Monday, November 25, 2013

Life Through Windows

No, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth.  But I did spend the past week far away from cell phones and Facebook and television and other First World distractions. My oldest son, my father, and I spent the week nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, George Washington National Forest to be exact.

We braved the bitter November weather, and parked ourselves between two ridges and set up camp.  Dinners were cooked over open fire.  Bathing was done in warmed creek water.  Fresh air was breathed deeply, and stars were gazed with open-mouthed awe.  We endured cold rain and ice, pesky rodents infiltrating our sleeping arrangements, and long steep hikes up Big North Mountain (often in dense icy fog).

We weren't there to just camp.  The plan was to hunt whitetail deer.  This plan had us up and hiking long before daylight started to glow in the eastern sky and hiking out of dense woods by the dim silvery light of a waning moon.  And we encountered wild animals...not only deer, but also squirrels, chipmunks, mice, brook trout, and a plethora of birds (not the least of which was a beautiful bald eagle).

Yes, it was cold (very, VERY cold).  Yes it was tiring (I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation before getting back to my "real" life).  But it was oh so worth it.

Our society is quite isolated from nature.  We are chronically indoors, where the ambient temperature hovers year-round at 72 degrees, kept there by our fear of discomfort.  The typical American's daily experience with the outdoors revolves around walking to and from buildings to their vehicles, watching through tinted windows.  Their experience of nature being one viewed through glass, like nature is some sort of museum exhibit.  We take a "Look, Don't Touch" approach.

Even when we do venture out into nature, we stay on paved sidewalks, or at the very least well-worn paths, and we're kept there by our insensible shoes and anxiety over Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus.  And so at the very best we are nothing more than casual observers and never participants. Just gazing at the landscape from a scenic bypass.  It's not much different than looking at pictures.  We're there, but not really there.

It costs us, this alienation from nature.  It's apparent in our rates of depression and other psychological disorders, in the attention problems of our children, and in our growing waistlines.  We need fresh air and exercise to have healthy bodies.  But we also need trees and butterflies and the night skies unhampered by street lights for healthy minds and healthy spirits.

It's okay for us to get our hands dirty, to be cold or hot, to be out of breath from a good hike uphill.  It's okay for us to stop and smell the flowers and the pine trees and the mud after a downpour.  It's okay to sit quietly against a tree and feel it's sturdiness against our spine until the birds and squirrels forget that we are there...or accept us as belonging there, too....because we do belong.  We are not meant to be seen through window glass either.

And maybe all of this is a metaphor for life, too.  We often just watch the world spin rapidly by. We watch others realize their dreams filtered through television screens.  We rarely step outside of our comfort zones and truly participate.

If you want to feel alive, don't be just a casual observer...don't just pull over at the scenic overlooks on the highways of life (I know that one's a little cheesy)...step outside of your temperature-controlled comfort zone....venture out into the wild unknown....maybe even step off of the well-worn path and forge your own.

Or maybe just sit under a tree and do nothing but BE.  That's okay, too.  Just do more than watch life through windows.

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