“Mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
– Anatoli Boukreev
The full moon was shining, bright and strong, its light bathing the tent. The air was cold and clean, each inhalation a welcome break from the city. In the distance, yipping coyotes called to the stars.
Finally, I thought, allowing myself to breathe for what felt like the first time in weeks.
Camping and hiking have always been my greatest escapes. Even in the throes of travel, one of my greatest passions, I often find myself searching for the quiet solace that exists beyond the hubbub of the city. As much as I love exploring new food, cultural sites, and checking another museum off my list, sometimes I need to step back. Sometimes I need to breathe.
Nature is one of the few places where I finally feel my mind, always running at breakneck speed on the hamster wheel of life, finally begin to still.
“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”
– John Milton
Like Tara, I am always looking for the educational value in different experiences, especially those beyond the traditional classroom. Here at Outbound, we spend a lot of time delving into paleontology, archaeology, history, languages and more. We talk about the lessons learned through cultural bridges, linguistic barriers, and scientific breakthroughs.
On my most recent camping trip, though, I was reminded of a far simpler lesson: the importance of curiosity. The subconscious need to allow my mind to wander and to wonder. I found myself remembering to marvel at this vast world that we are clinging to, like ants on an eggshell, as it hurtles through space.
Mankind can create some pretty fantastic things. Science and technology is always adapting, becoming faster, more efficient, more intuitive. The problem emerges when we get so buried in this world of neon convenience that we lose ourselves. We forget what it means to be a bipedal creature that evolved to roam vast plains, not sit in cramped offices.
If we aren’t stagnating, we’re sprinting. We tip and totter between the two extremes, holding ourselves back in the name of productivity, then racing forward, checking as many locations off of our list as possible.
As travelers, the urge to constantly be moving is pressing at our backs. Hurry, it says. Go to this new city, see that new show. Climb that monument, stare at this tower. Hurry, hurry, before you miss it all.
And sometimes, in our ceaseless efforts not to miss anything, we fail to truly see.
Being a resident of Houston, my very own Walden Pond is often elusive. Texas Hill Country, a good three hours away, has become my default respite. It isn’t perfect. It doesn’t match the stark beauty of the Chisos desert, or the cascading waterfalls of Croatia, but it offers a much-needed break from city lights. And when I lie in my tent at night, listening to the coyotes howl, it is enough to awaken that sense of wonder that deadlines and obligations force into the shadows.
It is on these trips into Hill Country where I am frequently reminded of a simple truth. I am a part of this world. I did not evolve to hide behind brick walls and stare at a sterile, landscaped imitation of life through a pane of glass. Nature is meant to be experienced, and I am built to experience it.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
And not just to look. To see. To soak it in. To stare at the mountain for a good long while and absorb its presence, its enormity, the millions of years that it took to carve out its existence and the millions more that will weather it away. To breathe in the air around me and taste the subtle messages it is sending. To listen to all of the sounds offered to my ears, from the the tiniest shudder of leaves on their branches to the great, booming heartbeat of a coastal thunderstorm.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
– Lord Byron
I am fighting an endless battle, within myself. It is a war we all fight, one as old as life itself. In one corner, Time is cracking his knuckles, sharpening his claws. He whispers in our ears. Hurry, before I run out. Don’t stop, don’t wait. Go, go, go. See it all, or you may as well have seen nothing.
In the other corner, Curiosity is begging for me to stay a little longer, to appreciate a little deeper.
Some places, I have discovered, give Curiosity an edge.
They are Nature’s equivalent of grabbing us by the shoulders, giving us a good shake, and saying, “Here. Look. See at what I’ve created? See what millions upon millions of years of evolution and erosion and eruption can cause? Can your computer do this? Do your deadlines tick off the eons? Does your landscaped lawn make you stop dead in your tracks, your stomach drop in awe, and tears prick your eyes?”
There are many places that inspire curiosity, that make us feel human again. These are the places that allow us to become explorers again. Investigators, surveyors. They are the places that drive us to ask why and to understand, not for the sake of knowledge, but because they are a part of this world and so are we.
Sometimes, I think we forget that we are a part of nature too.
I have only experienced a handful of places like this, but I have tried to take the time to stop and appreciate each of them for what they are.
There are many other wonders that I have not witnessed. The world is a vast place, and I know that I will not be able to explore every nook and cranny.
When I do happen upon one of these special places, though, I want to be able to do so with open eyes and an open heart. I want to feel that spark of curiosity, that urge to discover and explore. I want my soul to shiver and a tiny voice to awaken within me, urging me to truly, deeply understand.
I want to feel human.
Where have you felt inspired?