As an adult I love nature. I love what it does to my soul. When the distractions of work, social obligations and technology feel overwhelming, I go for a hike. There has been no better learned medicine that breathing in and experiencing nature. It refreshes. It creates better perspective. It allows for peace. I learned to appreciate this when I was very young. My family was a camping family.
When I was about 10-years-old I went on a camping trip with my family and several family friends. This was by no means my first camping trip, nor would it be my last. It was, however, memorable. I had been allowed to bring my best friend Hannah along, as the other families with us only had boys. I needed someone to hang with and boys had cooties. We were tent camping on the lake for three days. We had delicious food to cook over the fire, swimming suits, a boat, and all the sunshine we could ever want. It was going to be a great trip.
On the first day Hannah and I spent nearly every second on the beach. We stopped for nothing and no one. I have no doubt that I was asked to put on sunscreen multiple times but alas I was having way too much fun. To my detriment, I ended day 1 with a terrible sunburn. The kind that feels like it’s burning all night while you roll around in your sleeping bag in a hopeless attempt to get comfortable. It was miserable. The next day, I humiliatingly had to where a t-shirt the entire time I played outside. As a 10-year-old, this is very uncool.
On day 2, we went boating. This was the best. Going fast across the lake, wind in your hair, and water all around you. I dare say there is nothing better. We took the boats all the way to the other side of the lake where we found a great spot to stop and cliff jump or swing on a rope swing. Now, I am not the most coordinated of girls. My first (and last) attempt on the rope swing ended with me dragging my legs across the water before slowly sinking in. I can remember my dad on the boat just shaking his head. I was then convinced to climb to the top of the cliff face and jump off. My memory still holds that the cliff was nearly the size of a ten-story building. This is for sure not true and I imagine it was maybe 15-20 feet in reality. To my 10-year-old self, however, it was enormous. I was terrified. And yet, I was not about to back down with my brothers and their friends watching. Not to mention Hannah had already jumped and landed into the water beautifully. I took a deep breath, jumped, and then screamed bloody murder all the way down.
Once in the water all I could think about was the pain. I had landed with my legs straight out. And my, oh my, did it hurt. Under the water I slowly reminded myself of how to move and to get to the surface. It felt like slow motion. When I finally made it to the surface I was met with silence and stares from everyone there. Suddenly, my mom’s voice came into focus and I could hear her yelling, “Dani! Are you OK?!”
I responded with a nod and a soft yes.
I climbed back into the boat and my dad said, “Did you really think that was a good idea after the rope swing?”
He made a good point. I spent the remainder of that day and the final day of our camping trip trying to make myself comfortable with a terrible sunburn and limp because of the knee I wounded with that cliff jump.
I left that camping trip with a smile. Not because I was feeling all better, but because I had just spent three days outside breathing fresh air with no distractions and with people that have a lot of fun. I learned about nature by playing in the sand, swimming in water, and recognizing that the sun can be real nasty if you don’t take precautions. I learned to take risks. And with that how to deal with the fallback when those risks don’t pan out QUITE like you imagined. I engaged with the fish when I detached one from a fishing line, I learned how to build a fire and how mesmerizing the flames can be. I fell asleep peacefully to the sounds of water, wind, and rustling branches on trees. I was refreshed. I had a great perspective on how fun life can be when it’s just you and people and trees. I was content and I was at peace.