Lessons From the Great Outdoors

For as long as I can remember, I have been outdoors, completely immersed in the natural world. I had a fondness for nature that would grow each time I stepped outside, and it has shaped who I’ve become.

I never understood the draw of amusement parks and large scale resorts. Instead, I daydreamed of the Colorado Rockies and backcountry trails. I dreamed of racing down slick ice-crusted snow fields, scaling sheer granite walls, naming all the peaks around me, and searching for sweet mountain onions while identifying the native plants. I dreamed of taking cover under large conifers, swallowed up by oversized rain gear and shouldering an overstuffed backpack during a downpour. 

My adventures in the outdoors always begin long in advance. My family of six spends months rifling through old paper maps to plan “the big summer outing.” After dinner, we huddle around the table, unrolling wrinkled old topographical maps, drawn into the excitement of new challenges and peaks to climb. We pull out my dad’s tattered, marked-up climbing guidebooks to weigh in on potential new routes. What “14-er,” fourteen thousand foot peak, would we bag this summer?

In my environmental science classes, whether I’m in the lab or taking samples outside, I find that my passion for the environment is heightened. I am able to apply all that the natural world has taught me into what I am studying. However, in recent years I have become overwhelmed by the news stories about melting glaciers, devastating forest fires, biodiversity loss, and much more. With every news article, the public becomes more and more numb to the gravity of the climate crisis. Our home is dying, and with it, our connection to each other.

We see the damage we are causing, yet we continue to disregard it. It is both the most frustrating and the most disheartening thing to watch the home I grew up in — the one we all share — decline so quickly, crying for help. 

Watching the places I love so dearly become barren and unrecognizable has not only broken my heart, but has made me feel demoralized. My family goes out each year around Thanksgiving to pick out a Christmas tree in the forest. Normally we drudge through thick snow and have the toughest time choosing a tree as there are so many voluptuous ones. Now, without a snowflake in sight, we take hours to find even one healthy looking tree — the vast majority are scrawny and bare. While such sights may be dispiriting, I often find myself returning to the place that raised me, the outdoors. I go outside and feel the cool breeze on my skin and the warm sun recharging the hope within me once again. 

When doubt tries to creep into my life, when I second guess myself, I draw on what I’ve learned from my backcountry experience: quitting is not an option, and rebounding from the unexpected is essential. Crossing the Continental Divide, summiting the 14,016’ peak, balancing a redox-equation in chemistry, or dissecting a sheep’s eye in biology class — a common thread connecting them all is resilience. 

Although the threat of climate change can be overwhelming, the simple act of trying to be better is better than nothing. On the days that you feel defeated, go outside and let nature recharge you — remember why we are fighting for the Earth in the first place. 



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