Independent of the regular rain and the peaches that shrivelled up on the tree, and independent of the incredible mozzies and sandflies, I’m calling this the best summer ever. We have settled into half days of work in the morning, and afternoon missions outside with the kids. In the past I’ve counted down the days until the kids are back in the school routine, now I’m really appreciating this free time: Corn, strawberries, beaches, bbq’s, surfing, gardening, and hanging out with our now two week old calves. As far as I’m concerned, we could just go on like this for a long time.
Shelley’s article this week is a reflection on the outdoor life and connection of John Muir. Having done some of my most committing and hence, most story-worthy outdoor adventures with Shelley, I can say that she speaks from the heart. For her, access to the outdoors is the same as access to life. It is perfect timing to remind all of us, that being outdoors is to be in a great healing space.
In health, Becky
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John of the Mountains, 1938
A few years back someone told me a story about an American man who used to climb up the big pine trees of California in windstorms, simply to feel what it was like. I felt an instant connection to this mystery man and it didn’t take long to find out more about him.
His name was John Muir (1838-1914): naturalist, writer, conservationist. However we choose to label him, he was a lover of wilderness and the outside, often referring to nature and the natural world as “home”. Muir spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, USA and was very influential in preserving the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park, as well as other wilderness areas in the States. He founded the Sierra Club, a major conservation organisation in the US.
The more I read about him and his own writings, the more his thoughts and philosophies resonated with my own. I recognised a kindred lover of wilderness and simple wanderings in the outside. I soon discovered the story I was told related to the one time he climbed a 100 foot tall Douglas Fir in a very unique Sierra windstorm in 1874 (after very non-recklessly making a discerning choice of tree) about which he wrote in ‘A Wind-Storm in the Forests’ (1894). http://pweb.jps.net/~prichins/w-storm.htm Muir writes less about the storm and more about the wind. He didn’t dramatise his experiences in the outside; rather he tended to describe how it felt to be in amongst the wilderness.
Often when we venture out into nature we’re on a mission – paddling a river, tramping to a hut, climbing a mountain, huffing and puffing our bike up a track to grit our teeth for the downhill. And those are all great ways to enjoy the outside. Sometimes though, we’re so intent on the goal that we forget to just sit and enjoy and imbibe the world around us – listen, watch, smell, and touch. And relax! A walk in the outside with no fixed destination can often be as therapeutic as an hour of massage or a beer in the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon.
I’ve realised that one of my pre-requisites for where I live is to have the outside within easy reach (preferably without driving my car). I presently live in the mountains, near a lake and rivers, and within five minutes from leaving my house I can be sitting as if in the middle of nowhere: watching the sky go by, the geese flying overhead, gazing at patterns in the sand or simply staring at the mountains, spotting things I’ve never noticed before. If I don’t feel like just sitting I might take photos or sing to nobody or skip stones on the water or play pooh sticks in a creek. I think we’re incredibly lucky to live in New Zealand and have that choice.
Each of us has a unique connection to the outside. For some of us it is a challenge to sit still, sit back and simply look, listen and feel. But in this so-called modern world that we have created the chance to do just that is becoming less and less a priority. Ultimately it’s a personal choice – our role in this world. But let’s not forget we are natural animals, and as such we are part of the natural world. A natural world where daylight is the only clock and our senses are how we encounter and understand our surroundings. John Muir’s life and writings reminds us that it is a privilege to belong to such a dynamic and amazing world.
As he was such a prominent naturalist, conservationist and writer in the US, a quick search on the Internet will provide a lot more information on John Muir and his writings.
Born and bred in Northland, Shelley grew up surrounded by beaches, with the bush never far away. It was a great place to be a kid (she loved walking to school in gumboots!) but as soon as she left school the itchy feet came along. After playing around at university long enough to learn it just wasn’t her thing, Shelley found herself sucked into the wonderful world of rivers and rafting. Rafting led to travel overseas as she followed the seasons, eluding the winters and sticking close to the summers. She worked mostly in Nepal, the States, and Norway; sometimes rafting, sometimes whatever work she could find to get to the next spot. Eventually she’d had enough of constantly moving and arrived back in New Zealand feeling a bit like a stranger in a strange land. Shelley has been back almost 15 years now; after a few years living near Rotorua she currently lives in the mountains of the South Island, where the seasons are distinct, only real men eat quiche, and she can wear gumboots just about everywhere! Shelley still works on rivers and does whatever else she can to keep herself outside. As a lover of the outdoors she can’t think of a better place to be.
Re: Teaching Kids to Surf
This one hit the spot – Pamela, Queenstown
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The substance of the winds is too thin for human eyes, their written language is too difficult for human minds, and their spoken language mostly too faint for the ears. ~John Muir
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