Into the Wild

We call an experience like camping going into "nature" or "the wilderness." But actually, if you think about it, these words are quite unnecessary. We should really just have a word for "not nature".
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Over the July 4th long weekend, I went on a trip with my oldest son, Abhi. We drove down south through the gold country to the old mining town of Auburn, and from there even further south to the remote town of Foresthill. I've heard Foresthill sometimes called the "armpit of the Sierras," which is, I'd say, a little unfair. It's not really on the way to anywhere, so you might possibly get the sense that it's where you end up when you get lost. We only stopped in Foresthill long enough to get ourselves a fire permit, and then we drove another 40 miles on a tiny road that clung to the side of the steep American River ravine. We passed across the French Meadow Reservoir dam and kept driving. During the entire 40 mile journey from Forest Hill, I don't remember passing a single dwelling. The road turned to dirt after about 28 miles.

We parked our car at the end of the dirt road -- a place called Talbot Crossing. A ranger had been stationed there to perform a survey that is conducted once every five years. His job was to monitor how many people hike in from the crossing into the Granite Chief wilderness area. "There have only been five," he told us, "the entire day. And that will probably be it for the holiday weekend." Although this is one of the most popular weekends of the year to get outside, there was only one party parked at the campground where the road ends. From there, Abhi and I hiked in another four hours with everything we needed in our backpacks.

I've given you this build-up to emphasize that where we were going was REMOTE. Even on the busiest weekend of the year, there was nobody here. We set up our small tent next to a fast-moving creek.

And for the next 2 days, we focused on doing... absolutely nothing.

Sure, we cooked some food now and then. We talked a little. On the second day we took a long hike. We were back on the earth exactly, I mean exactly, the way that it was naturally occurring before the human mind imposed its ideas on it.

We call an experience like this going into "nature" or "the wilderness." But actually, if you think about it, these words are quite unnecessary. We should really just have a word for "not nature," meaning roads and cities and towns and trains and factories. Everything else doesn't really need a name because it's what the Earth is like already. We didn't go "into nature," we just took a break from "not nature." We left behind physical structures and schedules and electronics, and we also left behind all of the habits associated with those things.

Moving out of "not nature" back into the way things are when they're not modified is a powerful outer mirror for something that happens inside yourself as well. When you venture into the wilderness in this way, there's not such a need to meditate anymore, or do practices, or yoga or Chi kung or Tai Chi. You become a part of the ecosystem. The boundaries between you and not you disappear, and all that's left is what is natural. You find yourself staring into the distance for a while, but you have no idea how long it was because there's no way to measure time. Out in the wilderness there is no time. Things happen. There's just the sun at some position in the sky, and you're either hungry or you're not, you're tired or you're not, and your body falls back into a natural rhythm. We went to sleep around 9 o'clock every night because that's what the rest of the ecosystem was doing, and we woke up with the sun, because that's what life was doing too.

I can't recommend highly enough to you to take time away from "not nature" in this way. One of the most beautiful things about living in the United States is that it's a huge country with vast areas that have been set aside, that have been preserved as wilderness.

When you venture into these areas, you understand why the planet is sometimes referred to as "Mother Earth." The wind rushing through the grasses, all the various colors of flowers and trees and rocks, the flowing of water; it's all intensely feminine and healing and welcoming and intimate.

I first took my son to exactly this same spot where we camped about 10 years ago. Since then, we've been many other places, too. He can easily get completely drawn into a world of texting and Facebook (yes, and blogging!) and omg and lol and wtf and virtual reality. One of the gifts I feel most delighted to have shared with him are these trips back into the heart of the mother. I recommend it highly for you too and also for your children.

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