On Life Outdoors: Not Everything Is A Lesson

[Travel, perspective, and growing through new experiences are big themes in my book. Learn about it here.]

I’ve learned a lot outside. Perhaps you have, too.

Out on the trail, life is simple. You have all the oxygen you need, sights for miles all around you, sunshine or cloud cover above the treetops, but you don’t see it all at once. You see the dirt and rocky path before you a little ways, but mostly you see the few steps in front of you. And those few steps are your entire world in those moments—just one foot in front of the other.

Midwestern Roots

I grew up outside, learning to create my own worlds with imagination and tree branches turned into swords, a row of silver spruce and firs becoming a fortress on the back edge of our lot. But to us, me and my brother Lee and sometimes our sister Laura, it wasn’t just Minnesota; it was anyplace we needed it to be.

TV and the indoors were always the easy choice, but my parents limited our screen time to an hour a day to make sure we didn’t become couch potatoes. The easy options are rarely the best options, aren’t they? (tweet that)

But I’m grateful.

Because outside I found a kernel of beauty and kept on looking for it, watching it grow, until I moved to the Pacific Northwest and everything changed.

Northwest Expansion

My job kept me locked up in dark rooms and it was miserable just thinking of all the beautiful deep, blue, clear skies Oregon summers provided. Even the misty, foggy fall and winter mornings whispered for me to ditch work and walk around until I got lost. In Oregon, I learned to embrace the wilderness, to get out of the city and hike up mountain peaks for 360 degree views of the Cascade Mountains.

The turbulent stillness of a mountain peak is astounding. You make the trek to the top, ascending thousands of feet until you pass the tree line and it’s only the blazing sun, scattered shrubs, and unstable scree you have to outrun if you don’t want to slide back down the mountain. But when you set foot on the solid rock of the summit, you step into a world of tranquility.

Sometimes the New Agers would play their ringing bowl contraptions up there on the summits, or other hikers would just chug water from bottles and turn right around to leave. But the summit was like its own balcony seat on the world, a position of privilege and secret room whipped around by ferocious, chilled wind yet cocooned from the noises of civilization. No bustling traffic or noisy crowds, save the teenage hikers who weren’t impressed and wanted to go home to their Wi-Fi.

If you stayed on the summit long enough, you’d probably think you heard God sneeze or say something, or your stomach would. It’s as if your mind knows you’re in such a sacred place that your body instinctively listens.

Lessons From The Outdoors

The outdoors teach us to value things as they are—not as they should be or as they have been, but simply what’s present.

We’re reminded that we’re not the only ones who build and create order. And God’s not afraid of showing off when He wants to, propping up ancient redwoods or volcanic basins or endless ocean waves, letting us bask in the mystery of how we got to be in such a big world.

Outside, we learn to slow down and to speed up in what matters. Hike, rest, replenish, see. Life is a cycle of action and rest, but never one without the other. If we got stuck in only action or only rest, it would turn into a living death—that restless kind of being alive without really living.

And sometimes out on the trail, or in the woods or by the lake, we might realize that not everything is a lesson; some things just are, and that is a lesson in itself. (tweet that)

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What is one lesson you’ve learned by spending time outdoors?

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Read more about the book I’m writing, which includes stories and unexpected lessons about life and ourselves through change, conflict, and relationships. Get updates and a sneak peek here.

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