5 years ago today was one of the most momentous days in my life... I had never ventured off alone, and yet here I was 6 days into my first solo #journeyman👣 trip.
I sat at an intersection in Utah with 2 options, turn left and head home to LA, still only a relatively short drive away. OR turn right and venture on to Yellowstone, 12 hours further from everything I knew.
Turn left to safety, my bed, shower, pooch, and man... to comfort.
Turn right to be... truly alone.
It was a physical and emotional crossroads. Indecisive 2015 me had to pull the car over to think/cry it out more.
I’m still a big ole mess of course, but 2020 me wouldn’t have wavered. 2020 me would have been confident in my ability to be by myself. 2020 me knows that I continued on that trip and saw/did some of the most awe-inspiring things of my life--things have carried me to who I am today. 2020 me would not have blinked at that intersection.
But the only reason 2020 me knows what he knows is because of crossroads like this. Without the struggle and ultimate decision to turn away from my comfort zone, I would never truly know what comfort is. Without letting go of my dependency, I never would have known how to take the reigns of my own destiny.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life, but I do love looking back at moments like this. Times when I could have caved, layed down, given up. But instead, I turned right, tearfully coasting off into my future, looking back now only to marvel.
This area in Sequoia National Park used to be blanketed in development: cars, a gas station, grocery store, parking lots, a multi-building historic lodge. Now most of that is gone, demolished, cleared out. The park service rewilded it, for the sake of the sequoias and the whole ecosystem that depends on them.
You could think of mindfulness and living in the now as a rebuke of dwelling on what happened way back when, but the present is not ignorant of the past. You can let the yesterday overwhelm you so you’re paralyzed today, or you can use the past to inform your present and future.
Like the sequoia grove of this Giant Forest, we can never fully undo the damage and trauma of our past, but we make a choice to learn from it as we charge into a better future.
The path ahead looks treacherous.
The trees above insanely immense.
There’s no end in either sight.
But there must be an end, right?
A present ruled by an unknown fear,
An opaque future, never quite near.
And yet, we all move forward.
Skipping gayley toward.
Sometimes light hits the right step.
Next a stumble in a black abyss.
Move because of ego.
Move because you can’t let go.
Move because of true confidence.
Movement masquerades as cowardice.
Move since we don’t know any better.
Just another shark in the water.
Exhausted from swimming, terrified to stop.
Push and persevere, squinting at the tree top.
One day we’ll get there and find clarity.
Or at least that’s what I keep saying to me.
A lot of us could use some therapy, but ALL of us could use a lot more nature.
So many of us live a hustled, breakneck, claustrophobic life in our cities and suburbs. We keep tight schedules, update our newsfeeds, take on loans, sit in traffic, breathe dirty air, update newsfeeds again, text friends, second-guess their response, update newsfeeds once more. We’ve been doing all this for so long that the accompanying stress becomes an expectation. The road rage, the FOMO, the worry, the doubt, the regret, all just another appointment on the presumed schedule of daily life.
It’s a knot of our own creation, that we then go and pay a therapist to detangle it.
Now don’t get me wrong, therapy is a worthy endeavor. I can say with certainty that all of us could benefit from a few conversations with such an unbiased observer — talking with friends (or to yourself) can only get you so far.
But if all we rely on is therapy, or self-help books, or this blog, we’re still ignoring the elephant in the room, which is the society that drives us insane in the first place.
Nature literally, physiologically, makes us feel better. Science says so. The question to answer then is: why?
It brings us back to our roots. It strips off all the modern complications disguised as conveniences. It gives us a moment of conscientious clarity. It allows space for silence in an increasingly deafening world. It is a momentary portal into a dimension of empathy that preexists within ourselves. It creates a kind of temporary dementia, where we forget about future mental traffic for a minute so we can do nothing but revel in the present peace.
Those are my own answers, your’s may be completely different, but either way we know nature gives us more than just a pretty Instagram photo — it gives us life.
“May your search through nature lead you to yourself” isn’t profound because nature suddenly answers all our questions, it’s profound because it reminds us we already know them.
May I suggest that nature will uncover those inner truths whether you like it or not. May I also suggest that that’s a beautiful thing.
Nature is my kind of therapy.
I’m a gay liberal, you might be a straight conservative, and most everyone is actually somewhere in between. Nature can bring us all together.
When I’m out in the woods by myself I have a lot of time to think… about how sore I’m going to be tomorrow, about how I miss my dog, about those pesky gnats, and always eventually about mindfulness and the peace I find in the unavoidable now of nature.
I end up thinking big thoughts too, and lately I can’t help but think about the the ballooning divisions in our society.
The community of nature is so welcoming, whether it be your fellow trail hikers and campers, or the easy-to-anthropomorphize community of wildlife that’s out there with you. But the communities where we all normally live — these cities and towns and sub-developments and this nation as whole — they’re not so happy-go-lucky these days. One quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter and the division is gaping. One little stroll down a street in diversifying neighborhood, and the canyon sinks deeper. Last year’s presidential election dangerously widened the fracture.
These are some of my communities: I’m a human, an American, a Californian, and a Los Angeleno. I like yoga, whisky, dogs, music, camping, and hiking. I am a politically liberal white man, one who grew up lower income but now comes from some fiscal privilege, though I know by being a white man I’ve had privilege the whole way. Oh, and I’m also gay.
The community of liberal, city-dwelling, yoga-bending, music-singing gays is a prevalent one (we’ve had our own sitcom!), so I’m well aware of the stereotype that presume we aren’t interested in the outdoors, camping, or generally anything dirty. We like fashion, brunch, and Lady Gaga, right? I guess I do like brunch, so that’s 1 out of 3 for me. That’s the thing about stereotypes, they may be true for some, but they’re also complete bullshit for others.
No community is ubiquitous. We are not one thing or the other, we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things. The divisions between different communities are almost as numerous as the divisions within a community.
So what is it about this community of the woods that draws me away from the one I call home?
In nature I see a place where a whole array of people from different enclaves, experiences, ethnicities, and educations come together to trek through our common ground. It’s a place where everyone, from hippies to hikers to hunters, finds happiness. It’s a place where nothing belongs to any one of us, because it belongs to all of us. It’s a place of acceptance, where the stereotypes and expectations hold less importance. It’s a place where we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things.
When I travel alone, far outside my normal community safety net, I feel more secure than ever. The community of nature is a bond beyond — a visceral, natural, native bond, that transcends modern political and ideological boundaries.
Not every community has had a chance to experience nature as I have, specifically people of color. I consider that another point of my own privilege and it’s something we need to change. But in those public lands, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how often you’ve been there, it still belongs to you.
That mountain, this forest, those streams we explore, they sand off the rough edges of our differences. They’re inherently a part of us, we’re a part of them, and that makes us all part of the same thing — mankind.
I’m a gay man. That’s one slice of my own personally pieced together community. It’s a community fraught with as many internal struggles as any, but by and large it is one of acceptance and free expression. Those who came before me fought hard to create it, and that fight allows me the freedom to expand outside its boundaries. I am exceptionally proud of my community.
But I am a gay man who also loves the mountains, so I have more than one community to tend to. Maybe we all do. Maybe it’s through the interaction and intersection of those communities that we start to come together as a nation and as a society. Maybe, nature is the great equalizer that helps us get there.
Our society desperately needs to tear down the walls of separation that some continually seek to build. Nature and our public lands are like wrecking balls, ready to demolish that which would divide us up, giving us the space to put common courtesy and kindness back together in its place. Because in the wilderness we are all family.
So have I. Everything and everyone does.
Pretty much every year around this time I visit my family on the Central Coast of California, and pretty much every time the landscape looks completely different. Last year this field was bright green with wildflowers. This year it was still a winters brown with only a hint of green breaking through.
Like the seasons, life often assumes a pattern, creatures of habit as we are (here I am telling you how I always go home in March to prove it). But even within those patterns, there’s inevitably a shift.
Nothing ever stays the same. You can physically go back to any place, but you, your mind, your mindset, the ground squirrel, the grass, the sky, and the earth itself have already moved on. Every individual object and being on this planet moves forward, eventually, whether we like it or not.
This field. I’ve seen it tens of times. Every time it has changed. Every time it’s a brand new field. It’s the mystery and majesty of change that makes life so worth living.
The sun is a metaphor for life. It's glare is how we know.
Figuring out how to capture a natural sun glare was the first thing I learned on my “fancy” camera (and might have been the last lol). It’s not the photograph I’m so intrigued by, though yeah it is usually pretty. It’s the perspective gained.
A sun dapple is an immense power stymied and diluted by distance, filtered through a nearly infinite number of elements on its way to your eye. Even at the very last moment before reaching you with its life sustaining rays, it hits a singular needle on one of a million pine trees on this particular range of mountains, dispersing it’s power one last time into something simply beautiful.
I’m not even sure what that says about life, about you or I, about the cosmos or the forest, about politics or the present, but I know it gives me joy to feel both small and incredibly important as the one eye that gets to see that one glare at that one moment. This moment.
So often we make the mistake of of assuming we have to give up the wild in order to live in the modern. Society has spent millennia trying to control nature, to the point where so many of us forget it even exists.
But nature is our lifeblood, it’s the essence of our evolution as a species. Our ancestors lived among it, and relished in it. When we give up the wild for the modern, we give up a piece of our soul.
It’s OK to cut the cord once in awhile. It’s OK to spend some time in the quiet of the mountains. It’s OK to let it all go for a minute.
Whether it’s long-term camping or a short-term picnic, disconnecting the tether is freeing — your mind and soul are allowed to roam. There’s no vibration coming from your pocket, only warmth coming from your soul. There’s no Siri to ask questions, only your own mind to answer them. There’s no Google Maps to give you direction, the only direction is of your own choosing.
human in the San GabrielsNothing against technology. I mean hell, I’m using it to type and post this right now. Urban disconnection is just a suggestion, that maybe you should escape the city for nature once in a while, that maybe I think you’ll really like it.
No, not maybe, definitely. You’ll definitely like it.
It’s that feeling you get out in nature,
When the hawk flies by and whistles it’s caw,
When you get to the top of the peak and look out over the 360° expanse,
When the cool wind of a waterfall abruptly elbows you back an inch,
When the breeze kicks up and you pause to feel the hum and sway of the towering trees.
The feeling is inspiration.
Motivation, innovation, connection to the world around us.
Revelation, imagination, connection to ourselves.
It makes us want to paint pictures and write songs.
It makes me want to take photos, clearly.
It gives us all hope.
It makes you love it with all that you are.
It makes you want to protect it for everyone else.
Nearly every mountain range and park has spot called “inspiration point”,
But in reality, each contains thousands of points of inspiration.
Go find yours.
Graffiti in a National Monument. Sadly, it’s a thing.
I do a lot of hiking around Los Angeles, and it’s inevitable that I see vandalism. Damaged structures, stickers on signs, trampled plants, trash on the trail — every glimpse of destruction breaks my heart a little. It’s all so avoidable if we all just take little responsibility for ourselves and follow a few Leave No Trace principles.
But what I saw in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument at the Big Horn Mine Trail was especially egregious — an explosion of obviously illegal graffiti.
Street art can be beautiful in the right environment, especially if there’s a cultural or political message behind it, and it’s part of what makes our cities so vibrant. But the a street and a trail are very different places. But when you see graffiti not just in nature, but on nature, it’s jarring — it plucks you out of that indescribably perfect environmentality and tosses you back into the mucky pond of self indulgent humanity. There’s no relevant artistic value to it, it’s disrespectful to our planet, and offensive to all those of us who want to see this planet protected.
Here’s a sampling of the hideous sights you’ll see on the trail:
Look, I get it, the more people tag a trail the more it seems like an acceptable, maybe even fun, idea. And I’m aware that this trail has been cleaned up before, only to be tagged again. So let’s be grown ups for a minute. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves, our park, our San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
This particular National Monument is currently up for review by the anti-environmental zealots in White House, so its future is on shaky ground. That means it’s up to us to protect this natural beauty for future generations. That protection starts with you, and all of us, and me too.
First step is telling the Department of Interior how important this and other National Monuments are to all of us.
Second step is proving how important this National Monument is to us by cleaning up this trail and keeping it that way for all future visitors.
Send me a message if you want to help with a trail clean up, and follow Trash Free Earth on social media to see how you can get more involved with regular events.
This is our park, we have to defend it!
A visit to nature reminds us that we’re never alone, even in the big bad lonely city.
Los Angeles is notorious for its isolationism. We move around alone in metal boxes, surrounded by millions of people moving around in their own metal boxes. We sit in rooms staring at white screens, at coffee shops staring at slightly bigger screens, at home staring at even larger screens, surrounded by millions of people in their own rooms staring at their own screens.
Up in the San Gabriels though, we disconnect from all that, and disconnection gives us the chance to reconnect with each other. Hiking and camping are inherently social, whether you’re walking up that mountain with friends or if you’re walking it alone and saying “howdy” to hiker-bys.
Nature is a protected space of isolated socialization. We find connection in nature because it’s a reconnection to our roots. In those quietly wild moments, we remember that whether we see it every day or not, we’re all hurtling through the universe on the same blue dot.
The most beautiful part? You can take that realization back with you to the city, so the next time your in your metal box on the traffic-jammed freeway, maybe you don’t get so stressed. The next time you’re out in public staring at your screen, maybe you remember to look up at the world around you more often.
It’s the realization is that we’re all in this together, and that realization is the rediscovery peace.
You need to see the big pines in the San Gabriels.
“Big Pines” is a spot up the 2 near Wrightwood, CA, and it’s name is entirely apt — for So Cal standards, these pines are seriously big. The sugar pine, white fir, and incense cedar are among the largest naturally growing trees you’ll find in Los Angeles County. To top it off, there’s even sequoias brought in from the Sierra Nevada dotting the landscape, which grow to be the largest trees on earth.
There are big trees all over the San Gabriel Mountains, and big trees inspire.
Standing next to one of these giants is one of the most awe inspiring yet grounding experiences available to us. Think of it, a living thing, literally larger than life, moving, growing, breathing, right next to you. Us people, we only get to see one small part of this world — we see whatever limited subsection we’re lucky enough to explore. But these trees, they get to see and feel the earth change, for centuries. They watch generation after generation of humans come and go, alter the landscape, build and destroy. They stand in stately groves as motorcycles speed by, backpackers trek through, children play, and parents unwind in the shade. They feel the air choke from our over development, they feel the earth warm as a result.
Big trees don’t make us feel small from merely size, they make us feel small because they’re timeless. These days they’re as close as we get to ancient mystics and wise elders. They gift a direct example of resiliency, fortitude, and bravery. We can only hope to leave a legacy as tall and majestic as these big trees. They are everything we each individually hope to be, and if we listen to their story, they’ll teach us exactly how to be it.
Urban disconnection is about detaching from our modern lives to reacquaint ourselves with our wild roots, at least every once in a while.
We disconnect to run toward something, not away from anything.
We disconnect to find ourselves, not lose ourselves in nature.
We disconnect to become more grounded, not to stick our heads in the sand.
We disconnect not to escape the real world, but to feel more real than we ever thought possible.
We each have our own reasons for venturing into the woods. We might camp, backpack, hike, picnic, swim at waterfalls, or climb to the top of peaks, but the common thread is always the land. We love it and it loves us back with the gift of harmony.
This page, Urban Disconnection, is not an art project — it’s an ethos. It’s not a description of a trail (I’ll leave that to the experts), it’s how the trail makes you feel when you’re all up on it.
Get out there, or up there, or over there — yes it’s right there — and go feel it. Then tell me about it so we can share in the bliss. I’ll be feeling it right with you on this page.
“Coming from a place of gratitude” is such bumper sticker wisdom. I’m searching for real gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong, being grateful for your life — your friends, loved ones, the food on the table — that’s fantastic and we should all say “thank you” more often.
But half the time it seems the thing we call gratitude is self-serving. We say “thank you” so we can feel better about how nice we are. We say “you’re welcome” in return, accepting the thanks like it’s deserved.
True gratitude is humble. It has no pretense. It doesn’t require sacrificial action along with the expectation of praise. Its intentions are pure. It acknowledges its privilege, but doesn’t gloat. It sees those less privileged and it endeavors to share the bounty.
Clearly not all acts of gratitude are equal. I’ll give you a linguistic example.
In Spanish or English, you say “gracias” or “thank you.” Simple enough. But the response to that gratitude is miles apart. In English you say “you’re welcome”, aka I deserved that thank you and I’m taking it. In Spanish you say “de nada” which means “it’s nothing,” aka no thanks are needed, of course I would do that for you.
These are just words, and when it comes to common phrases words don’t necessarily define the intentions of a speaker. But those responses do show a fairly obvious contrast in styles of gratitude.
One response sets up a series of expectations, while the other is unquestioning kindness. One focuses on me, the other focuses on we. One is about ego, and the other is humble.
I know beautiful people with kind, giving spirits who would do anything for those they love, with no expectations. I also know people who get bent out of shape if someone does not respond immediately in kind.
I suspect most of us are somewhere in between — trying to be good to others, but sometimes feeling under-appreciated.
The goal of all this isn’t to give-give-give while everyone walks all over you. Like most things in life, it’s way more complex than that.
Let’s all try it in the coming days: do something nice for someone, tell them you love them, wish them well, but don’t immediately, impatiently, wait for a pat on the back. If and when you do get that pat, pat them back. If you never get it, move along and be nice to someone else. That simple.
Practice true gratitude.
Practice being humble.
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