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.
Give your relationships the attention they deserve.
It seems like nearly everything requires care. Our teeth need brushing, our hair a periodic scrubbing, and our body an annual physical. A car needs regular maintenance, clothes laundered, every machine eventually needs repair, and you are really going to have to upgrade that phone at some point. A garden requires regular upkeep or it’ll either become overgrown or simply die off.
Like all these things, like that garden, life and love require care too — always in need of a human touch, someone there to nourish our roots, clear our fallen debris, prune the withered limbs, make room for new life to bloom.
Yet it seems we often overlook the things closest to us, things like our emotional health, things like relationships.
The beginning of any kind of new relationship, friendship and beyond, is fresh, hopeful, and oh-so-exciting. It’s usually pretty easy too — the excitement this newness provides is the fuel that propels you forward into coupledom. It’s a sprout jumping up from the soil, ready to conquer the world. No one knows how fast, how tall, how stately it will become, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful rush.
But as that plant matures, it inevitably begin to change: that first burst of energy spreads thin, growth slows, overburdened branches droop from the weight, periods of drought starve the sapling, periods of flood confound it, and in the face of blustery adversity limbs or entire trunks can snap, leaving nothing in its place but a stump, a memory.
That’s because love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action, and it’s alive.
If we are to avoid the fate of that stump, if we are to survive and thrive instead, the plants of our proverbial garden need careful attention through deliberate action from the start. It requires constant diligence by every star-crossed lover who ever sowed a seed. Regularly tending to their love, nourishing it, trimming back the old growth, removing any pests that seek to invade, holding the best parts up in esteem with support, searching for the weaknesses that need a little boost.
When we fail to tend to a relationship, it fails, then fades, back to the earth from whence it came.
I tend to lots of things in my life: my house and yard, the earth through tree planting, to my fellow mankind through Sierra Club leadership, my body with regular yoga and hiking (my mind with regular yoga and hiking as well), to my whole being by chasing my journeyman dreams instead of drifting in a comfort zone.
But in the midst of the shuffle I find it far too easy to neglect my relationships. I have forgetfully allowed negative emotions to fester for years without airing those grievances. I’ve passively watched the limbs of friendship wither, taking little action to save or prune them to start anew. At times I’ve made no regular effort to feed and nourish those connections. In the comfort of routine I’ve often gone silent, forgetting to show all the love I hold through the a simple supportive act.
Indifference spurs inaction, which can fell the most passionate of partnerships.
Attention spurs action, building an insurmountable foundation of love and respect.
A 2,500 year old sequoia.In all types of relationships, from budding sprout to weathered evergreen, change is inevitable. The trick is to figure out how to grow with it. By putting focus not just on how you feel, but how we feel together, you grow with it. By making an effort where once there was ease, you grow with it. By giving the gift of your attention instead burying yourself in your phone night after night, you grow with it.
In this cut throat world, not everything in this garden will survive. Sometimes the seed was just not meant to be planted. Sometimes the plant has a unalterable lifespan. That’s normal, and sometimes the best, yet most difficult decision is to let it go.
But in the meantime, we owe it to our partner, to our relationship, to make every effort imaginable to raise our sapling up to be as sturdy as a sequoia. We owe it to each other to care for it, every day, until the day it and we are ready to move on.
We owe it to love to at least try. We owe it, because we care.
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.
Shut up, voices in my head,
That tell me to dread,
The future that's unsaid.
Run away, I need a break,
Withdraw from the bank,
Selfishly deserved escape.
Sit down, take stock of your life,
Your time here is rife,
With joy, friends and spice.
Shut down, the trolls who hate,
Bitter for bitter’s sake,
Only muck do they make.
Move on, surrounded with love,
In your niche all snug,
Fill it with lots of hugs.
Stand up, take charge, thrive.
You live or you die,
On your impulse to strive.
Go home, mind unfurled.
Wisdom in a pearl.
The oyster’s your world.
Shut up, the demons who demand,
You can't do it over and over again.
Sure there always an end,
But first you must begin.
“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.
Sometimes when I’m camping out there by a fire, I start to chronicle the logs.
In many ways this is an act of sheer boredom; I’m alone in the wilderness with no phone service (just as I like it), and there’s not much else to do but stare into the fire, sip whisky, and think. I get all my best thinking done right there.
Each log in the fire is different and unique. Some narrow, others full. Some even, others winding. Some are pieces of kindling splintered off a trunk, burning bright and fast because of their damage. Others are fully intact limbs, substantial, resilient, warriors against the fire, holding their own for hours. No matter what, every log is but one piece of a much larger tree, a small part of a big story, whittled down to it’s essential core.
Each new log of firewood adds more energy, building on its predecessors. Each new log is ultimately consumed by its own light and heat, going back into the earth where it all started. Each log was once a small sapling, then a grand tree, then a flame and an ember, then ash and dust, before transforming into the nutrients the next sapling uses to flourish for years, right up until it sees the same fiery fate.
I take another swig of whisky, and the longer I peer into that glowing fire ring of broken trees, the more I see—I start to see all of us.
Humanity has a lot in common with a campfire. Each of us is a log, a branch of a much larger family tree, burning bright for as long as we can. Each of us unique, with our own history and struggles. Some of us bend to the left, others bend to the right. Some are straight, and others like myself go their own way. Some of us are damaged, others a pillar of perpetuity, at least seemingly. Some are separated from their past, others bonded so strong they’ll never let go.
We each burn as bright as we can individually, but there’s strength in numbers when we ignite together as one. We all hope to stay lit for as long as possible, but no matter how bright and how long, we eventually go back to the earth where it all started. Our purpose is to leave a legacy of knowledge, an ember of warmth, a torch on the path to light the way forward for those who come next.
This isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t some grim tale about the brevity and ultimate uselessness of life.
This is the true story of the continuing circle of life on earth. It’s a centrifuge of motion that powers our inspiration. It’s why we radiate with as much strength and light into the world as we can, while we can. It’s how we accept that one day we will burn out, but as long as we pass down our spark, the process of living is truly the most beautiful undertaking ever engineered.
Even the smallest logs provide the embers that keep the fire smoldering. Even the biggest logs, if placed awry, can smother the fire. We each have our part in the this communal campfire, our story to tell, our light to pass on. It’s up to each of us where we place ourselves in the pit, how we choose to burn, what we choose to contribute.
In this way we are all granted the power to both live now and live on, in perpetuity, a circle of life and light in the middle of an otherwise bleak darkness.
I take another sip of whisky. It’s strange and wondrous how much more sense the world makes when I’m alone in the wild, a quiet witness to the history of the world and the future of ourselves, all in a campfire log.
The border between wild and wifi is a pretty spectacular place to be.
In the wild you go without a phone connection for hours, sometimes days or weeks at a time. So when you cross the border into wifi you appreciate how much that connection--the connection to your friends and family and the outside world--means to you. The ability to keep in touch. The ability to be a public advocate on the important issues of our day.
In the wild you're given the gift of time to sit and think and be with yourself. You have he space to ponder the importance of the world, and your place in it. So when you cross that border into wifi you bring back that knowledge and you end up a more mindful and present person. You know better how to insert moments of peaceful reflection into your daily life.
In the wild you're constantly aware of your surroundings, you have to be. You're watching the trail you hike or the fire you tend because to do otherwise is dangerous. You have to be on. So when you cross that border into wifi, you're finally aware of how to truly switch off. To relax in the warm comfort of our modern security blanket society. And despite all the stresses it can bring, to understand just how warm that society truly is.
Some people choose to live in the wild to get away from it all or simply to prove that they can handle it. Others can't bear the thought of giving up the wifi and all the convenience today's world brings.
But I suggest you spend some time in both. Regularly switch between the two. Cross the border, back and forth, and reap the bounty of appreciation and mindfulness it brings.
Hiking through nature can provide you with innumerable nuggets of life lesson gold, as long as you peer into the creek long enough to notice those shiny honey-hued pebbles.
It’s no secret that nature is how I come up with the vast majority of these blog posts. Almost every time I’m feeling down, unmindful, or even when I’m feeling just dandy, I go on a hike. And almost every time I'm out there I discover something on the trail that inspires me, gives me a new frame of reference, or teaches me a lesson.
One very important lesson, and one I always have trouble truly absorbing, is having the patience to see something through to the end.
I'm not a quitter in any sense--when I set my mind to a project, I always see it through. Always.
But when I get that finish line on sight, I have a tendency to rush it, to grow impatient, to become a little bit lackadaisical.
During one hike a few months ago in Los Angeles, I decided to take an unfamiliar spur trail. It quickly became incredibly steep and I considered turning back, but I knew I'd be afforded amazing views at the top so I went for it. And it was worth it, the views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Sign were indeed spectacular.
But then, of course, I had to come back down the steep trail.
I was as cautious as humanly possible, side-stepping my way down to gain better footing. Then I got about 10 feet from the end of the trail and, well, I decided to run it. It was just right there, hardly any risk, and why not have a little fun. I decided I could be reckless at least for the very end. I decided I didn't need to see it through.
That decision quickly proved to be a bad one. As I was running down I stepped on a sandy patch that yanked me to the ground, ass first. My tailbone hit square on a rock and I heard my spine crack.
Now back on level ground, I pulled myself up, immediately utilized some of my favorite yoga spine stretches, and pretended to ignore the passers-bye so as to limit my embarrassment.
After a few weeks the pain and discomfort subsided. I was fine. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but an important lesson in the aggregate: see everything through to the end. Even when you think you got it in the bag, see it through. Even when you think you've screwed it all up, see it through. Even when it's literally all downhill from here, see it through.
I don't always remember this lesson in real life. I still get impatient and like to rush the end so I can move on to the next big thing. Some people start to stumble on a big project and the first thought is to give up. Two sides of the same coin. Two instances where in the vast majority of situations you'll find far more success when you see it through.
No matter what my own failings, there's one place where the lesson has stuck, and that's in hiking.
Last week I day hiked to the pinnacle of Half Dome. It's not just a pinnacle of a mountain, it’s a pinnacle of my nature and hiking obsession, and perhaps a pinnacle of my life. I prepared and planned and prepped and had an awesome partner-in-crime to go along for the ride.
We made it to the top and were elated, of course. And after you've gotten there one might assume that the worst is over, all downhill from there. But that assumption would be wrong. As most hikers will tell you, it’s usually harder going down than going up.
Rappelling backwards down the infamous Half Dome cables was a feat of mental and physical strength. The slippery polished granite path forces you to rely almost entirely on your arms. Traffic from hikers going in the other direction adds a whole separate element of patience and negotiation. The pangs of fear I felt after a simple glance down or to the side were, at times, overwhelming.
When I had just 30 feet of cable left I felt my impatient self got an idea: I could turn around and run it. But when I did turn and took my first step on the slick granite, I felt my foot shake. I flashed back to the lesson from that trail in Los Angeles, the lesson that I know but don't always follow.
I turned back around and continued my cautious repel for those final 30 feet. See it through, Jason. See it all the way through until it’s completed. Always see it through.
When we're mindful of every step, every step is more valuable, every step is sturdy, every step is useful, and in the end we've accomplished what we set out to do in the best way we possibly could. When we cut the corner at the last moment or give up in the final stretch, we not only cheapen our effort, but we risk ruining everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Or at least we risk a few weeks of tailbone pain.
It's an important lesson I always try to remember when I’m on the dirt trail. It's an important lesson I need to remember more on the trail of life as well.
My favorite place to find a moment of peace, to get mindful, is in nature.
“But not everyone can go out in nature as much as you do,” you bemoan. “We have a kids and obligations and busy jobs and live in cities!”
It's true, I know, some people live in dense urban jungles, far removed from the actual jungle. Most people don't have time or resources to take a month off and volunteer in Yosemite. Just about everyone enjoys nature to a degree, even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers in a vase, but getting outside all the time isn’t always easy or accessible.
Or so you’ve been led to believe.
I might argue nature if closer than you think. I might suggest the difference between the mountains and the city is smaller than you think.
Certainly the mountains have a much more direct relationship to the serenity and identity we find in nature. The views here at Yosemite are spectacular. The cliff faces unparalleled. The sequoia trees magnificent. The power of nature really punches you in the gut here.
But I'll let you in on a little secret, the Yosemite Valley is basically a small tourist town. Markets, apartments, hotels, restaurants, shops, and bars. There is a clinic, fire stations, offices, and a library. It even has (GASP!) traffic. Basically, it's much like any town in this country, except it just happens to be surrounded by resplendence.
Civilization is truly everywhere.
In the city I normally live in, Los Angeles, it's a little more difficult to find serenity. Markets, apartments, restaurants, bars, and traffic all abound.
But I'll let you in on another little secret, Los Angeles is also surrounded by resplendence as well. It has Griffith Park, the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains, a stunning coastline, and nearby Joshua Tree and Channel Islands National Parks. The resplendence is a little harder to come by and you might have to drive a bit to get there, but it's there, as long as you go look for it.
Nature is truly everywhere as well.
You can live in a national park or you could just visit for a weekend, and you're gonna find some of the peace through nature. But you can also find a small piece of that peace in your own backyard. Anything from your local mountains, forest, or seashore to the garden you tend at your home all gives you a little bit of that wonderment nature inspires.
So go out and find some nature wherever you are, and wherever you find it, notice how you start to find yourself.
We habituate ourselves to expect certain things, to desire certain vices, to keep a certain schedule, and act a certain persona. It's just what we're used to. It’s what everyone around us is used to.
But that doesn't mean that's who we really are.
Black bears in the wild of Yosemite eat berries, grass, and insects. Sometimes they eat animals like fish, but by and large, and especially when they don't feel threatened, they don’t hunt and they are docile creatures. They're kind of adorable when you see them sitting in a meadow, basking in the warm sun, furrowing the soft ground for a meal. They're like a real-life teddy bear, just one you probably shouldn’t hug.
When black bears met humans, they started to learn a different way of life--they picked up a habit. People food is high in calories, and way more tasty and filling than meadow grass. So when we started to give them people food, as the supervisors of Yosemite did for decades, the bears quickly learned to follow the path of least resistance and eat up.
Wild bears became habituated to a new human way of living, one that involved convincing people to give them food. If those people were unconvinced, simply steal it. If they got in the way of the food, take them out.
First we habituated them, and then allowed our cavalier attitude to that habituation to bite us in the ass, literally.
We learned our lesson, thankfully, and now we've engaged in a decades long effort to de-habitualize the black bear. We stopped feeding them for show at Yosemite, so bears would stop expecting it. We put our food in bear boxes instead of cars or coolers, so the bears learned they can’t get food at a campsite.
A habit, any habit, is only a condition we've created. That goes for the habit bears learned from humans, and it goes for all the habits we’ve taken on ourselves.
It's hard to break a habit, for sure. Bears still visit campgrounds because the food smells good and they’re curious. But the more we change our patterns, the more the habit breaks. In Yosemite, bear incidents are down 97% since 1996. Our continued vigilance in minding our food when we visit Yosemite will ensure this new pattern continues.
Maybe we could learn something from the habituation, and subsequent dehabituation, of the black bear. Observe the patterns and expectations we or others place on ourselves. Try to find where we made the mistake and how we perpetuated it. Then imagine a path forward where we break the habit.
Even when you think you’ve dehabitualized yourself, that doesn’t mean it can’t come back. Habits are much easier to make than to break.
For bears at Yosemite these days, some still look for people food. Those that end up in a campsite get scared off with beanbag and paintball guns. If they come back they get tranquilized, tagged, and brought to a distant region of the park. If they come back a third time, euthanization.
We have a lot more than three chances when it comes to our own bad habits, but eventually they will catch up to us. Those habitualizations of vice and character will eventually bite us in the ass just like the black bear.
If you’re trying to break a bad habit or any other pattern, be strong, persistent, and patient. Overtime it’ll get easier. You don’t have to be "that guy" just because you have always been that guy. You can change yourself for the better. We can all be dehabitualized, one decision at a time.