by Iris Harrell
I recently returned from a week in Lake Tahoe National Forest. Myself and 23 other Silicon Valley executives, without any recent camping experience, survived and thrived in cabins and tents. We hiked extensively for three days in brand-new hiking boots. The last night we slept solo away from all others and in 13 hours of silence ... just to rediscover our own selves in the wilderness.
The cumulous clouds seemed close enough to touch, had they not been constantly moving. The stars at night made the IMAX theater experience seem small. The distant 8,000-foot-high craggy mountain peak of Sierra Butte and the snow in its crevices were dramatic and even more exotic upon reaching its peak with breathless exhilaration. The large lake below was surrounded by untamed forest and mighty boulders. The pine trees we slept beneath were tall and looming as they swayed in the cool night breezes.
Fortunately the trek organizers prepared us well — what to pack, what not to pack, how to prepare for living in the outdoors and how to enlarge our perspective of this world we live in. The sounds of wildlife and the wind moving through the trees were simultaneously incredibly quiet and yet deafening. While canoeing on Gold Lake just a bit offshore at sunrise, suddenly my perspective of where we were changed dramatically. The sun was gleaming on huge boulder formations behind the camp that could not be seen from the shore. This "aha" moment enlarging my perspective came by getting a little distance from the camp and seeing a "wider-lens" picture of my surroundings.
Was this symbolic of how I could make better long-term decisions by getting back far enough to gain a wider perspective?
A 23-year-old staff assistant at the camp told us how critical it was for us to not step on plants around us. By doing so, it would take years for some of those plants to recover. After hiking seven miles up to a higher base camp, we were instructed to make sure we left nothing of our presence in the forest, including refuse or paper from any and all activities that occur when humans get together for any length of time. No campfires were allowed due to the dryness and danger of forest fires. We gathered rocks in a circle and pretended we had fire to gather around. Our connection with each other deepened as our comfort with the wilderness increased.
I was struck by how we live in such a small slice of our world that we have 24-hour access to and yet ignore. In our urban lives we don't take time to watch the clouds form and move. They seem much further away from our "reality." The stars in town can hardly be seen due to light pollution. The interrelated linkage between the ground we stand on, the trees and vegetation that surround us and the clouds and stars that all move in concert above us is nothing short of a miracle that happens on a minute-by-minute basis.
Humans, animals, plants and our surrounding environment are tightly interwoven into the fabric we call life. If we are all so interconnected, might we need to be more cognizant of the ripple effect of each of our actions, whether positive or negative, not only on our environment but on each others' souls?
John Muir, one lonely citizen, realized how incredibly important it was to protect and preserve our geographical natural treasures nationwide. Wilderness protection became his life's mission. He managed to personally convey this mission to President Teddy Roosevelt, who was also an extreme nature lover. From actions almost 100 years ago, these two people have profoundly and positively impacted the quality of our lives and environment in a positive way by setting up national parks as wilderness preserves.
I hope to hold on to this newly found awareness that I am a short-term guest on this glorious planet. I don't want to wear out my welcome or keep this habitat from being hospitable and inviting to future generations of guests.
If you haven't been out in the wilderness for a long time, I highly recommend getting out again soon while we still have it in such pristine form. You will be amazed at how your perspective changes on what is truly important in life. I came back personally renewed and more intensely committed to protecting the incredible, undisturbed natural surroundings we are blessed with.
What price can be placed upon the value of a restored and reconnected soul?