“…In a grim post-9/11 era -- an age shaped by anxiety and suspicion -- there is something profoundly therapeutic about reconnecting with simplicity and nature.
…A few years ago, a writer named Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe the way children grow up deprived of wading in muddy creeks. He has followed that up with a new book, ‘The Nature Principle,’ arguing that adults need nature as well -- as a tonic, as a balancing force, as therapy.
…The wilderness trims our bravado and puts us in our place. Particularly in traumatic times like these, nature challenges us, revitalizes us, humbles us, exhilarates us and restores our souls. It reminds us that we are part of a larger universe, stewards rather than masters of our world. That’s the lesson you learn as you snuggle… in your sleeping bag and fall asleep outside to the magical sight of owls flitting against shooting stars.”
-- Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times (9/11/11)
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Fear can play a useful role in helping us protect ourselves from real danger. But it can also be an insidious and destructive emotion when it takes over our lives.
There’s no question that we live in an excessively fearful culture. As many of you know, the actual risk is minimal from many of the things people are most afraid of.
The media’s role over the years in creating an atmosphere of fear in this county is obvious. The news each day is filled with often grim and frightening stories.
Which is not to deny that there’s danger in the world. But apart from rare crises, most of us live relatively secure lives and are reasonably safe from harm.
Some of us grew up in times when parents routinely let their kids play outside unsupervised. Now to do so is considered irresponsible or even criminal.
Yet crimes against children including kidnappings have actually dropped over the years. But non-stop coverage of “horror stories” has grown exponentially.
Every year we have people join us who are new to hiking -- and it’s not unusual now for someone to tell me that their parents or friends have warned them NOT TO GO, that “the wilderness is dangerous,” that “horrible things could happen!”
The long list of fears and “threats” that people are warned against include: bear attacks, snake bites, other animal attacks, Lyme disease, many other contagious diseases, danger from lightning, the possibility of broken bones from falls, etc.
I find it necessary to constantly remind newcomers that most of the above are rare in the extreme for hikers in our region. Thankfully, no one in our groups has ever been harmed by a wild animal, or been hit by lightning, or had a serious accident.
Other things people are taught to fear (relevant to hiking) include getting wet from rain, fear of the cold, fear of insects, fear of getting lost, and the list goes on…
Yes, accidents CAN happen to anyone, and they do occur all too often on city streets, in suburban parking lots, and at home or work when we’re distracted.
There are no guarantees when it comes to spending time in the mountains -- but many of us who love hiking feel safer by far in the woods than in “civilization.”
There’s lots of advice available (from therapists, books, etc.) on how to overcome fears. Actually DOING what one fears is one of the most effective remedies.
For example, when I first started hiking many years ago I had a major fear of heights (which originated from a childhood fall from a tree). I discovered that most of that fear evaporated after I spent considerable time on mountain trails.
If fears or concerns have kept YOU from hiking, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to speak briefly about it. A bit of anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to trying something new. What is NOT healthy is to worry about events that are rare in the extreme, that you’re unlikely to ever experience in a lifetime of hiking!
-- Charlie Cook