We need to immerse ourselves in wild spaces- frequently and admirably. Outwardly praising beauty is healthy for hearts. In our day to do lives, we need to say “WOAH!” more often.
This past weekend Outdoor Alex and I (WilderBeth) backpacked in the beautiful Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. We creek stomped and bushwhacked our way through miles of wilderness area.
What I noticed that day was a shift from our normal every day speech. An outward expression of “WOAH!” was present throughout the nine hours of hiking.
Our words were full of love and admiration for the forest:
“Check out this moss.”
“Woah, it’s growing upside down!”
“Look at the water shimmering on the rock.”
“Wow, that’s beautiful.”
“Woah! Look at the mountains!”
“They are so green and fluffy!”
“Look at the clouds hugging the ridgeline!”
“Holy shit this waterfall is huge!”
“I did not expect this!”
“Aw, look at that cascade.”
“Oh my gosh that pool is beautiful.”
“It is so alluring.”
“Wow! Look how clear the water is!”
“I see a fish!”
“Woah, he’s huge!”
“Holy moly that rock is beautiful.”
“It has so many colors.”
“This sandy beach is amazing.”
“I can’t remember the last time my feet were in sand.”
“Woah, look! These leaves are purple underneath!”
“Oh my gosh, that is a deep purple! I guess we haven’t made up any colors, we get them all from nature.”
“What the! This tree is massive!”
“It’s a white pine- the biggest pine on the east coast!”
“Ah, I love the sound of the wind through the pines.”
“Everything is so lush and beautiful.”
“The forest is so thick.”
“Everything is growing.”
“Oh hello, beautiful ferns!”
“Hey there, ground pine.”
“Look! A huge salamander!”
“That’s a thick boy!”
Saying woah and wow and other exclamations of love connect us to the divine energy and spirit that is within us.
Oh, to live a live of wonder!
When was the last time you walked into your room and gasped at the beauty of it? Your wall posters may no longer impress you or even represent your interests. Your carefully framed photos may no longer catch your eye. Your unmade bed may disgruntle you and your dirty clothes mock you into submission of cleaning them.
When’s the last time you drove to work and marveled at the beauty of the stop lights and yield signs? Have you ever admired your routine? Is your current routine a past dream? Have you worked hard to get where you are? Do you cherish your surroundings? Have you stopped noticing the mountain peaks in the distance or the tree growing out of the sidewalk? Do you swat the bugs out of your face or watch them peacefully land on your nose?
Without nature, we are prone to fall into a habitual haze. Autopilot guides us safely through our daily expectations. We allow our brains to surrender to muscle memory. This is comfortable. This is poisonous for our spirit.
Nature is presence inducing, and at times presence demanding.
The trail we hiked in Pisgah National Forest was no walk in the park. It required decent bushwhacking and ample river walking. I want to be clear that I use the term bushwhacking in a misguided way- we did not actually whack bushes or cut anything down with a sword. We climbed over fallen trees, ducked under encroaching rhododendron, let branches scrape our legs and allowed leaves to brush up against our face. We pushed branches away from our eyes and stopped often to look for the trail. We walked through the creek for miles. We held onto rocks in swift water and used their study presence to pull us across. We avoided the slippery rocks and praised the mossy shores.
Much about being present depends on your external circumstances. Yes, it is true you can be present in any place no matter how dull or exciting. But how much work do you need to do to notice things in a room with blank walls? After several moments of sitting still, taking in the four walls and perhaps seeing the paint strokes and noticing where the outlets are, the experience would go inward. You would begin noticing your feelings and hearing your thoughts.
How little effort you need to exert to notice things in nature.
Nature invites us to rub our hands along smooth bark; to submerge our head in the freezing water. Nature asks us to listen when the birds call, to hear when thunder rumbles and where flowing water is hidden in the forest. Nature invites us to taste its sweet berries, to swallow our fear of the dark and sleep peacefully. Nature teaches us what a forest smells like after rain and when you are sitting in shit. Nature beckons us watch its ever changing ways; to connect with the cyclical shifts that shape our lives.
Presence is about participating in life. Opportunity abounds for us to join in with the way of the world when we spend time outside.
What humans of the world need is a deep and personal relationship with wild spaces.
We need to be startled by a snake in the water to remind us of other living things moving in ways we don’t, living in places we won’t.
We need to be amazed by a flower in bloom to remind us that growth always follows death.
We need to be impressed by the sheer size of a canyon wall to remind us that we are physically small.
We need to be fascinated by an ant carrying a crumb to remind us that we are also ginormous.
We need to be surprised when we turn a corner and see a cascading waterfall to remind us there is beauty just ahead of what we can see.
We need to be astounded by our body’s strength to remind us that our capabilities are more valuable than our appearance.
We need to be.
Let our minds be still, except for noticing the dirt beneath our feet, the roots we need to step over and rocks we can use to pull ourselves out of the water.
Let our minds be still, except for curiously questioning everything. Why are these leaves so big and what animal left these bite marks on the bark? What does this river look like flooded? Does the water cover the trail? Why is there sand here? Did the river deposit sand on the trail- did the river flood here? Where is the sand coming from? How far did this driftwood float down the river? How is that tree growing out of that rock? Is that leaf blue? Is it a trick of the light? How old is this tree? What has this tree witnessed over the years? What did this area look like 500 years ago? Who was the first person who discovered this area and built a trail? Who discovered this area and refused to build a trail, keeping it a secret?
Let our hearts be engulfed by the beauty of natural nonsense.
Let our spirits be awakened by the old growth.
Let our body’s be challenged, pushed to discomfort and then relieved again by nature’s cool embrace.
Let our soul’s connect profoundly with the landscape of all living things.
Going deep into nature allows us to escape our controlled environment and commit to chaos. It gives us a chance to completely be surprised.
Nature gives us a reason to say, “WOAH.”