Today on the trail I was “thinking out loud” with my hiking partner about why I do hiking and backpacking to the degree that I do. The answer had not fully formed out there, but later at home it all became clear.
In my 60s now, the intensity of my activity has not really slowed down much in the past 10 years, in terms of my ambitions and frequency at which I am out on the trail. Sure, there are some things I don’t do much any more in the outdoors (like climbing 14ers in Colorado), but not because I can’t. It’s because after climbing 30 of the highest mountains in Colorado, my interests have changed, progressed, maybe even matured.
I am less interested in “concurring” mountains these days. I have exchanged checking off a list of accomplishments for a deeper and more personally satisfying experience of just being quiet (yet, still active) in nature. And with all the polarizing BS going on in the world today, it is even more fulfilling to purposely place myself, even if for a few hours per week, in a place that is drastically dissimilar.
When I’m out in nature and away from the influence of the media and the mobs of people going about what the world requires of them, I am giving myself separation from the madness – poison, really. I am allowing myself to feel (and be) small, unimportant, and humbled by something sacred and far larger than I will ever be. It puts me in a place where I am not the center, where I am reminded of more important things and people, where I am quite insignificant. This is what nature does for me. It puts my head and body in a place where all my senses can rest from the noise and distractions, allowing clarity of thought. Nature is a conduit to mindfulness. Nature cleanses and renews.
Reason #1: I need it for alignment of purpose and to ground myself. And that being active in nature has great physical health benefits is a powerful bonus too.
The second reason might actually be related to some insecurities or fears. My brother died recently at the age of 66. Like my father and his father before him, they all shared very similar diagnoses. And I too have the same familiar underlying symptoms. This, of course, has naturally prompted thoughts and reasonable suggestions that my time here may be short. I’m only 6 years younger than they were when they passed. These thoughts have generated an urgency for me to live out loud and step into whatever remaining years I have with sure confidence that I am putting my all into being the best human I can be, that I have embraced every opportunity to make the greatest and most positive impact and example on and for others, and smiling through it all, creating an intentional, no-regret life.
When nature provides the environment for me to gain a clear direction and purpose, and then when I step back into my day-to-day activities, now aligned on my priorities, when I work through executing these priorities with humility and understanding of my rightful place in this world, the people closest to me, everyone in my little circle, are getting the best me.
Reason #2: the most important people in my life need me to do this.
Who knows? I may live another 50 years. The odds are against that. But why not live like I don’t have 50 years, or even 5? Why not live today with focused intention? Why not start right now and continue tomorrow and the next day? It’s seems many people don’t get this urgency until it’s (nearly) too late, and then they rush to fit it all in a short amount of time, all laced with regret about not starting sooner. I think that’s sad and unfortunate for everyone. Is it a stretch to say that this may be one of our biggest failings in this modern world?
So, there you have it. I am active in nature because I need it and the people that mean the most to me need me to do it. Are there any better reasons to do anything?