I just returned from almost 9 days of camping in the majesty of the California redwoods. It has become a treasured annual trek. This year, I was particularly looking forward to it simply because I could be officially “off the grid” for the entire time. I was craving this as a reset button for my relationship with technology.
There are many young campers in this group: from very small children to teens who run barefoot and free for the entire week. These children seem to be inoculating themselves with the antidote to what has been called, “Nature Deficit Disorder.” In his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv claims depression, anxiety, attention problems and childhood obesity are on the rise because our children have been driven inside by cultural fears which create a dependency on computers and other screen time. While Louv suggests this is a relatively new problem, critics and researchers believe that the problem has been decades in the making.
I have always loved camping. I like to wash off my make-up for the allotted time and bathe in the river if it seems imperative. Years ago, Amy used to shake her head in disbelief that I would sleep in a tent for extended periods (although she knows me much better now). If I don’t get a few nights in a tent at least twice a year, I begin to get a little squirrely.
One of the reasons I intentionally chose my adopted state of South Carolina is because of the access to nature: both marshlands and the ocean and forests and mountains.
From where I live in the center of this small state, I can get to either one in less than 2-3 hours. I am lucky enough to have very fortunate friends with sanctuaries in both locations. While these properties are well-appointed, they are often wire-less (vs. wireless) and relatively remote. I appreciate this more each year.
Amy, born & raised on Long Island (and who I’ve never been able to convince to go camping with me), similarly craves this return to nature. Many times, we have retreated to a dear friend’s mountain cabin in North Carolina and marveled at the beauty of nature: The magnificent haze over the layers of gradations of blue in the Smoky Mountains. The cool breezes that send a shiver over us when down in the valley it is well on its way to 100 degrees. The bear cub that climbed our friend’s steps after his breakfast of blueberries. The varieties of hummingbirds that visit the feeders 2 feet from our expectant faces. The natural slate sloughed off from the mountain that we carried back from the morning hike to complete a walkway. The mesmerizing sound of the mountain stream that runs along one side of the property.
On these self-made retreats, we rock on the porch like we are envisioning our futures as elders. We write blogs, books, poetry, and other reflections because the words flow like the water running down the creek. We paint and photograph sunsets because the colors and their splendor beg to be shared. We study and grade because every task is better and easier when we’re working so close to God. We read and cook easy meals because there are few nearby conveniences or modern distractions. We meditate, rest, pray, and sleep because we can. We share our hopes, joys, disappointments, and dreams because we treasure deep, abiding friendships.
As we leave rejuvenated, I am reminded by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods, we return to reason & faith” and I think that this is not a luxury, but rather, an imperative.
The climactic moment came once on a hike, following the stream uphill to a magnificent waterfall. The three of us wove our way, ducking through the laurels, to the top where that stream poured over the large, white water-smoothed, granite rocks. It was incredibly cool and loud. We almost had to shout to hear one another. Then, with the stealth of a fox, the grace of a deer, and the speed of a mountain lion, Amy went in. In to the frigid waterfall! And then, she just sat herself on a rock ledge, obviously blissed out.
I followed pretty quickly—but with not-as-graceful, loud squeals of shock when I hit the cold water. Once we adapted to the temperature, however, the experience was oddly calming. Time stood still. Peace poured over us. Our hostess soon followed. After a little more exploring, some photography, and rock balancing in the stream, we reverently hiked back down after—our dripping wet, messy selves—marveling at that sacred experience.
Like so many, we are all very busy, responsible professionals. Life is cluttered by our smart phones, emails, deadlines, obligations, bills, filtered air, and fluorescent lights—the grown-up version of “nature deficit”. It is simply draining and I’m convinced our bodies, minds, and souls were not meant to live this way. We need more nature in our lives. Fresh air, sunshine, birds chirping, breezes, blooming flowers, and shade trees. We need more nature as the antidote to daily clutter. The time spent in the glory of those marvelous mountains is the cure for the messier parts of our lives today.
Engage in Nature because Life is Messy and Life is Marvelous.