One of my favorite gifts from the Camino de Santiago was to reconnect with mother earth. Most of the walking time was spent between the villages and cities which are separated by three to five mile patches of pure nature. Griffon vultures and storks flew overhead, wheat fields danced with gusts of wind, and wild blackberries become candy. In the fall, young strong green sunflower stalks supported their brilliant yellow heads that stretch to the sky for sip of light. Their mature cousins stood firm on greyish stalks with crusted leaves and their black faces stare directly at the soil. Spring filled the creek beds with noisy water and poppies add their brilliant red accent to color the endless green fields of grain. The circle of life was imbibed with each step.
Last week in McCall, Idaho, a new friend invited me to climb the highest local peak. Due to forest fires (about 30 miles away), the road to the traditional hiking path was closed. We chose to ascend the 8,300 foot summit by following newly created deer and elk trails through heavy underbrush. The first part of the walk took us past a natural reservoir. The lack of water exposed the dirt rimmed banks that once cuddled the spring runoff. Decaying ponderosa pines laid bare in calm swampy water like a pile of disorganized tinker toys. We froze with the sound of a black bear escaping our intrusion. The only sign of spring’s balsamroot plants were decomposed remnants that looked like aging tobacco leaves. Above the treeline we carefully stepped across a sea of grey boulders. The rare splotches of dirt were decorated with rust and bright yellow foliage serving as notice to the imminent winter. Eating strawberries under a flapping flag at the summit made my self-created personal senseless chaos disintegrate into dust.
Abstinence from nature allows us to become detached from the omnipresent cycle of life and tends to enhance fears of death. In the forest, trees burn and provide fertile soil for the next generation. Flowers grow, blossom, bloom, and die. Weak animals are removed from the population and become nourishment. Their bony carcasses slowly becomes dirt. Earth breaks them down and earth produces life in another form. In nature, everything falls apart. In the city falling apart is taboo.
Most people crave a life just like a city where things are not meant to fall apart. We want events and thoughts to be organized, structured, on firm foundations, controlled, governed, and predictable. The antithesis of nature. Time spent outside of nature is by definition unnatural. One rarely leave the intensive care unit of a hospital with the same acceptance derived from a long stroll surrounded by life and decay in the woods.
As often as possible, step off the concrete onto the dirt.