I do not recall when my love for nature began, what the nexus or genesis of the whole being-outdoors-is-a-good-thing-for-me, thing, was. As I look back through the catalog of memories there is no one standout moment in Past that I know to be the start. There are, however, many plausible beginnings… Time spent in my grandparents’ garden eating dirty vegetables, camping with my grandfather and family next to the Ol Scioto River north of Portsmouth, OH in Pike County (a hop, skip, and jump away from the uranium enrichment plant, I might add), endless hours playing in creeks and mud with my best childhood friends… Somewhere in my mind’s fog there is a start to all of this, though. Somewhere.
I love backpacking. I love it. There is something so perfect, so quintessential outdoors, about strapping your house on your back, walking for many long hours which are all miles, over hill and dale, around knolls both wooded and grassy, the tang of petrichor heavy in the nostrils as breaths come deep like a woodland creature, breaths a grown man or woman could be proud of… There is something perfect there. Not the concept of perfection but actually perfect.
I am a nut but I am not a professional. I am what I term a “weekend woodchuck”, though the majority of my excursions are neither on the weekends nor involving woodchucks. I do not walk 30 miles, I do not try to shave every blessed ounce from my pack weight, I do not create my own dehydrated meals consisting of barely edible lentils (soil balls) and beets (dusty roots). No. None of that. I decide to go, I put too many things in whichever pack I think is best, I talk to Arco as if he has anything to do with the decision to go, and then we go. We walk. We climb. We sit without saying very much. We make camp. We climb into the tent and he snoozes whilst I read whichever book I nabbed from the shelf while packing. We pass into deep sleeps, lulled by the night sounds that is our white noise machine.
Mornings come earlier and sure out there, FYI. Forget the need of an alarm clock. Nature does not abide the late sleeper.
So what about my camera? What camera am I willing to lug out into the farthest-ish reaches along with my 'house'? Surely a DSLR or equivalent? Surely such quality is required for trips into the wild wonderful… Alas, no. I take my phone and the camera that is nestled cleverly into the heavily engineered facade. It’s good enough, it is not perfect, and, yes, I lament the lack of f-stop control, of shutter speed, the time it takes to focus on something- all of the finite control afforded by my DSLR. That said, my phone is a multi-tool and the camera is ‘good enough’. I am not a nature photog who needs a 300+mm lens with motion-tracking autofocus. No, I need some simple shots that I can look back on sometime into my future days and remember that day, that spot, that season.
And just look at these photos. No, they are not perfect which is what draws me to these more and more. (See my previous post concerning "perfection".) But, they are entirely adequate for my needs.
I encourage everyone to take a walk in the woods. Not the local metro park “wood walk” but the actual woods. Ask around, find a trail that is at least 4 miles long, strap on your boots or sturdy sneakers (leave the ‘strappy sandals’), and get out there, explore. Go alone or take a companion. A dog is preferable as they will have the most fun of their lives out there (and that is infectious, that type of reckless abandon-type fun) and they rarely talk very much. If you choose a human companion I suggest selecting one who knows how and when to be silent. DO NOT, oh no don’t, take a human that feels the need to impress themselves upon silence as this ruins the point of being out of doors.
Peace is the whole point. No one is calling, and you are not checking Facebook. If you forgot to turn something off before leaving the house well too bad thanks to the many miles / hours of walking it would take to even find out. The continuous sound of leaf blowers fade to nothing. There is no traffic with its pointless log jams and drivers who are either ambivalent about the need to drive well or are ignorant of the left lane rules, who HAVE to see what their phone is doing while they are “driving”… There is nothing but the trail ahead of you, the miles to go today, what is for dinner, and… That view. Just look at that view…
Walk for hours, at least three, with breaks mixed in for water and snacks, and for laying in the pine needle beds, or the sitting on of large rock outcroppings. If you happen to look up and see some beautiful leafs swaying in the breeze then yes, take your pack off and lay down in the trail and watch those leafs sway in the breeze. Hear them rustling…
Walk for hours until your body understands what is happening, that it is again in nature… That’s when it happens. That’s when the primal, the instinctual begins to creep up through the layers of city life and technology and convenience… I can’t describe what this feeling is but trust me, once you are acclimated to walking in the woods It will happen and you will know it when it does.
Yes, some folk are “city folk” and I get that. What I do not get is these city folk dismiss a walk in the woods out of hand… How can one truly appreciate the concrete jungle until they come in from the actual jungle?
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary…” - Henry David Thoreau
Take a walk in the woods. Take your phone's camera or whatever camera. You'll be glad you did.