Snail Appalachian Trail

The Ache That Nature Fills: Chasing Life Outside

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”   ~John Muir

These days I find myself aching to be out in nature. The freedom that exists in the open air on a mountain peak is a freedom that escapes those of us in the lowlands who live trapped in a world of screens, walls, and responsibilities we’ve created for ourselves that never seem to end. More and more I realize how truly separate we are from nature, how our homes and vehicles do everything they possibly can to shield us from the outdoors.

Those of us who move beyond those barriers on purpose encounter discomfort. We walk through thunderstorms, endure inescapable sun on fragile skin, fight off armies of bugs that want to feast on our blood, struggle to breathe thick summer air, and desperately try to maintain the aching feet that carry us. We experience the scope of how finite we truly are in the vast arena that is nature. And yet somehow, in spite of all this, the call to return to the places that are pure and unscarred remains.

None of those discomforts can overshadow the peace and solitude that brings us back to ourselves. When I step onto a trail, my mind begins to unravel. Being in nature opens up wells of creativity that our brains are free to tap into on the backdrop of nature’s canvas. Over the years I’ve mentally written dozens of books and articles on my hikes. If only I had the discipline to make notes while walking! All I can think is that those ideas were the overflow of a heart that feels suffocated. Staring at spreadsheets all day long and keeping up with the news have drained me in such a way that I am just now starting to catch up to what I need in order to maintain my work. Time away. I need to escape from computers and cell phones, and being in a place where I literally have no reception is the only way I can do it these days. Sorry, you can’t reach me, I’m in the wilderness…

We are quickly losing the sacred space that allows us to stay in touch with who we are as spiritual beings. Phones are the biggest thief of our time, our relationships, and our creativity. As much as I am thankful for the ability to communicate with my family and friends who live far away, I am equally dismayed by the time my phone has stolen from my husband and I, the time I’ve spent scrolling through articles online as opposed to reading a book, and the time I’ve filled aimlessly that could have been spent intentionally in silence or prayer.

And so, I leave. I go to the mountains when I can. I go on trips when I can. I go to the beach when I can. I go to the places that refresh my soul so I can keep moving. All with the determination to give time to the things that hold meaning and beauty. I don’t know how long this form of escapism will last, but for this season of my life, I want to see the places not everyone can see and notice the things that not everyone observes.

Earlier this year when we were in Scotland, there was such a beautiful lack of clutter in the landscape there. Towns were nestled between hills, with housing and shops arranged in such a way that buildings were adjacent to each other, alleviating the impact on the land. In restaurants no one had their phones out. No one. People actually sat and talked to one another, with the exception of pubs where folks were screaming at TVs that played soccer games, even then, a communal activity. I cannot imagine what the winters there must be like, carving a living off the land, herding sheep with the hope of enough payment to make it till next year. There was reliance on neighbors, folks checking in with each other when they stopped in for a pie at lunchtime. It’s a different world over there…a world I very much wish mine resembled more closely.

And so I go to the mountains and we try to see friends when we can. As the seasons change and autumn approaches, I wonder what winter will hold? Will the busy seasons of work eclipse the need for space away? Will we look back at this time in our lives and wonder how we could have missed so much? Or will we realize that we saw all we could, breathed the fresh, crisp air of clouds at 10,000 feet, and walked until we could walk no more…

“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.”  ~Thoreau


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