Americans love the outdoors.
It’s not just about the commercialization and industrial mentality I’m talking about. People smarter than me are doing a much better job pointing out the issues brought up by that and working towards solutions.
No, this has more to do with our disconnect from nature as a culture. Nature and the outdoors are something we DO, the way we go to a bar or a theme park. We “make a day of it”. We plan it out and check off things as we go along. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Probably more so. I’m working on it.
Now, this isn’t unique to Americans. We aren’t the only ones who market adventures and use the outdoors as a backdrop. There’s nothing wrong with that inherently. If an individual has the ability to show people a more tantalizing side of life by taking them climbing a mountain, or skydiving, all the power to them.
The difference is, we don’t know when to stop. Everything is peacocked up into some grand escapade. I’ve even seen nature walks marketed as “adventure in an afternoon”.
That’s not right. Not in the slightest. Worse yet, it cuts us off from a lot of aspects of the outdoors. Things that inarguably help us be better people.
Other cultures have this inherently tied into aspects of daily life. The concept of “friluftsliv” is a recent discovery for me, but it’s one I’m going to pursue doggedly for the rest of my life. It’s a Scandinavian idea that roughly translates to “free air life”. It bleeds into a lot of daily life in those cultures. It’s the idea of just being in nature. Not out to conquer it, or take something away. Just existing. That’s something I’ve always felt when I’m out on trail, or even just sitting out in a backyard. We need it so badly, and we don’t even know it.
I’ve been reading a lot about youth education lately. It’s all in preparation for a project I’ll be starting in the new year. (If you’re curious check out the site and let me know what you think)
One of the books every teacher I approached recommended was “Last child in the woods”. I’d recommend everyone read it, but the premise is that young people NEED the outdoors the way a tadpole needs water until it’s a frog. Then it can take time away from it if necessary. That’s my analogy, not the author’s, but I think it’s a good one. We don’t immerse ourselves in nature as much as we should. We spend our time there to accomplish a goal, and then it’s back to the humdrum of every day life.
I get it, and for some folks maybe that’s the only way they can enjoy it. Going back to that tadpole analogy, maybe some people are more like toads. In the water when they absolutely have to be, then a whole life spent out of it. Why though? As much as we’d like to remove ourselves from the natural world, we’re part of it. Admittedly, modern life tends to paint the “wild” as an other. An outside force we’ve been trying to escape since we first stood upright and came down from the trees.
I tend to disagree with this, and I’m not alone. There have been plenty of studies and research done showing that time spent outdoors is not only good for us physically, it makes us happier. Again, I’d recommend “last child in the woods if you want a clear explanation of how it effects the growth of young minds, and how those effects can change a person’s entire life.
So, here’s a challenge. The next time you go outdoors? Go by yourself. Not just without a group of friends, but without anything else that connects you to them. Leave your phone, or if you really MUST have it for pictures/emergencies/etc put it on airplane mode. Take a journal, and just find a quiet place to stare off for a few hours. Jot down the thoughts that really reach out to you, or sketch what you see. Anything to really force yourself into just being. Because, no matter how much you feel like you’re not part of nature, you are. And in my experience, it’ll remind you pretty quickly.