Every person should spend some time alone in nature. It’s remarkable how quickly you learn to appreciate things previously overlooked, and how everything’s suddenly put into perspective when you’re forced to face yourself with no distractions.
I first picked up a bow and began hunting whitetail when I was twelve years old. I’m still not entirely sure why my dad decided to start me off bow hunting on Florida public land but I can only assume it was one of two things:
1. To make me a better hunter. After all, killing a Florida public land deer with a bow is sort of like seeing a unicorn. Or…
2. To break my will to hunt at an early age in order to save my time, money, and mental health.
I like to think it was the first reason.
Fast forward thirteen years and I still find myself up a tree every fall. But I often ask myself “Why?”
Why do any of us, as people who love the outdoors, do the things we do? Why do we hike up mountains, paddle absurd distances, or sit in a tree all day? Different people must have different reasons. Perhaps it’s an excuse to just get out of the house, go exploring, continue a tradition, put some meat in the freezer, or even spend some time alone for self reflection. Whatever the reason may be, people continue to flock to the outdoors every day. And though I’ve ventured outside for almost every reason imaginable, I’ve lately noticed much of my time spent outside is in self reflection. So I’ve recently been having to ask myself “why?”
As a twelve year old, I can vividly remember bowhunting on Eglin Air Force Base over a game trail so ancient that the last living creature to walk it must’ve just recently sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. What I can’t tell you, however, is what on earth I was thinking about. Was it video games? Dinner? Maybe it actually was just as simple as ‘I really hope a deer steps out’. I can certainly tell you that I wasn’t caught up thinking about jobs, finances, relationships, school work, etc. What was on my mind then, and what’s on my mind today are definitely different. And perhaps some of my reasoning for stepping outside today is different too.
While darting deer out in the woods, we usually sat up in a tree stand, alone, in the dark, for about 6-8 hours. Every day. For months. We all took turns doing this to help keep our sanity, and it wasn’t long before we affectionately dubbed our turns as “tree duty”. Tree duty honestly wasn’t bad at first. We had a competition going where the person who darted the most does got a steak dinner. And it wasn’t so much the prize we were after as it was simply the bragging rights. So during the first few weeks, we practically fought over the chance to sit in the stand. But as the weeks went on, the willingness to sit in the stand began to die, and soon we were all just looking forward to –not- having to sit.
During the first darting season, I probably got sick of sitting in the stand sooner than everyone else. I had just gone through a terrible break up and had suddenly found myself every other night sitting alone, up a tree, in the dark, and with no distractions. At the time, it was the last place in the world I wanted to be. I wanted to be around friends, family, anything. I just wanted to be doing something and get my mind off of my personal problems. I’d also recently graduated college and was finally having my “what am I going to do with my life now?” – freak out. But without even the ability to use a cell phone, I had no choice but to sit there and think about things. With no distractions, it’s easy to over think or over-analyze something. To go over what-if’s, would’ves, could’ves, should’ves. Distractions like television, cell phones, friends, family, or social life are all great and extremely helpful to get your mind off of things. But when those things are taken away and you’re forced to face yourself, you learn to solve your problems. And quickly. For a while, I thought maybe I was just going crazy. It can’t be –that- hard to sit around in a tree at night, right?. After all, none of the other technicians had any complaints other than “it’s boring” or “I’m dying of blood loss from mosquitoes”. That was, at least, until this year. I knew one of my coworkers was going through some personal stuff and while riding around in the truck discussing tree duty, he turned to me and said “Dude, I don’t know how you did it last year”.
Looking back, I’m –extremely- glad I was essentially forced to seriously think about my issues. I now feel as though spending time alone in nature, with no distractions, is something everyone should do. I’m not saying to go climb a tree in the dark for hours on end (unless of course you want to just drive yourself insane). But go on a hike alone. Go fishing, or kayaking, or mountain biking. Allow yourself to face your issues without distractions. Chances are you’ll solve your problems and by the end of it all, you cannot help but have a new found appreciation for almost everything in your life. Things that might otherwise be overlooked; those friends and family that are always there for you, the pleasant waitress at the restaurant, or the funny sitcom on TV. I have a true appreciation for those things because I know, at one point, I would’ve killed to have them around as a distraction.
All of this is, however, only one way of looking at getting outdoors. I realized this as begin packing for an upcoming hunting trip. Though I’m excited, I thought of sitting in a tree stand and this bizarre, involuntary shudder ran through me. Why am I going to do this again?
The answer comes from the other side of the spectrum. There are those of us who turn to the outdoors as a way to “get away from it all”. The outdoors acts as an escape from the busyness and responsibility of every day life. It’s a chance to rewind, relax, and –not- think about things. What’s odd is that I’m now trying to distance myself from those distractions I once prayed for. Internet, bars, television , restaurants, etc. Maybe there really can be too much of a good thing, but I find myself now looking forward to sitting in the stand rather than dreading it.
Perhaps the outdoors serves as the best of both worlds. Time alone in nature can serve not only as a means of self reflection, but also a distraction in itself. It can help solve your problems, or help you take a step back from them. It all depends on your current perspective. What I do know is that no one has ever spent some time alone in the outdoors and come back a worse person. Whatever your preferred outdoor activity is, it can only help make you a better person. All you have to do is step outside.