This is an excerpt from the 2016 Outdoor Orientation speech at the Waynflete School in Portland, ME.
Recently I was asked to think about a place in the world to which I feel connected. After I identified this place, I was then supposed to explain to the people in my group why this particular environment is important to me. I found this to be a difficult task. How could I possibly put into words the landscapes that are ingrained in me, that feel as though they are a part of my genetic construct, and whose dynamic states have helped shape me. If I listed the flora and fauna would you understand? If I shared stories and anecdotes of trips, would that paint an accurate depiction of the environment and how I moved through it? Or perhaps if I gave you the coordinates and showed you on a map the locations that have inspired awe, would you nod with understanding? The truth is I really don’t know why we go to the mountains, rivers, oceans, forests, gardens, and trails. I might be able to cobble together an answer for you today, but it will be different tomorrow….and probably the day after that too.
Now, for some of you this might seem perplexing, even troublesome. The one person tasked with the job of convincing you why getting out of doors is beneficial, can’t clearly articulate why he likes being outside?? I mean I can tell you that I would opt for a sleeping pad over a mattress, a tent over a roof, a wandering river over a broken sidewalk, or mountains over four walls any day….but what does that mean? Well…..I can tell you that these places have helped foster personal growth, an appreciation for music and art, a deep commitment to nature, and have taught me the ideals and values that shape who I am. But this isn’t good enough….these simple and myopic words fall short because they are mine alone. And that is the point……
After much reflection I realize that I shouldn’t answer the question of “why we go” because it would be unfair. We create our understanding of the world through personal experiences. If I were to list the clinical, academic, anecdotal, and historical reasons (which there are many) as evidence for why you should spend time outside……..I would automatically impart expectations onto your interactions with the world. That isn’t my intention. You have a right to your own experiences, to choose your own adventures, and the ability to question and explore the world in a manner that is authentic to you. Climbing guide Jack Turner aptly summarizes this point. “And choice is key. Everything may be connected to everything else but each being is unique, each event – each experience, you’ve never had it before and you will never have it again. But the self must still choose a path.” And along this path you will discover the landscapes, the people, the birds, the fields, and the streets that define your place. This trail is long, sometimes difficult, it will continue long after Outdoor Experience is finished, but I hope at some point you look back and are overwhelmed with a sense of awe at what you have seen, enjoyed, created, and you, like me, are left speechless by the places to which you are now connected.
Featured Image: Carl Zoch – carlzoch.com