I’ve recently written about political matters that I couldn’t ignore. I won’t rehash them here, but allow me to take an entirely different approach in explaining why access to public lands, and the outdoors in general, is a vital and important issue.
People in Idaho and in the West are blessed with some of the best quality of life anywhere in the United States. In general, we don’t make a lot of money, especially if we live in Idaho’s rural areas, but we live richly because of our access to the outdoors. It’s often referred to as our “second paycheck.”
I think about that when I am outside doing my favorite things, but it goes far beyond recreating, goofing off or catching fish. It keeps us connected to the natural world and keeps us grounded to it.
When I see a bald eagle perching above the Boise River, a four-point mule deer grazing in the Foothills, a wood duck gliding onto a pond or lupine turning a hillside purple, I’m connected to nature in ways that money can’t buy.
And those things happen without leaving the Treasure Valley.
Climb in a car, take a short drive, and we see scenery and attractions that other people save for all year to experience and pack into a week’s vacation. We can do it for the cost of a tank of gas on any weekend. We don’t need permission, reservations. We don’t even have to pay fees in most cases, just a willingness to explore and discover.
UNPLUG AND AWAKEN
I’m not anti-technology, but I occasionally catch myself getting swept up and overwhelmed in the connected world. I’ve seen people literally panic when the batteries on their cellphones ran out, even though there was nothing urgent or important that needed their attention.
I try to sever the Internet umbilical cord as often as possible, and the easiest way to do it is to get outdoors.
Rather than experiencing the anxiety-inducing, never-ending ticker tape of information flowing through glowing screens, I can sit and stare at shimmering water, listen to songbirds warbling in the willows and watch blue sky turn into pastel orange as the sun slowly sinks beneath the horizon.
It kicks my brain into neutral and allows me to savor a simple, beautiful moment that will never be repeated. I feel physical and mental stress drain away like an overturned bucket of water. It’s nearly subconscious when it happens, but when I am in the moment, it feels like doing nothing is an accomplishment and a minor victory in a hectic, hyper-driven world.
Being outdoors is also a chance to figure things out for ourselves. You can’t Google where a bull elk lives. Wikipedia won’t tell you what insect a rising trout is feeding on, and you can’t order campfire-roasted s’mores off Amazon. You have to use the computer in your head to figure out how to unravel nature’s mysteries and reap its rewards.
COMPETING WITHOUT KEEPING SCORE
It’s almost inevitable that you will do something physical when you’re outdoors.
Calories are the currency for playing there. I’ve been fortunate to remain healthy and fit throughout my life, and the outdoors is a major reason why. I’m not a big fan of gyms, and it’s been decades since I competed in organized sports, but playing outdoors requires a fitness level I can’t bluff my way through. The mountains don’t accept excuses, and a trail doesn’t care that I packed on a few pounds over the winter.
The outdoors is full of pass/no pass tests. I will face many of them, and I better be ready. That’s not to say that I always am, but the need for fitness never escapes my consciousness, and it keeps me focused and driven. It gives me the same motivation I used to get from competing in sports. Most times, no one knows if I made it up a mountain, how long it took, or how sore I was at the top. But I know, and the bitter taste of failure isn’t dulled when no one is there to witness it.
With the overall health of society declining and unhealthy lifestyles becoming epidemic, the simple act of taking a hike can lead to bigger things. A walk in the Foothills can be a precursor to a climb up Mount Borah. No gym membership required.
NEVER TOO OLD OR TOO YOUNG
My concern about access to the outdoors isn’t about me, or who I think should manage public lands and other places where we revitalize ourselves mentally physically and spiritually.
It’s about all of us who share a love of the outdoors. It’s about a kid chasing frogs and discovering a new world filled with fascinating creatures and the earthy scent of a marsh and the sensation of mud oozing between his or her toes. It’s about parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts sharing their favorite campsite and passing their traditions to another generation.
Enjoying the outdoors crosses all demographic lines, and it provides an unstructured, yet wonderfully complex place for exploration, entertainment and education. Being able to easily and cheaply take advantage of all things available outdoors is part of our culture as Idahoans and what makes us different than people in Chicago, New York or Miami.
We should value, treasure, protect and preserve for future generations our access to the outdoors. When I feel those special places are secure, you will rarely, if ever, read about politics in this space because I have better things to write about.
There are no politicians or pulpits around a campfire, only people sharing dancing orange flames beneath a halo of stars in an indigo sky.