The Wild Life
Ronald B. Dear
Most of us live in or near cities and small towns. As a result, “nature”, “the wilds” or “woods” are often some distance away, perceived, perhaps, as places to be avoided, approached with caution, possibly feared. Such apprehensions are misplaced. The truth is that each of us can enjoy, benefit and learn from time spent in the out-of-doors. It may be for a brief period of time or a great deal of time, nearby or far from home, and age, degree of skill or amount of strength should not be determinants. Richard Louv, for example, in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder [Algonquin, 2006] tells us that living in large cities and highly populated areas is a relatively recent phenomenon. He explains how this came about and what we as individuals can do to better align ourselves with some rich aspects of life that seem now to elude us. A little personal history will illustrate this concept.
My father enjoyed walking but was not an especially outdoor type of person. Nevertheless, during summer family vacations, he regularly took my two older brothers and me on ten-mile day hikes into the wilderness (or “woods” as we then called them) of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I was about four years old when we started these long and sometimes challenging hikes. But even as a young child I was enthralled by these walks, marveled at the beauty and wildness of the surroundings and bewitched with inner delight. It is a passion I have retained throughout life and have continued to enjoy hiking and outdoor living. In addition to the United States, I have spent many contented hours hiking and hostelling in Europe (once walking solo across Scotland), wandering in remote sections of South America, India, the Far East, Canada and Alaska. Especially close to my heart is the Pacific Northwest, my home for many years.
Not surprising, then, when my son Bruce was only four years old, I took him on his first backpacking trip to a remarkably scenic section of wilderness beach in the Olympic National Park of Washington. As a family, he, his mom and I continued such hikes, both day and overnight, through much of his developmental years. As he grew older, his ability to carry more weight increased, while mine, alas, seemed to decline, until today our weight carrying capabilities seem almost to have reversed! His love of this active, wild outdoor life grew in time, and now he, too, has trekked a good part of the world.
The point I wish to emphasize, however, is that with a minimum of skill and knowledge, the wilderness, the out-of-doors, the desert, the woods, the plains, the mountains, the coastal areas can be friendly and welcoming. In fact, as Louv in Last Child in the Woods makes so beautifully clear, anyone can enjoy the benefits, the excitement, and the sense of exploration of the out-of-doors quite close to home, in nearby parks and open spaces. Michael Pyle author of Sky Time in Gray’s River (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) states this nicely:
Hikers can bring that same attentiveness to the backcountry back home to their immediate surroundings, whether it’s a back yard or a neighborhood park. The world is simply not a boring place anywhere if you bring the right attitude to it.
Much as the skilled photographer does not need to depend upon expensive equipment or an exotic locale to capture/create outstanding compositions from a mundane setting, he orhe who has “the right attitude” may find peace, solitude and excitement in the outside close to home.
April 10, 2007