What do you remember? I remember the wind. As a child, I would fall asleep to the wind in the leaves outside my bedroom window on warm summer nights. In winter, we would build snow caves under giant pine trees in my neighbor’s yard, and listen, hidden from sight, to the wind and flurries swirling around us.
A friend from the Nature Conservancy remarked that their strongest support comes from people’s life experiences in nature. Here in California we are blessed with diverse, unique and nearby experiences that can be had even in a pandemic world.
Fortuitously, we had planned this year’s two-week camping trip relatively close to home, after a much longer road trip last year. After the shutdowns eased and campgrounds reopened, we visited amazing caverns at Lake Shasta, marveled at snow-blanketed lakes at Lassen National Park, and enjoyed the empty roads and trails around Lake Almanor.
My daughter experienced her first jet-ski ride and delighted in soaking me in my kayak. Perhaps I should hesitate in giving away “the secret” but camping and RV camping is the best way to travel in my opinion, especially in summer in the western United States.
True, I didn’t like childhood trips involving leaking tents, rain and mosquitos in the Midwest nearly as much as trips out west. I do fondly remember the forests in Maine and Vermont. I remember being amazed at the rivers flowing through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. I remember peeling sunburned skin off my sister’s back in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. I will forever associate red-winged blackbirds with the rolling hills of Illinois. Hopefully you have some memories of nature in your heart, too.
More recently, we’ve rafted in Durango, soaked in outdoor hot pools in Ouray, floated in the river next to our campsite in Zion, and gaped at hoodoos in Bryce.
In the Wyoming wilderness, I diligently carried my bear spray as directed, so much so that I mistook a beaver for a bear cub while mountain biking. A brief freak-out, followed by laughter, ensued.
I stopped and stared at the Tetons and marveled at the deep hot pools at Yellowstone that were more captivating to me than the geysers. These things I remember, and I hope my daughter remembers her favorite things from our travels, too.
Now, on socially distanced days with too much Zoom, I switch constantly between three different pairs of glasses, my eyes straining. I get up from my computer to tell my daughter to get off her computer. Yet this all is fixed in an instant, just by stepping onto the patio and listening to the birds at our bird feeders, chirping all day.
Occasionally a hawk, a lizard, coyotes or snakes spice up our semi-rural life here in Santa Clarita. But we can listen to the birds. And the wind. We can go for a bike ride, a walk, or sit on a hill at dusk or dawn. And for a moment, we can forget the bad news and refocus.
2020 is a perfect time to continue making good outdoor memories. When things get crazy, or you can’t find toilet paper, or plans get cancelled again, or you are dealing with sickness and sadness, step outside and breathe it in.
This, as American poet Wendell Berry eloquently reminds us, is what we need sometimes:
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.