As many of you may realize, the greatness of the natural world can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. Its harmony can relax and cleanse negative tensions, while its unwavering solidity can challenge and even break the strongest of humans. My personal experience has been that the rewards of the former do not come without the obligations of the latter, and to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s because I have recently experienced a great deal of stasis – the complete inability to move forward and the lack of desire to do so.
I have personally experienced stasis in a way that has dominated my entire mental space, and ultimately depleted my sense of understanding of the world around me. The summer after I graduated high school, I found myself the victim of a car accident that very handily destroyed my car but left my body in near perfect condition. I rolled my Jeep Grand Cherokee at 65mph on the freeway, which resulted in a serious shock to my system. While I still have difficulty describing my feelings in words, I know that in that moment where my car left the ground, I felt incredibly powerless in the face of death, yet nearly simultaneously accepted it. I believe that this feeling stayed with me long after the accident, toxifying my life with an overpowering numbness and inability to cope with my survival. Life was colorless, irrational, and inherently meaningless to me.
I stayed numb for several months, until the opportunity for a week-long trip to the Colorado River arrived in the form of a brochure from UCSB’s Adventure Programs at my freshman orientation. My family and I believed that “getting out of my head” would be good for me. The trip consisted of six days and seven nights on the Colorado River and tested my ability to respond when action was required. I paddled in a canoe for over 20 miles, socializing with soon-to-be freshmen such as myself, and found that I could do a lot more than I could have ever expected from myself. The necessity imposed by the situation left little room for pondering and self-deprecation, and eventually enlightened my mind to a sense of empowerment. The decision to go on that trip has ultimately led me to the position of strength and appreciation in which I currently find myself, not only within the context of adventure programs, but in my life.
Situations that occur in the outdoors tend to be finite in that a decision is required to achieve necessary feats; the situation doesn’t always wait for you to make up your mind. The necessities may range from paddling up river during a storm so that you reach your campsite, to packing enough food for yourself and ten others on a week-long backpacking trip. In dire cases, careful decisions mean the difference between life and death. Nature does not care if you have a box of matches at home, or if you don’t know how to make a fire with raw materials –if you don’t build these skills or retain awareness of your surroundings, you may not get a fire that night, and you definitely will remember how cold you were in the morning. The sentiment I’m trying to express is that urgency and responsibility typically negate indecision as completely irrelevant and even life-threatening.
In my experience a sense of personal responsibility can be immensely therapeutic when you have never been given the chance to assume a role of perceived value. The ability to prove yourself as valuable or capable is such an integral aspect of leading a human life; opportunities for these situations truly abound in the wild. Essentially, this is why I decided to start working with Wilderness Youth Project. I believe we share the philosophy that nature can empower us if we treat it with integrity and respect. This is evident in the children with whom I interact. I see some swim for the first time, I see them trust the land by wearing a blindfold, and I see them pushing their boundaries farther than they’ve ever gone. The effects of our collective wilderness experience are formative and proactively healing in nature. They can provide us with the sense that our own personal boundaries are what inhibit us the most. At times I wish that I had had this opportunity to explore myself and the world like that when I was a child – and then I realize that I still am a child and always do have that opportunity.