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The (Really) Great Outdoors

Hiking in Los Padres National Forest. Photo by Ellie Long. 

On the Saturday of my fall break, I woke up to an icy morning in the remote Middle Lion Campground of Los Padres National Forest. I crawled out of my tent dressed in every item of clothing I had packed (and still cocooned within my sleeping bag), sat down on a picnic table, and waited for the sun to rise as a few other members of Outdoor Rec’s Ojai camping trip started up the stoves for breakfast. I was freezing cold, starving, exhausted, and caked in layers of that omnipresent California dust. And when I look back on that day, I recall it as one of my favorite memories from my first few months in college.

There’s something that perhaps can only be described as spiritual about spending time in nature. The city-life requires that our lives be structured through commitments. We spend our days in class, getting lunch, going to sports practice, working on homework, watching movies, hanging out with friends… there’s always something that needs doing, and even when we get a moment to catch our breath, we tend to spend it scrolling mindlessly through our phones. Out in nature, everything becomes still. The hills are anchors, affected only by the changing light as the sun moves sluggishly across the sky. The sounds such as the dinging of your phone, passing sirens, even the background hum of your fridge are replaced by the wind rattling dry branches and the slow trickle of water down the creek. We become, for once, isolated.

That isolation is such an important part of what makes the wilderness special. There are certainly perks to being connected via the internet to millions of people across the world, but it’s also exhausting. There are far too many issues that we are exposed to and feel obligated to care about, and it simply stretches our empathy thin. That’s why despite having the opportunity to go on hikes ranked among the top in the world, my favorite outdoor experiences will always be the ones where, instead of having to push my way through crowds to see some spectacular natural feature, I can speculate about how many miles I would have to go to find the next closest person. Take the hike “Little Si” in my home state of Washington. There’s nothing particularly exciting about the hike: it is a four mile round-trip to a view of the surrounding forest.  On the Friday night I completed this hike with a couple of close friends, there was a rainstorm that obstructed the view, and also kept away every other hiker in the area. That’s where the magic came in. Who could feel anything but at peace when listening to the sound of rain hitting the canopy far above, and gazing out into the darkening forest and seeing nothing but tree after tree after tree in every direction? Breaking off connections to the rest of the world, even for just an evening, can work wonders on the soul.
Hiking Little Si in the rain. Photo by Alex M. Anderson. 

Beyond providing a much needed vacation from the modern world, I’ve also found that being out in nature supplies a welcomed reality check on your place upon this earth. In the city, there are so many things that need attending to that the world can shrink down to just you and your immediate responsibilities. Concerns that are as small as to how many likes you’ll get on your latest Instagram photo, as important as to how you’ll pay back your student loans, even as fundamental as to whether or not this country’s political scene is irredeemable… these thoughts weigh us down to the point where we can no longer raise our heads and see the bigger picture. However, when you walk through the shadows of towering mountains, or gaze at the infinity of stars above, your worries, big and small, ridiculous or frighteningly real, suddenly feel utterly irrelevant. The immensity of the natural world that envelops us has a humbling effect unlike any other.

So next time you start to feel the stress closing in on you, instead of slapping a Band-aid on the problem by grabbing some ice cream and binge watching Netflix for hours, try escaping into the wild for a bit. Get to a nice, quiet spot, far out of sight of civilization and the reach of technology, and enjoy the moment. I can almost guarantee that your worries will dissipate like the cold of the night in the desert sun.
Photo by Ellie Long. 

CLU’s own cross can be peaceful spot to enjoy nature if you don’t have time to get out into the true wild. 

Ellie Long

Cal Lutheran '20

Ellie is a junior at Cal Lutheran, majoring in Political Science with minors in Creative Writing and Global Studies. She was born and raised in Seattle but loves living in sunny Southern California. Her favorite activities include hiking, running, cooking, and of course, writing. 
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