living in the wilderness

“Now I know the secret of the making of the best persons.  It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.”  Walt Whitman

During the summer my job entails being a field instructor for a number of wilderness science programs.  I’ve just returned from a month working in the field, and the peak of my field season is now over.  Our programs are small, and our small staff does everything.  As well as planning, teaching and leading activities, I also cook, clean, drive students to and from places, and haul water to our campsite.

This is my favorite way to learn and possibly my favorite way to live– immersed in daily life with a group of people; eating, sleeping, breathing, and learning together.  I love it when life is not compartmentalized.  I feel most intensely alive when one activity melds into another and there is no superfluity or hierarchy of importance.

The act of living in the outdoors is such a grand thing.  It reduces living to its most basic components, and magnifies them so many times.  Everything takes much more effort: cooking, sleeping, getting water, going to the bathroom.  But it is this magnification of the most essential elements of living that I find so beautiful.

The last program I instructed was a wilderness kayak expedition, which is my favorite.  When my kayak strokes have settled into the rhythmic sweet spot that is like meditation, when I wake in a tent on a cliff to the sound of waves crashing, when I’m digging catholes to poop in the woods (which is a singular and rather philosophical pleasure), there is nothing I miss.  Those times are when I feel like I know the most of what it is to be alive, and when I confront who I am when I simply am– when I am being instead of doing.


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