Life is All About Conflict

Once upon a time, life was nothing but conflict and struggle. Struggle to keep yourself and your children alive, struggle to find food, struggle with disease, struggle to stay warm and dry in the winter, just struggle and more struggle.  In modern times, we’ve solved many of these issues that we dealt with for thousands of years but what we cannot solve is the fact that we’ve evolved to overcome adversity.  If there is no adversity to overcome, we need to create it.  This is why many people run marathons, do crossfit, take incredibly challenging jobs and this is why many people hunt.  These people have found healthy outlets for their need to struggle.  However, there is a growing segment in our society that wants to deny their nature. I won’t go into all the areas where this is happening, because you could write a book about it, but there is a general emptiness and unhappiness that resonates from people who deny their nature in the name of “progress” or modern times.  Sometimes their goals are well intended, but you don’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution just by saying, “this isn’t the way it should be” and then getting mad at those who don’t comply and calling them nasty names.

There is infinitely more peace and freedom in accepting your nature than in trying to deny it.  

Paraphrasing John Lennon, peace is here if you want it.  I don’t mean it in the same way he did, I don’t have the same faith in human nature that I think we will end all wars, but I do think internal peace is here if you want it.  And who knows, maybe if more people find that internal peace, we can end all wars. But you have to have some peace in your own heart before you can make peace out in the world.

We crave that conflict and struggle.  But instead of looking inward for conflict, we glue our eyes to social media to find out what crazy thing Donald Trump or Maxine Waters has said today so that we can get outraged.  We crave those dopamine hits from the anticipation of our anger no differently than a drug addict or porn addict crave their next hit.  We focus on the brokenness of the world so that we don’t have to face the brokenness of our own hearts and lives.

Life is about conflict, but you have the choice of where to go to battle. You can go to war with the world and you will continue to struggle and never get ahead.  You will never find peace because you will never conquer the world, in fact you will only sew hatred and vitriol as you fail at saving the world.  Or, you can go to war with your own heart.  You can heal yourself, find your true nature and embrace it, becoming a happier, more loving and better human being.  Not only will your life improve, but you will improve the lives of the people around you.  

I cannot tell you what this looks like for you, only that I can easily tell the difference between those who go to war with the world and those that go to war with themselves.  I can tell you to look at biology, evolution and history for clues, but there are too many variables and one size does not fit all.  I can tell you that all human beings are spiritual creatures and you should pursue that, but, in spite of my own beliefs, I cannot tell you which path to take.  I can tell you that you should put down the phone and turn off the TV and the laptop every now and again.  It’s good to ingest as much knowledge as possible, but unless you spend some quiet time in reflection, your ideas are not truly your own, but rather a regurgitation of something you heard or read somewhere.  Go get quiet and make up your own damn mind.

I can also tell you that while you alone cannot change the world, you can change the world around you.  Redirect some of that energy you spend on politics or sports on your children, your spouse and your friends and family.  Your relationships will improve which will provide you with a happier and more emotionally stable life.  

Hunting is one way I exercise my true nature.

Hunting is as human as sex.  Those who would tell us to give up hunting are the same ones constantly pushing sex in our faces.  Sex is part of being human, it’s part of being a mammal, but so is hunting.  We are, thanks to technology, more often predators today than prey, but sometimes, we’re still prey.  I live in bear country, but every time I go off into the mountains and sleep in a tent, I inevitably hear from multiple people, “Aren’t you afraid of bears or wolves?”  Usually I answer, “no”, but this hunting trip I’m about to go on, I have to admit that I am a little afraid.  If all goes well, I will have an elk on the ground and I will be focusing on dressing and butchering it to pack out.  Bears are looking for one last meal before hibernation and it doesn’t get much better than a dead elk.

That fear makes me feel human.  And feeling human, truly human, is one of the most liberating feelings there is.  Rather than running from that fear, or letting that fear control my life, I am embracing that fear.  When I am in the mountains with bears and wolves, I am at the place in the food chain God intended me to be.  I am not in some high-rise apartment in New York protected by armed guards having my food delivered to me.  I am taking risks that others cannot or will not take and because of that, I will have rewards that others will not reap.  

I’m not really much of a 21st century man, but I’m trying to be where it makes sense.  My wife is currently the breadwinner in our family and I do my best to support her.  I usually am the one who quits work early to pick up our daughter and my ego is not bruised by any of this.  However, though I pray I never have a need to, I will not hesitate to resort to violence if necessary to protect my family.  I will leave my family for a period of time to go hunt.  I will be the Christian leader of the household God calls me to be.  Not everything that has been done for eons needs to be replaced.  In fact, I’d argue, we need to keep tweaking how we do things, but in America at least, I wouldn’t call for an overhaul of any institution or cultural more.  

Conflict is natural.  Conflict can be good.  Conflict, when handled properly, is how things grow.  So, the question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I engaging in conflict that is going to make me be a better person?  Or, is the conflict I’m engaged in really only designed to make me appear like I’m already a good person?”

When Those Disconnected from Nature Attempt to Interact with the Wild

Yesterday, it was reportedthat the Oregon man who harassed bison in Yellowstone was convicted of the crime.  Earlier in the week, it was reported that the Governor of New Jersey, through executive order and not legislative action, ended bear hunting on public land in spite of New Jersey having the highest bear population density in the United States.  These are just the two latest examples of people ignorant of the wild making stupid decisions in or about the wild.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m preaching, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t endlessly irritating to me.  

In the case of the man from Oregon, most of us have seen this play out in person, especially if you’ve been to Yellowstone.  I’ve been to Yellowstone three times in the last year and if I’m being honest, I don’t need to go back no matter how beautiful it is.  I’ve had multiple bad experiences with people; everything from interfering with wildlife on the roads to incredible rudeness at Old Faithful.  However, this happens at every park and most recently I saw people lose their minds at the sight of a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, completely shutting down a road and wandering of within a few feet of a sow and her cubs just so they could get a closer picture.  

I’m mindful of the fact that for a lot of these people, it may be the first time they’ve seen a bear or a bison in the wild.  I understand and share their excitement.  It’s still incredibly cool to me after all these years and numerous bison and black bears I’ve seen – it never gets old.  However, people need to be aware that this is not the city, nor the suburbs.  These are very large and very powerful wild animals, they are not pets or domesticated farm animals.  More so than that, we’re on their turf, not the other way around.  

While this problem is multi-cultural, as a few scenes from the first season of Yellowstone shows, I expect more of Americans than I do our foreign visitors.  Most folks around the world have little to no wild places or animals and no way to know how to respect such places and things. Americans, on the other hand, should be taught about the North American Wildlife Model in either history or science class.  I know that this is probably never done, but it should be.  While it is impossible for one to know everything about every place and everything in a country as large as ours, if you’re touring national parks for the summer, shouldn’t you know at least a little something about what you’re getting yourself into?  Shouldn’t you research how to be safe and show respect wherever you go?

Furthermore, these are the same people susceptible to slick public relations campaigns funded by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA that cherry pick data and play on people’s emotions rather than presenting a scientific argument.  Then these people vote, either directly in some states, or at least for candidates who support radical anti-wildlife regulations.  This is how the people of New Jersey got Governor Phil Murphy.  

New Jersey and California are great examples of what is to come, especially here in Colorado as the liberal Front Range continues to grow with California refugees (most of whom are not like the Climers).  These states have incredibly wild areas but are politically controlled by densely populated urban areas.  Many of these urban people hike, climb, etc., they should understand how our wild places and wild animals are managed, but they don’t for the most part.  Most of us, myself often included, only care about and learn about things that directly affect ourselves.  All these people know is they want to go for a hike during the rut and not see hunters, they don’t understand the consequences of letting things “return to the wild” without human management.

Predator-Human interactions are increasing all the time.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing.  Obviously, these areas have healthy populations, but once that population grows to a certain size it will pass its carrying capacity, or the ability for the land to support the population of animals.  This is when bears, mountain lions and other predators will start migrating to new areas to look for food and once an animal, like a bear or mountain lion, learns that houses and cars are a great place to find food, they’ll keep coming back to those places.  This costs a lot of money to citizens, government agencies and insurance companies, not to mention the risk of direct human interaction with these creatures, especially small children.  Once an animal learns this, the only option is for the local government is to catch it, and in most cases, put it down.  

As I always say, these are nuanced issues with many causes, correlations and factors, but it is important that for the safety of citizens and visitors that we understand these issues and contribute to the management of our wonderful resources.  For those that wish us to leave things be and let “nature take care of its own”, beware of becoming a victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences.  

The Power of Unplugging

Every time I travel, especially without my family, I get anxiety.  This is even more true if I’m going off into the woods and I will have no way to know if something happens back home. Sure, there are people who are constantly looking for cell service in the mountains, but I typically shut off my phone when I go in and save the battery for an emergency.  

The first day, I’m a nervous wreck thinking about all the things that couldgo wrong in my absence.  This is partly me and my own anxieties and it’s also partly the world that has taught me to be attached to my damn phone.  As a salesman, my phone is rarely out of reach, and even though that is out of necessity, rather than desire, it has become the new norm and it’s difficult to separate myself from it sometimes.  However, by Day Two, I’m a new man.

Beginning at Day Two, I don’t even remember I have a phone.  Of course, I think about my wife and daughter often, but I know they’re okay and I know my wife can handle any situation that might come up in my absence.  The truth is, there’s too much going on in my immediate situation to think about the trivial things that go on in the world.  Sure, there are serious things going on in the world, poverty, war, etc. but that’s not what most of us are inundated with on a day to day basis; we ignore those things mostly because they’re difficult to think about.  As I write this, outdoors people are arguing over whether or not to buy Yeti products.  I don’t see anything wrong with either the NRA or Yeti, they’re both organizations made up of people with good intentions who sometimes make mistakes. Take a side or don’t, but is something of that sort really worth getting upset about?  I don’t think so.

While we obsess about such nonsense on a day to day basis, when you’re hiking, hunting, fishing, etc., you have real concerns to occupy your brain; the weather, predators, finding game or fish, and perhaps just navigation and not rolling your ankle in a scree field.  Focusing on these immediate issues allows our brains to put the bullshit of civilization away for a while.  No longer are we concerned about pleasing our boss or what our neighbors think of us – they cannot see what we’re up to.  The media, social media, the political conversations at the water cooler are all distant memories for a few days.  

At the very least wilderness is escapism, no different than a comedic movie or a concert or any other form of entertainment.  The wilderness, if you pay attention, is endlessly entertaining. However, I think it’s so much more than that.  Unplugging from the world gives you the time to think about the important stuff in your life uninterrupted.  Maybe you’re struggling in some area (most of us are struggling with something at any given time, no matter how “together” we may have it) and getting away from the noise allows you to meditate or pray on your marriage, your career, your parenting or some other issue.  In the world there is always someone telling you what you should do, but in the wilderness, you get to figure out what is best for you.  That can be daunting, many people prefer to let others make their decisions for them, therefore they have no responsibility or blame if things fail, but that is not a way to live life if you ask me.  Sure, it’s good to seek advice, you’ll already have that in your head when you’re out there and that’s part of the evidence you can examine when making a decision.  However, there’s a greater sense of accomplishment if you solve your own problems.  

If you’re prepared, the wilderness provides all that you need to push the reset button, no matter who you are and what kinds of things you need to do it.  Need action? Go hunting, fishing, climbing, etc. Need peace and quiet?  Sit beside a river under a tree.  Need comfort?  Boil up some tea and sit beside the campfire.  Humans have been going to the wilderness for solace and answers ever since we became civilized enough to separate wilderness from civilization. Wilderness is a part of who we are and I believe if we accept that, it will make us better people and therefore better to each other.

Nature as Healer

 

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.