(This is a piece I am writing for a men’s conference – I’m using nature as a tool of exploration. Your feedback is welcome, always. Thom)
I have deep dark secrets I keep safely tucked away in the recesses of my mind. I very seldom reveal them to the general public, only to suggest, over the years I have discovered I am not alone. Many people carry with them the same insecurities, questions, confusions about their position in life, who they are or will become, why they react and desire that which they do, and certainly, how to define what is important and real in their lives. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am a man, and as I age, I become more aware of how my own actions employ the values I seem to have inherently decided to go forward with. Those actions were seedlings in my mind as a child, and now today as I write this piece, I wonder how remarkable our lives can be when we do finally begin to understand ourselves.
Last night I traveled from the city deep into the woods, with the full intention to separate myself from all of the concrete and asphalt that permeates my way of life in my suburban community. I am easily wrapped up in the type of car my neighbor drives, the vacations my friends will take when I remain grounded in the city, the adventures people take around me and then talk about for weeks afterward as the time of their lives. I have a good life, my family is happy, I have a beautiful wife, my children are both successful in their own meaningful ways, yet, I am still looking. Still seeking, still wondering what is out there that I need to satisfy my urges. And often times, I’m left still wondering what those urges are today, that have honed their strength and impacted my life since childhood.
It does seem that every time I wind upon the grassy road to our remote hunting cabin, I suddenly begin to feel connected with the natural world around me. Granted, right now, I am in a coffeeshop with Wi-Fi and I have checked my social media, connected with a couple of emails, and checked the forecast electronically, but I am still in the woods, and much closer to my inspiration than I would be in the comforts of my fully modernized home back in the city.
In nature’s element I am asked to recall that I am certainly just another mechanical vehicle of motion moving through a landscape of living creatures far less obviously vocal and intellectually driven than I am in my daily world. Out here in the woods, a bear will cross a hiking path and eliminate waste in full stride, without feeling compelled to discover privacy for that very ‘exclusive’ moment our humanity has created for themselves. Granted, there are thankful advances of society that have allowed the human condition to demonstrate more couth than the animalistic nature of the open forest, but let’s not miss the point.
When in the woods, I am able to recognize those devices that I use to stay in tune with the modern world, to measure the modern society I live in, those actions and mindful choices I make to be one with my humanity become muddled and less necessary when standing in the middle of a forest vista, I can observe a flutter of hawks, circling their territory, as they will every day without any concern toward whether or not they have offended or disregarded their neighbor. If they have that neighbor will move on, or simply establish their own territory without sitting down to analyze a strategy. In nature, when the sun rises and sets the emotions of the environment remain rather static; and I am only a man amongst real wolves.
Our society is built around conquest. We live in a constant conquest to prove to another person our wares, whether it be in project proposal, or winning over the most popular girl at the high school dance. Our lives are built upon proving ourselves on a daily basis, measuring our wares to a barometer far greater than our own internal compass. So when walking a trail deep in the forest, there seems to be a certain liberty in freeing ourselves of that constant need to impress, to accomplish, to sustain a way of living that our male-driven society has suggested we adhere to. Where does it all end is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. The answere seems more attainable when I can purposefully spend some time with nature.
I step onto a river bed and feel the rocks move in the soil below me. i know that by my actions, that piece of embankment has made a significant shift that to the onlooker seems insignificant, and even for me it is rather unimpressionable, really just an obstacle I have only walked past. But, the soil itself will respond differently. its shape and dimensions will never be the same, and because I have moved it in volume the water that splashes up from the river on a windy day will have the effect of continuing to shape its new existence. The man that stepped on the part of soil that shifted within the weight of their body, long gone, but the natural change to the earth’s environment forever altered. This is just a small example that lends to the importance of recognizing in nature, the human condition still has a significant impact even if it feels quite the opposite in the greater scheme of things.
When I am walking a deep trail in the forest I am thinking about the beauty around me, the true essence of foliage, the natural landscape, and of course the many sets of native eyes watching me intently as I move through their own personal unconditional neighborhood. So why then, when I return to the city do I treat that environment so differently? Why is it when I return to the city I suddenly become compelled to wonder what the other guy, that person that I visibly see in my every day walking, takes completely the focus away from nature to the suddenly more conscious reality of who we are, who I am as measured against the characteristics of my peer. And finally, what if he wins? Do I simply crawl back under a rock in my nearby forest of unique separation from the material world just beyond the vista.
Ever walk over a mountain and discover a world of civilization just over the crest in the valley a mile below. How many movies have you seen that have the struggling traveling suddenly finding home, or perhaps salvation, or a new nightmare just after they cross through the apex of the mountain they have labored upon for many hours, days, years? Our society is built upon the success of challenge, more so, the ability to withstand the obstacles that naturally fall in front of our path.
So I suppose your wondering what happened to all of the dark and scary things inside my head I suggested at the start. Well my hope is that ruse managed to get you to read further. Sorry if I duped you, and if you made it this far, thanks.
As a man I find myself constantly questioning what it is that I need, or want to prove about who I am and how my identity is defined. If I can walk into the forest solo I have the opportunity to only imagine the possibility that nature has provided me in all of her natural beauty. If I chose to ignore that reality for my own self-fulfilling purpose, well then, just maybe I have become misguided. I think it is important we recognize nature for that which it is really designed – a measure of our own complete vulnerability to the scope of the world around us, a scale we haven’t control of, but yet are such a great piece of the puzzle we refer to as our existence. If we can do that in the hands of a beautiful partner, while realizing we are simply a man as needy as the next, then maybe we can go forward with honesty, passion, humility, and lastly very simply, a respect toward our own improbable humanity.
As a man, we are continually exploring value and integrity, correct? I’m always seeking the right trail.