Last week I piled the kids into the minivan for a simple mission to buy water socks. We pulled into the parking lot of the flagship Seattle store of REI, the retail outdoor mecca. The front doors of the building are supersized and opened by gripping ice axe-shaped handles that create the mood for adventure. The grand, oversized entrance is flanked by a gurgling brook and Swiss-style clocks with time zones named for famous mountain peaks like Denali and Everest. Upon entering REI, one is greeted by a giant rock-climbing wall and 20-foot glossy photos of fit, tan and well-outfitted men and women frolicking effortlessly through perilous mountain passes and white water rapids.
While my outdoor ambitions are much more modest–after all I grew up in Southern California, where the L.A. river is actually a concrete flood-control channel –I was nonetheless inspired. As a young girl I got my wilderness fix each summer from Girl Scout camp, a few family trips to Lake Arrowhead and reading Jack London novels. Now, living in Seattle I have plentiful access to the real thing. Summer is in and school is out and filling my lungs with the sweet scent of the forest floor is on my mind.
Nothing renews me more completely than communing with nature. It doesn’t need to be an extreme adventure to make me happy, but I enjoy it most when hiking with friends. A four-hour getaway can do wonders. What I love best about hiking is:
1. Being off-line: The beauty of being in the woods is that even if I am carrying a cell phone for emergencies, it most likely won’t work, which is a huge positive. I can be at one with nature rather than my smart phone. Cell phone conversations would also garner grave stares from fellow hikers.
2. The scenery: The vastness of nature is a conundrum. On the one hand it makes us feel small in the continuum of space and time. On the other hand, it makes me feel a part of something much bigger. Perhaps this is the Zen of hiking.
3. The rewarding workout: Hiking with friends is social and enjoyable. It is exercise with visual rewards that change with the time of day and the seasons.
4. The gear: I’ll admit I love to wear my insulated, seemless, ventilated, partially zipped, lightweight “summer berry” raincoat that folds up into the size of a napkin.
5. The smell: No household pine-fresh cleaner is a match for Mother Nature.
6. Long talks without interruption: Unlike having coffee or a drink with a pal, out in the woods there are absolutely zero interruptions. Not a waiter, not a phone call, not a single city noise to divert attention. Whether it is idle conversation or deep thoughts it is complete focused friend time.
I am eager to go and looking forward to my upcoming mini-breaks. Take a hike, too, and then tell us about it.
– Carol Lewis Gullstad, 27 June 2011