Why do you go to the wild places? Do you head to nature because you are brave and confident and seek to explore? Or do you go because you yearn to escape, and you seek courage. Are you a warrior who takes to the trails with wild abandon, or do you go quietly, perhaps with trepidation, to be free from the noise. Or do you not go at all, because it is a world you do not understand. Maybe a part of you feels you will be complete once you go, but fear is holding you back. I understand those reasons, and in nature there is room for us all.

In truth, there are just some folks who are not comfortable with the great outdoors, and that’s okay! We’re all cut from a different cloth and we all have our special places that make us feel alive. But if you’re like me, you may have felt from an early age that you were drawn to the natural world, and that you found a special freedom and acceptance there.

I have been climbing trees since my arms could reach that first low-hanging branch. I’m sure I gave my mom more than one gray hair when she’d look out our second story kitchen window and see me at eye level, grinning at her from the cedar tree outside. I remember grudgingly attending a youth church retreat one spring weekend in a beautiful mountain setting, and on a group hike, defying the youth pastor’s orders to not climb too close to a waterfall. But the rush of that water! That roar! It was irresistible to me and I kept climbing until his sharp rebuke made me clamber back down. Nothing happened, I survived. As an adult now I know it was for my own safety, but I felt cheated, felt caged. I was sure-footed and athletic and I ached to explore – not hurry back to the retreat center to get ready for the dance that night. Later, with the persistent beat of the music pounding in the crowded dance hall, I hung outside the doors in the clear mountain air where I felt I could breathe. The throngs of my peers and the constricted space made me anxious. I spent that evening in the company of the stars and the evergreens.

I still bristle at having my wings clipped, at accepting the status quo. One of my favorite quotes is by Karen E. Quinones Miller which says, “When someone tells me no, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.” I don’t see this as being willful, but rather an unwillingness to be limited by small thinking. Being in the great outdoors inspires big thinking in me, it invigorates my dreams! The stresses of our everyday lives can cause us to stay small and mark the days by paying bills and making lists, but nature doesn’t concern itself with such things, and it yearns to loosen those chains that bind us, even if just for a time. Whenever I get out to the wild places now, I immediately become that young girl of yesterday – my heart swells with a free-spirited exhilaration, and the worries that anchor me and stiffen my muscles with tensions of daily life fall away; I can run farther – I am sure-footed again. Life becomes big and possible and limitless and inconceivably glorious! I belong there, and it’s a great relief, a coming home.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge that I am not always courageous. As I’ve gotten older and fought the ravages of domestic violence and had “Me Too” moments as a young woman navigating college and the working world, there is a part of me that can get stuck in fear. I’m not afraid of the natural world (well, I admit, rock climbing and extreme back country sports are not in my wheelhouse!), but I like the comfort of hiking, camping or snowboarding with a small group, especially with my now grown children, so I can put my PTSD to rest and let nature do her healing thing. I need to be able to get back to the innocence and freedom I felt as a child in her natural habitat, and having that loving, protective presence around me allows me to get there. I’m okay with that. Some of us will feel most fulfilled jumping out of an airplane, and some of us with both feet firmly on the ground. Both preferences are just fine. What matters most is that we go, that we do those things that make our spirits soar. What is most beautiful to me now is the fact that my own children literally head to the hills to get their respite too, to find rejuvenation since they are in the workaday world; it fills them, inspires them, and gives them the confidence and courage to tackle daily life again. If there is anything I have passed on to them for their future health and happiness, this is one of which I am most proud.

I am lucky in that in my home state of Washington, both mountains and ocean are only an hour or two away. There are myriad hiking, skiing, mountain biking, paragliding, snowboarding and general outdoor recreational opportunities that thrill both the expert outdoorsperson and the novice alike. But you don’t have to be a backcountry warrior to find your place in nature and reap the benefits. You don’t have to scale mountains or hang off the side of a cliff to be filled up by all the wonder that nature has to offer. Maybe just pack a lunch and find a spot by a lake, or a picnic table among the evergreens. Take off your shoes and dip your toes in a dancing stream and watch the water as it wraps around you, envelopes you and continues on its way. Consider your unique self, your hopes, dreams and talents and let it inspire you to live your best, most authentic life. Find a place away from the lights of the city, and gaze – really scan the night sky. Can you even conceive of the number of stars? The vastness of the universe? And yet here you are, a part of it all! In other words, go slowly, go with a friend, or take off on your grand adventure. The acceptance of nature isn’t limited to those with uncommon courage, but the quiet wisdom of the pines, the message of the mountains, the songs of the streams are for all of us, weak or strong, big or small, black, brown or white. You ARE welcome, and just maybe you will find your wings as you leave the gray and step into the green.

I recently hiked to a double waterfall with my daughter, two sons, and their girlfriends. I had to smile as we got to our destination and my three children scrambled to get as (safely!) close as possible to the rushing curtain of water and that exhilarating, misty roar. My oldest son’s fiance noted with a good-hearted laugh, that my kids always had to run ahead – down a trail, to a lake, to a waterfall with wild abandon. She was right. My heart swelled with happiness, and the little girl who loved waterfalls went to join them.

Happy Trails!

Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder