Growing up, my brother and I were lucky enough to be introduced to nature very early on, and it is something I am incredibly grateful for.
My early love for nature has stayed with me my whole life—it is my grounding center, influencing where I yearn to travel, how I vote, what I buy and what I discard/recycle, and my favorite color—green. The green of leaves on a tree, grass in a meadow, moss on a pond.
I have precious memories of camping with our grandma, grandpa and cousins in northern Minnesota; of tearing down a dirt road on a three-wheeler on farmland in southern Minnesota; jumping off a make-shift diving board made from a wooden plank and a tractor tire, into a mossy pond hidden in the middle of a corn field; of hiking above the timber line and getting to see blue glacier ice and watermelon snow for the first time.
But I think the most influential nature outings were with my father. Originally an outdoorsman from Minnesota, he explored many different areas of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains after moving to California. He was the kind of dad who gifted us with pocket knives he engraved himself with beautiful etchings of deer, and with the confidence that we would always handle them responsibly. And he took us on backpacking trips into areas where we would not see another soul the entire time.
One such place in the Sierra foothills was called Hidden Lake. Approximately 10 miles in, it was a tough hike up the mountain, ending with a steep downhill hike to the lake. That kind of trip cemented for me early on the incredible appeal of reaching a place that no one else was visiting.
How often do we get to experience that? We had the entire lake to ourselves, for fishing, swimming and hiking around. What a gift it was to experience near-solitude away from cars, television and Atari pong.
But it wasn’t simply a field trip away from regular life for us; we truly learned to value and appreciate quiet time in nature. And these outings with dad taught me some important lessons:
- Nature is to be respected.
- Toughing out a difficult hike is worth it, to reach a place where no one else is.
- Always pack out more than you pack in, including any trash someone else left behind.
- A loaded backpack without padded straps really digs into the shoulders after a while.
- Food cooked over a fire (especially a lake trout) tastes better than any gourmet meal.
- When sleeping on a slight incline, always lay with your head uphill, or you will wake up looking like you went a few rounds in the Octagon, puffy eyes and all.
- A tube tent is just what it sounds like—a tube of plastic open on both ends, that offers minimal protection from dew and bugs, but apparently is still worth setting up between two trees just in case it rains.
- Chunks of tree bark tied on with twine make poor substitutes for forgotten flip-flops.
Looking back, it means so much to me that dad had confidence that his kids would be tough enough and capable enough to handle that kind of trip. And I had utter confidence in his ability to take care of us, no matter what we might encounter out there.
I reflect back on those trips with feelings of joy, gratitude and laughter. The joy and peace I feel when exploring outside continues to be a significant part of who I am, and my comfort with being alone is also something I attribute to those early experiences.
If it has been too long since I’ve had time outside, I start to feel antsy and trapped, and will find myself staring out the windows at the wind blowing in the trees, or the fog moving into the hills, with a yearning so strong that I can almost taste it. I might find myself flipping through the pages of Outside Magazine, dog-earing corners or tearing out pages to mark things I want to do. If not heeded, that yearning can turn to melancholy.
There are always reasons why an outing can be difficult to make happen—it’s hard to find the time, it’s too expensive or no one else wants to go. But earlier this year I hit a wall, and simply had to get outside. I booked a three-day weekend and drove up north.
Once there, I hired my own personal guide and had a fantastic snowshoe outing on the beautiful Mt. Shasta. My guide, Robin, took me up to about 8500 feet and the views were astounding.
The air was cool, the slopes were covered in wind-swept snow, and we could see forever. And I was happy.
We shared an orange and a Clif Bar, and Robin told me all sorts of great facts and bits of history of Mt. Shasta. And standing up there on my snow shoes, I could not help thinking about my dad and my brother, and wishing they were there.
Yet, I knew I could share the experience with them later and we would all feel the same joy, because we have all felt it before, separately and together.
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Asst. Ed.: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise