawn of civilization and it’s still there for us now if we need it.