“Do you carry a gun…or something to protect yourself?,” I am often asked when “less nature experienced” folks discover my love for spending time alone in the wild. Never, until this very moment, have I thought to follow up my, “No,” response with this: “I carry skills, awareness and presence—grounded in listening.”
“Well, do you…aren’t you ever scared?,” they’ll often ask next. “Isn’t it dangerous?”
Willing to risk whatever perceived or real danger is there, with and without skills…people are increasingly flocking to nature for a refresh of their renewal and resilience. And according to this recent Outdoor Industry Association report, “Everything grows outside, including jobs and the economy.”
We seem to inherently know, there is nothing for renewing and growing body, mind, soul and spirit quite like getting outdoors into nature. The scientific research for this phenomena, of renewal through nature, continues to pour in as researchers probe both the causes of the growing intensity of stress in our modern lives and where and how we might find relief.
And unfortunately, for some lovers of nature, we’ve had something of an intense year here in my Northern New Mexico. Here’s a list of what I know of:
One 75 year old woman wandered off the trail last fall, while mushroom hunting with her husband, never to regain orientation and was found deceased, days later.
A young man wandered into the forest near the ski basin last December and his remains were not found until this May, by a hiker.
And just under a month ago as I write this, in June of 2015, a former White House Chef, was found dead after going for a hike and subsequently reported missing for several days in the Taos area.
And yet more recently, a 13 year old boy attending Philmont Scout Ranch died after being caught in a flash flood while camping, during early morning hours. Others fortunately escaped.
Now this bizarre bit in today’s morning’s news: A young girl was bitten on the arm during the night by a black bear while sleeping in her tent with others, in her back yard outside Raton, NM. The bear was apparently ravaging through garbage and…there is no mention of whether food in the tent itself might have been a factor.
This last story got me to researching bear attacks in NM which revealed at least one more attack earlier this summer: Surprised bear in dense brush attacks antler hunter, near Ruidosa, NM.
I didn’t and don’t intend for this post to be gloomy or morbid but have you Googled a NOAA weather site lately?
NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL
“As of July 8, 2015, 17 people have died from lightning strikes in the US. This is double the average number of year-to-date lightning fatalities over the past five years. Summer is the most dangerous season for lightning. It is NEVER safe to be outside during a thunderstorm. When thunder roars, go indoors!”
NOAA also says, at this lightning safety resource site: “There is little you can do to substantially reduce your risk if you are outside in a thunderstorm.”
And fact is, there are things you can do to reduce your risk, some of which the NOAA site proceeds to identify. And the same is true with bears and other wildlife and environmental hazards in the wild: there are tactics and strategies and practices you can exercise in the wild to not just be safer and enjoy your recreation more but to also deepen your time there into one of soulful and spiritual renewal as well.
Each of the unfortunate incidents cited in the opening of this post were preventable. So it is with our lives; the old adage about being our own worst enemies seems to prove itself true time and again. At least it does in my own life. The Darwin Awards were not created without an accumulation of example and perhaps but for some kind of grace we ourselves are not one.
But who among us has not and will not again ‘do something stupid.’ I certainly cannot throw that proverbial first rock. I suspect such behavior is ‘part and parcel’ of our human nature, of creating familiar environments of comfort for navigating daily living. And lapses of awareness are…normal. Our consumerist culture even induces us into a forgetting that life itself is wild, that no matter our efforts it cannot and ultimately will not be contained and tamed into the digital screen of animated Lion King(s) or sanitized images of war or mass extinctions of life that do not alter our lives.
There is also real risk to breaking out of the gravity of familiarity which keeps us personally and collectively recycling the same thoughts and patterns day in and out 98% of our lives. We are not unlike the hunter with his head down in thick brush intent on finding the next satisfaction only to occasionally be surprised by the ‘bear’ of life. But leave it to John Muir to catch us on this one:
“We must risk our lives to save them.”
Now I admit, this is a man who once climbed to the top of a tall Douglass Spruce for the joy of riding it during a fierce high Sierra Mountain storm. He later wrote of the risk and experience, “the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.” ( “A Wind-storm in the Forests,” a chapter in his 1894 book, The Mountains of California.)
Risk is relative to circumstance and skills and perhaps even passion and desperation…. Going inside, for example, during a lightning storm is a good idea if you got an inside to go to but in the wild..you want your skills of awareness and practice honed for that encounter with the untamed storm. And you want to reasonably risk your life so you can savor it, so you can know you are alive. How will we ever know and savor and love, even within ourselves, the rawness and beauty and terror of the untamed if we confine ourselves within walls and Malls and shoulds and shouldn’ts and can’ts and don’ts and don’ts?
Life wants us to risk our living! So we can celebrate it.
That’s why you break out of house onto the trails or perhaps even off trail, because you love nature and want to break the trance of false security: you are going to die.
And the one single practice that reduces our risk of succumbing to the narcotics of our denial and avoidance and unconsciousness is…is to increase our consciousness through intention; to grow our mindful awareness and presence of our internal and external environments. It’s a practical and a spiritual thing: we want to love our living.
Now we are in the territory of both practicing the skills we do know (healthy habits) and of bringing mindful attention to what we don’t know: being curious and willing to learn new skills, change habits and to actually seeing ourselves and the world differently. Talk about risk!
Sacred time spent in Nature is a primary practice field for me and so many lovers of the wild, in this risky and vital territory of self-construction and development. We cannot avoid the risk, indoors or out. But we can choose, so much as possible, to wake up to the precious beauty of what it is to be alive at this time on the planet, to the wonder and mystery of who we ourselves are, in the depths of our being.
Herein is a path into a more joyful life and a re-greening of our planet: the conscious reuniting and attuning of our minds, bodies, souls and spirits with that of our planet, Earth. This is an edge in the of risking our lives…to save them.
So tell me, in a comment below, what edges of risk do you play with that bring you more alive?
I invite you to join me/us in one of the upcoming opportunities for deepening your wilderness skills while also growing your capacities for renewal and resilience through your love of nature.
Resource Notes of Interest:
I found the John Muir Wind Storm links and quote here, which also includes an audio or podcast listening to the story. StoryWeb is a site worth the visit!
List of Fatal Bear Attacks in North America
Here’s an excellent hiker/camper bear awareness resource from Camino Real Ranger District Bear Aware Program
Larry Glover is a speaker, writer, retreat facilitator, resiliency coach and wilderness guide. You can learn more about opportunities to engage with him at larryglover.com and at leadfeather.org. We still have space in the Wilderness Skills Intensive, the Wilderness Soul Renewal Retreat and in a Canyon de Chelly cultural immersion journey.