Nature, the Media, Real and Perceived Violence

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

I spent a week in Glacier National Park, Montana with my family, almost completely unplugged. We didn’t have cell phone service where we were lodging, there was no wireless, and the only time we could check messages or receive calls or texts was when we drove into Columbia Falls or West Glacier to get groceries. We did have cable television in our cabin, so there was some tie to technology and the outside world if we wanted it.

Other than needing an update on some luggage Frontier airlines lost, I really didn’t care about not having phone or internet. I enjoyed the respite from my day job, which involves sitting at the computer writing or designing for many hours a day.

We were visiting Glacier because we were intrigued by the almost-surreal photos of the park we had seen. These photos featured mountains that were pointier and steeper than any mountains in Colorado, with lush valleys greener than anything west of the Mississippi, except for the Cascades and Olympics.

I don’t own a professional-quality camera and I’m just a mediocre photographer anyway, so the photos I’m posting here can’t do the place justice. When I first embarked on a hike in the Many Glacier area, I remarked that the entire place looked almost fake, like one of those sofa paintings you learn how to create in a half an hour on Sunday morning off a PBS television show. Waterfalls that were hundreds of feet tall, and hundreds of them, insanely steep cliffs, rivers snaking through valleys that were green with moss and pines and birch. If there’s a bucket list of hikes to do in the United States, I would rank this among the Top 5.

Something happened midway through our stay in the wilderness that bolted us out of the present moment of blissful contentment with the scenery. While our on way to Whitefish for the day, my daughter received a text from a friend telling her about the Aurora theatre shooting. Just like the vistas in the park, at first the story seemed fake. My teen had been waiting to see this movie for what seems like months, and to get a text that said, “Somebody came into the theatre on opening night and started shooting and killed more than a dozen people” sounded like a mean prank designed to annoy her, like a not-so-funny joke meant to burst the bubble of a 14-year old who’s been anticipating seeing a popular action movie for a long time.

We quickly discovered that it wasn’t a joke. Suddenly, we were not present to our surroundings any more. We were lost in thought, thinking about what happened 1,000 miles away. We empathized with the people who had experienced the tragedy. We imagined what we would have done if it had happened to us.

Then, when we returned to our cabin, we made the mistake of turning on CNN.

There wasn’t much new to report, but that didn’t stop the reporters from retelling the tragedy over and over.  Cameras and microphones were dispatched to Aurora and San Diego with the hopes of getting some juicy tidbit from friends and family. And I realized, that just like the 150 point headlines on the Huffington Post, the media loves to sensationalize a tragedy. If there isn’t a tragedy sufficiently shocking enough to warrant 7/24 coverage for many days in a row, it doesn’t matter. They’ll come up with something. They’ll create drama, controversy and tragedy where barely any exists. And if something awful really does happen, like it did in Aurora, it’s capitalized and maximized. The media loves a tragedy.

I know what happened was horrible, and because it happened so close to home, even more shocking.  I don’t know quite how to say this without sounding callous in some way about what happened, but I wonder if people realize the mainstream media’s sole purpose is to make money and distract us with sensational stories so we become addicted to the drama. It’s not really to “report” anything. These people aren’t even real journalists, probably. And let’s face it. Shitty things happen every day, all over the world. In recent days hundreds have died in attacks in Iraq.  Adults murdered children in Rwanda and Darfur. Children murdered adults. Somewhere, right this minute, a creepy old man is sexually exploiting a child and lying about it.

You know what else is happening right now? There has been unprecedented melting of glacial ice in Greenland. We are poisoning ourselves and the environment with toxins. We are depleting soil quality and clean drinking water. Species are dying off. We are on the downhill slope of Peak Oil. Climate change has entered the phase of negative feedback loops and we probably won’t be able to alter its course, even if we all stopped driving and using electricity today.  The last time the temperatures rose this quickly was during the Permian extinction, which killed all but 3% of life on Earth.

We are on board a runaway train headed toward a cliff, and there are no guardrails.

Why aren’t those stories told with 150 point headlines on Huffington Post and monitored ad naseum 7/24 on CNN and FoxNews?

It also made me consider that in the midst of the wilderness in Glacier, where rangers harp on “bear awareness” and bookshelves at the gift shop feature, among the nature photography, frightening nonfiction about bear and animal attacks, the true violence isn’t in wilderness. After hearing what happened to the regional Native American people from a Blackfeet tribal historian, I see where the real danger lies.  After experiencing record heat and seeing so much of the Front Range explode in fire this summer, all while energy companies advertise how “sustainable” and “good” they are to the environment, I see where the black heart of evil resides.

It isn’t in the woods or on the grassy slopes of a national park.

True violence isn’t where we fear it is. It isn’t in the deep woods of a national park at 3 am, or while you’re hiking alone in silence in Glacier. That’s not where true violence is, and it’s not  where we should be feeling trepidation. True violence is sitting next to us in a dark theatre, about to execute its agenda, as we’re about to enjoy a tub of popcorn and a superhero action movie with our kids.

An Early Spring

Mesa trail, May 1, 2012

When our apple and plum tree began to bud out in mid-March, I knew we were having an unusually early spring along the Front Range. I’ve lived here since 1994 and haven’t seen trees leafed out earlier than mid-April, and certainly not late March. We did have a snowy October through December, but January through March were unseasonably warm and dry, often with overnight temperatures well above average.

This isn’t just a local phenomenon. The cherry blossoms came and went in Washington D.C. at least several weeks earlier than normal, and I even read a story about the sun rising a full two days early in Greenland, close to the Arctic Circle. Now, that has nothing to do with an early spring as much as scientists surmise it has to do with climate change and the polar ice cap melting enough to lower the horizon line so that the sun appeared to rise earlier than usual. Freaky!

Yesterday, on May 1, I experienced the greenest, most wildflower-filled hike I’ve experienced on this early date along the Front Range. I hope this doesn’t mean a brown July, or a horrific drought in August. I am staying open to what happens, or doesn’t happen. One never knows what nature has in store.

Five years ago I attended a panel discussion at the University of Colorado where top scientists spoke of the accelerating nature of climate change. They predicted that if nothing is done, within five years (umm…now) negative feedback loops will make it impossible to remedy the damaging effects of global warming. Well, not much has been done in the last five years and it doesn’t appear that large-scale remedies are anywhere on the (sinking) horizon. Nothing to do, except to contemplate an early spring.

Hiking and Weight Loss

Before (year ago)

A subject I haven’t broached yet on this blog is the idea that hiking is great way to stay fit because it’s enjoyable and grounding in way that standing on the elliptical for an hour at the gym is not.

Notice what I didn’t say: I didn’t say that hiking was a great way to lose weight. At least, not permanently, or not at all, if you expect that by hiking miles each week you’ll magically start shedding fat.

In recent months I’ve been devouring books and research on diets and permanent fat loss. Last December, I signed myself and my daughter up for some personal training. My intention at the time was to help her get in better cardiovascular shape for hiking, and to maybe lose a few pounds myself (Ok, maybe more than a few). It was around this time that I started wondering, why is it so easy for me to maintain a higher weight than I’d like, but so difficult to maintain a weight that’s oh, 30 pounds lighter? Why can’t I reset my “set point” without starving or exercising like a maniac?

I’m certainly no stranger to regular exercise. Five years ago I was running half-marathons. Those took up a lot of time to train for, so I gave up long distance running in lieu of hiking, and while I was doing research for my book, I would hike 12-15 miles per week. I kept this up for more than a year, because even after I was finished with my research, I was leading group hikes through my MeetUp. In between hikes, I’d take long walks, jog, and work out at the gym. I love exercise and love being outside more. I was doing something active at least six days a week.

But still, I was 30 pounds overweight. So something wasn’t jiving.

I thought I was eating healthfully, and not too much. For breakfast, I’d usually have a bowl of oatmeal with almonds and soymilk, or a bowl of high-fiber, low-sugar cereal with soymilk; for lunch it was usually leftovers from dinner the night before, like some kind of meat, pasta, rice and veggie. My favorite meal for dinner was a big salad with goat cheese and glazed nuts and some crusty artisan bread. Man, I loved crusty bread from Whole Foods. I also liked nonfat frozen yogurt, and made that a favorite treat at least once or twice a week. I never ate what I considered junk food (Doritos, donuts, poptarts, sodas and fries) and eating out was usually where we could order lots of veggies or lean meats – like Tokyo Joe’s, Rubios, or Sweet Tomatoes soup and salad buffet.

Because I thought I was doing all the right things, I resigned myself to never looking and feeling my optimum. I simply did not want to spend the rest of my life obsessing about food, running 6 miles a day and feeling hungry all the time—which is what I had to do when I weighed a lot less and fit into a size 2.

One day I was at Natural Grocers and noticed a book by the check-out stand: “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes. I’m so glad I picked it up that day. I finished it two days later. That book completely rocked my world! At first, when got through most of the book and I learned the “why”, I was shocked. I said, surely THIS can’t be the answer?? It felt both too difficult to do and not necessarily new information. It sounded like Atkins, but worse – what it meant was that for my metabolism type, I had to not only give up any form of sugar, including honey and agave, I had to give up all manner of starch, including grains, corn, beans and gulp…crusty bread.  Forever. Waaaaaaahhhhh!!!

I don’t like to back down from a challenge. So at the beginning of February, I gave up all sugar and starch, all fruit except berries, and ate mostly meat, eggs, cheese, non-starchy vegetables (lots of leafy greens), full fat greek yogurt, and nuts. What a paradigm shift! To go from non-fat oatmeal with nuts and soymilk in the morning to 3 eggs over a bed of spinach with some meat on the side, cooked in butter or coconut oil, no less! I couldn’t believe I could actually lose weight eating this way.

Lunches and dinners were much less challenging, but I sure did miss my pasta and bread.

After doing much reading and research (list below) I also learned why hiking alone isn’t necessarily a vehicle for fat or weight loss. I was simply unconsciously eating slightly more throughout the week to compensate for the calories I was burning while hiking. I didn’t think I was, but I was. Plus, I was eating the WRONG kind of calories – lots of—you guessed it—whole grains along with the occasional sugars and nonfat frozen yogurt.

During (current)

To date, I’ve lost close to 30 pounds of fat, gained back lots of muscle with resistance training, and can now fit into a junior size 11 shorts. I feel healthier, my hair is thicker, my sleep is better and I need less of it, I’m energized all the time, my acid reflux is gone, and the best part? I don’t feel hungry between meals. In fact, I can go much longer between meals than ever before. No more grazing every 2-1/2 hours.

Now that I’ve awakened to the facts of metabolic syndrome, I’m a little angry at what my medical establishment has been pushing on me and everyone else for years. All that whole wheat bread and pasta, and all that brown rice wasn’t doing me any good. Those potatoes, too, skin or no skin, butter or no butter, weren’t doing me any good. In fact, just about anything that spikes insulin was ruining my metabolism, and it didn’t matter if it was simple or “whole grain” – it was wrong for my body.

And as for hiking and exercise? The contemplative aspect of being in nature is both grounding and mood-enhancing. The cardiovascular aspect of hoofing it up and down hills is good for your muscles, heart and lungs. There are many benefits to contemplative hiking. But weight loss isn’t necessarily one of them. It’s just one more reason we don’t need to race to the top.

 

Recommended books:

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD

The Science of Slim by Jonathan Bailor

 

Recommended websites:

http://www.waroninsulin.com

http://thesmarterscienceofslim.com/

http://rawfoodsos.com/

http://chriskresser.com/beyondpaleo

Recommended documentaries:

Fathead (get it on Netflix or Hulu)

UPDATE: April 15, 2013 (One year later)

The other day someone wrote me asking what my progress has been on this low-carb way of life since a year ago. Have I kept the weight off? Have I stuck to this way of eating?

The answer is yes. I have kept the weight off and have even gained a fair amount of muscle, thanks to a steady regimen of resistance training. I have remained very healthy, my blood lipid numbers are ideal (high HDL and very low triglycerides, the lowest of my life) and my heartburn issues are non-existent. I haven’t had so much as a cold since I started this plan, but then again I hadn’t had a cold in 3 years, so I think my immune system is strong anyway.

I don’t eat grains, starchy vegetables, beans or sugars of any kind. I don’t eat soy in any form, either.

What I appreciate most about this Primal/low-carb way of eating is that I don’t feel hungry all the time, I’m not obsessing about food, and my cravings for carbs have subsided greatly. I don’t count calories. I just eat when I’m hungry and end up only eating 3 meals a day as a result, with maybe one small snack in between. My weight is rock steady now. It doesn’t matter if I go a day with a lot of exercise and not much food, or a day of overindulgence (in quantity, not junk) because of the holidays or whatever—my weight isn’t easy to budge. This is a revelation for me, because when I was on the low-calorie, low-fat diet seven years ago I was constantly hungry and couldn’t even have one indulgence meal without my weight fluctuating upwards instantly, and I felt like I was starving myself most of the time.

I really can’t go back to being mostly a vegetarian, anyway. When I was eating that way, I was ingesting a lot of starches like oatmeal, whole wheat breads and pastas, rice, potatoes and beans. I had to – how else could I get enough calories and protein? I believe that way of eating would spike my blood sugar constantly and contributed to my metabolic syndrome. Had I not gone on this low-carb lifestyle, I would have developed Type 2 diabetes for sure. It runs in my family and that means I’m pre-disposed.

I’ve learned a lot in the last 18 months, but the most eye-opening thing I’ve learned is that saturated fat in the absence of starch and carbohydrates is benign and even good for you. This is why the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is so unhealthy. People eat fatty foods in combination with bread, noodles, cereal and french fries. THAT is what’s going to give you heart disease, because starches and sugars are inflammatory. If you’re going to eat a lot of carbs, you better also avoid saturated fat and eat low-fat in general.

Everyone is different. People come from different genealogical backgrounds. You have to find what’s right for you. I’m from northern Europe, so I can’t eat like a person born in the tropics of India or South America. My ancestors didn’t crow corn, beans or rice or eat pasta. We were meat, dairy, potato and vegetable eaters, who enjoyed fruit when it was in season (August-October), mushrooms and berries picked from the woods, and occasionally bread made from rye and un-hybridized wheat.

I think many people in our modern culture have lost track of who they are and where they come from. We are bound to our biology, whether we like it or not. We have not transcended nature, we are nature. We are animals. We are adapted to where we have evolved for thousands of years, even if we were born across the globe from our ancestors. We seem to want to deny these facts, which is one more symptom of our disconnection from nature and our denial of interconnectedness.

Living Resiliently Workshop March 10, 2012

You’ve been following the news in recent years and you sense that great changes are taking place in the world because of problems around energy, the economy and the environment. You may have even done some preparations for the future, such as learning how to garden, or paying off debt, or stockpiling non-perishable food in the event of a food shortage or inflation. You’ve made sure that you’re preparing your external “bunker” for what promises to be hard times ahead.

But what have you done to prepare your “internal bunker”? Are you prepared emotionally and spiritually for the coming chaos? How can you be sure you’re as resilient as possible?

During a recent free workshop I co-facilitated with Carolyn Baker on Feburary 4th in Denver, we revealed the “3 Keys to Resilience” in uncertain times. They are:

 

1. Develop a strong community, because community is what will support, help and feed you (literally and spiritually) in hard times.

 

2. Cultivate a rich inner life, which includes a daily contemplative practice, journaling, time in nature, and other tools to know yourself deeply.

 

3. Build emotional resilience, so that you can feel what you will feel and be able to bounce back.

 

This workshop was extremely successful. Attendees met with others who shared their concerns. We fielded very good questions, listened to heart-felt comments, engaged in deep dialog, moved about, and sat quietly. We worked hard, but we also left feeling revitalized and invigorated.

 

If you attended our free event on February 4, you only scratched the surface of developing emotional resilience. Iwant you to join us as we go deeper and drop into more substantial layers of emotional resilience and building community with each other. I look forward to spending a day with you in work and celebration as we support each other in navigating an uncertain future.

 

In the full-day workshop on March 10th, we will utilize discussion, contemplative activities, storytelling and drumming and special meditations to:

 

  • Provide you with tools for strengthening your own emotional resilience, deal with the dark emotions of despair, grief and anxiety
  • Provide you with the opportunity to connect with others who are developing their emotional resilience
  • Provide you with a break from the linear/rational/ego-based consciousness of a culture in decline and offer you the opportunity to access your heart
  • Provide you with an opportunity to experience the joy of emotional and spiritual preparation for an uncertain future

 

I encourage you to register today for this unique workshop on March 10th. To register, download and return this form: RegistrationMarch10&LiabilityRelease or email magsemerson@yahoo.com for more info.

Here’s what participants from the free, 3-hour workshop we did on Feb. 4th had to say about their experience:

“An excellent workshop! The activities, group discussions and journal exercises brought forth feelings and emotions that many of us have been in denial about. Both Margaret and Carolyn were able to create an atmosphere of healthy, supportive communication so we all felt safe to express our feelings. I took away some extremely valuable tools for becoming more resilient in a time of stress and chaos.” —Cindy W.

“Carolyn and Margaret know what’s real and what’s important for now and in the times to come.  Learning to increase our emotional resilience is of utmost importance.  We can prepare by storing food, etc. but Katrina and local wildfires showed us that what we’ve stored can be lost.  Then what?”  –Ellem MacQueen

What Ecopsychology Means to Me

Here’s a transcript of an interview I did for Bodhi Nest, a company founded by Anna Brouhard, a colleague in ecopsychology. The Bodhi Nest focuses on the intrinsic connection between mind, body, spirit, and earth. The Bodhi Nest seeks to guide individuals, families, and communities towards a holistic approach to reconnecting our lives and our world. You can find Bodhi Nest at bodhinest.com or read the blog here.

 

Bodhi Nest: What does Ecosychology mean to you?

Margaret: To me, ecopsychology means that we have lost our way as a civilization and culture and that we need a gentle reminder of who we are and where we belong in the web of life.

We have lost our way because, starting with the advent of agriculture five thousand years ago, we have convinced ourselves that we can conquer nature and control it for our personal enrichment and advantage. Of course, it hasn’t been since the industrial revolution that this delusional thinking has really gotten out of hand, and it’s become particularly insane in the last ten years of the Information Age. We are a culture that believes we can solve any problem through technology and that, in fact, we really don’t need nature in order to thrive. That all we need is a job, a car and a computer. Nothing could be further from the truth, as everything in this planet is interconnected: air, water, soil and climate. A healthy biosystem doesn’t just have economic value, it is necessary to our survival as a species. What ecopsychology tells us is that even more than mere physical survival, we need a connection with the natural world in order to feel emotionally and spiritually whole, as well.

When we spend all our time in front of one screen or another, and barely ever venture beyond the confines of a home, store, office or car, we may think we’re doing alright, but in fact we are slowly chipping away at what makes us human. We become depressed and anxious, we seek short-term gratification in the form of consumerism or passive entertainment, and we feel constantly that deep down, something is missing.  We lose our compassion for other living things. We objectify nature. This is the result of not being part of the real environment around us, and not participating entirely in the world around us.

Bodhi Nest: What is the most radical environmental activity/process/ you have done?

Margaret: I don’t know if I would call it “radical”, but taking people on contemplative hikes has felt at times like a paradigm shift in my community. Hiking is a very popular outdoor activity in the Denver/Boulder area. What I see are individuals or groups of people with their dogs, either socializing on the trail or using the trail as their own personal stairmaster. Almost everyone is hiking briskly and has a destination in mind: the completion of a loop, the summit, or a personal record. I like to hike in that manner as well, but what I don’t see more of are people who are hiking to be present and to enjoy nature. What I don’t see are people considering their surroundings as something to appreciate and have a relationship with. I don’t see people journaling while sitting under a tree, or laying down in a meadow and enjoying the clouds floating past. On the trail, as in the city, it’s all go-go-go without a thought to what plants and animals are doing around you or how the woods change from week to week, year to year.

Taking people on hikes where the focus is not on socializing or achieving any kind of goal feels radical in that respect. It’s also radical to bring a group to a place where they can all sit silently in contemplation without chatter and without any kind of agenda other than stillness. The people who have been on several hikes with me say that they’ve experienced nature in a whole new way as a result. In other words, it’s not just something to use for entertainment and enjoyment, but something with its own intrinsic value.

Bodhi Nest: You wrote a book Contemplative Hiking Along the Colorado Front Range, can you tell me more about what Contemplative Hiking is, and how people living outside of Colorado can apply this in their life?

Margaret: I decided to write my book specifically focused on trails along the Front Range because I wanted to be bioregionalistic in my approach. I wanted people in the Denver/Boulder area to learn more about the land where they live as well as learning about themselves in the process. At the same time, however, I specifically set up my book to contain activities that can be done “anywhere”, as indicated by the letter “A” in the description of the trail. That means that even if one doesn’t live on the Front Range, one could take the activity described and do it in Wisconsin, in Florida or anywhere in the world in nature.  For example, one of the activities described in the book is the autumn equinox or “letting go” ritual. This is a ritual celebration that can be done anywhere near a lake, stream or moving body of water. Using a marker, you write down things on leaves that you want to let go of, then cast the leaves into the moving water and watch them float away. This is an activity with no impact on the environment but with huge impact on your psyche. You are able to put into words those aspects of your life that no longer serve you, then watch them float away (or get stuck in currents, or wash ashore, or whatever).

The point of my book is that when you go on a hike or contemplative walk in nature, you not only learn a little more about where you live and about the plants and animals around you, but you also learn about yourself. How do you respond to the challenges you encounter while hiking? What’s your attitude about your surroundings or the weather? What most speaks to your heart? What do you most think about when you’re silent in nature?

One can do a contemplative hike anywhere. It is just about setting an intention and hiking silently, whether alone or with others, so the focus is on your own consciousness as it is in relationship to the outside world.

Bodhi Nest: What do you feel is the biggest environmental challenge we as humans face today?

Margaret: There are many environmental challenges. We are experiencing “peak everything” when it comes to natural resources: peak oil, peak water, peak healthy soils, peak coal, peak rare earth metals, peak biodiversity (or probably well past peak). Perhaps the root cause of all of this depletion of Earth’s vital resources is overpopulation. We have simply outgrown our britches. Therefore the biggest environmental challenge we face as humans is ourselves. There are too many of us and we are still operating mostly on self-gratification and personal survival mode.

Bodhi Nest: How do you face these environmental issues with a positive attitude?

Margaret: By cultivating a relationship with nature. I know that I can’t solve the world’s problems by myself or even convince enough people to change their way of thinking so that meaningful change can take place. However, thinking that I can or should go at it alone is just another way we perpetuate the individualistic, self-centered attitude of our culture that has been the cause of all these problems anyway. I can only hope to change the way I approach the world, and the way I conduct my life. I become the change I want to see in the world, as the saying goes. I share my love of nature with others. I try to show them another way. This keeps me positive in the face of deep despair.

Bodhi Nest: What makes you feel inspired?

Margaret: The mountains inspire me. I am most at home when I’m in the woods, looking out at a towering mountain face, listening to the birds and the wind, and smelling the life around me. It makes me feel that I’m part of something timeless, wordless and formless.

Snow Hiking in Boulder

The snowstorm that descending on the Front Range February 2nd and 3rd was a record breaker—the most snow in the month of February since records had been kept in the area. It was certainly a lot of moisture. Boulder got close to 18 inches of heavy, wet snow.

A day after the snow stopped falling, we went on a snow hike on the NCAR Mesa to South Mesa trail, all the way to the Enchanted Mesa Trail (3 miles roundtrip). We decided against wearing snowshoes and just opted for some YakTrax and poles. The trail was packed enough to provide decent support. It always amazes me how quickly the trails get traveled after a snowfall on the Front Range. The locals must not only get out there right after the snow stops falling, I bet they must hike while it’s snowing, or how else can they find the trail if nearly 2 feet of snow covers it? I bet that would be quite the hike in a blizzard. I’ll have to try that next time.

The path through the snowy woods felt magical and enveloping. The snow dribbled off steep areas like in miniature avalanches. A creek flowed under a soft, billowy dome of white. Chickadees called out to each other and celebrated the sun. And humans made tracks for other humans to follow, so that we could all play in winter’s gift.

Review of the book “Nature Principle” by Richard Louv

For some of us, the need for studies and research to prove what we already know in our hearts to be true—that spending time in nature is good for us—may seem a bit silly and unnecessary. But for author Richard Louv, it’s a way to substantiate his claim that kids aren’t the only ones suffering from nature deficit disorder. Adults need nature, too. Lots of evidence to follow…

In his best-selling book, “Last Child In the Woods” Louv proclaimed that more than ever, children were suffering from what he calls “nature-deficit disorder.” Children are spending less time playing out of doors, more time in front of electronic devices, and therefore are being denied the physical, emotional and intellectual benefits of a relationship with the natural environment. After the book became a best-seller, Louv was approached by fans and readers who wanted to point out, “You know, adults need nature, too.”

Louv agreed, and “The Nature Principle” became his next book.

I attended a public talk by Louv a few months ago in Boulder. I listened to a man who was obviously a seasoned journalist and perhaps a very cerebral person, describe ways in which his time in nature changed and molded him. The most important point he made during the talk, which he didn’t make strongly enough in his book in my opinion, was that in order for us to move into a new paradigm and get away from the “doom and gloom” of apocalyptic visions for the future of humanity, we need a solid, positive vision of what the future should hold. In other words, we need something to work toward, not run away from. What does a nature-infused, sustainable society look like, specifically? The book offers glimpses, and certainly stays away from doom and gloom, but the glimpses are just that – short vignettes here and there. There isn’t a larger, integrated vision. But there doesn’t need to be, because that’s not what Louv’s intent was in writing the book.

After listening to him speak in person and reading his book, Louv doesn’t strike me as a particularly “frou frou” person or someone who drips with poeticism and abstract thought. Therefore, it came as no surprise that his book isn’t the kind I’d cozy up to or read for spiritual inspiration. It is written in line with the modern pseudo-psychology genre popular these days, similar to books by Malcolm Gladwell. In fact, The Nature Principle reads much like a combination between a graduate term paper and a script for a documentary.

In each chapter of the book, Louv doesn’t just offer anecdotal evidence or personal observations, although those resonated with me best, he also cites study after study to prove that:

1. Nature is good for our intellect, our spirit, our creativity and our physical well-being.

2. Nature can be many things, and one doesn’t need to go far to experience it.

3. People who have a close relationship to nature are more likely to want to protect it.

4. Biomimicry and a new paradigm of living in nature, as opposed to suppressing or controlling it, is the salvation for humanity.

He understands that a paradox exists in human’s relationship to nature. On one hand, we are about as disconnected from our true nature and from the nature around us as we have ever been as human beings. We don’t grow our own food, don’t hunt for a living, barely experience the weather in our climate-controlled homes and offices, and rarely venture outside on any given day. On the other hand, we need nature more than ever. Our very survival is at stake. He states, “The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us. However, that destruction is assured without a human connection to nature.”

While he doesn’t cite any studies that show that not spending time in nature causes disease and depression, he does cite many studies that show that doing just about anything in a natural setting improves mood and physical health. In 2006, for example, the Harvard School of Public Health reported that seven Colorado counties –most along the Continental Divide—were the top-rated in terms of life expectancy of its residents. Louv’s interpretation of this study is that there may be a correlation with living in a rural, scenic setting (such as Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs) and well-being.  While I myself don’t deny the regenerative aspects of hanging out in the mountains, and the invigorating qualities of taking a walk in the woods, I have to ask, why are we conducting all these studies? Do we need a study to tell us, for example, that having friends makes us happier? That being loved is good for our state of mind? That eating fresh fruits and vegetables is healthy?

Apparently, we do.

The ability to offer intrinsic, peer-reviewed evidence about the benefits of a walk in the woods or living near a scenic, natural setting by showing the correlation between environmental health and human health, makes it easier to quantify nature in terms of monetary value, or dollars. This, in turn, makes it easier to present a case to government and other agencies that we should make room for parks and open space or to not cut down forests or shave mountains for minerals and fuel. While I grudgingly agree that this is unfortunately the reality, I don’t like it. I don’t need a study to tell me how depressing it’s going to be when all the big predatory mammals are extinct in 50 years, or how much better I feel when I exercise on a trail versus in the gym. I don’t like that we are continuing to think of nature in terms of dollars instead of thinking of nature as a part of us and as something fundamentally necessary to our very existence. Do we need a study to tell us that having air is a good thing? That sunshine is a key component of life on earth? That without our skin, we’d be dead?

Thinking of nature in terms of dollars only helps proliferate the insane notion that “jobs” are more important than a healthy environment and that “progress” means turning natural resources into personal or corporate wealth. It seems to dismiss the feeling we have as humans that it’s better to have a beautiful, natural, clean place to live than to live in chaos and pollution surrounded by concrete.

It’s not Richard’s Louv’s fault. He’s well-intentioned and is one of the few people to tackle this important topic, which is that we have lost our way and turned our backs from the very essence of ourselves, and we are turning a very dangerous corner as a result. Our action and in-action has not just doomed us, it has doomed millions of species of plants and animals that co-habitate this planet with us. War, poverty, politics, the economy – none of this will matter when we’re too hungry and too sick to do anything about it.

Louv mentions several people in the book who decided to sell their city homes and move to the country, where apparently they experienced the bliss they had been missing their entire lives. This isn’t for everyone. I know many people who would prefer to live in the hustle and bustle of a major metropolitan area than contemplate trees in the country. I myself feel the call to live more in connection nature, in a place where the loudest sounds are bird chirps and the rustling of the wind through the pines and junipers. For personal reasons, these stories were the most inspiring parts of the book for me. I also liked when Louv took a break from citing studies and interviewing people and just talked about his own experiences and insights. The vulnerability of these passages lent the book a bit of authenticity and heart, which I appreciated.

Although the subject matter of this book is near and dear to my heart, and I agree wholeheartedly with Louv’s thesis and musings, the style of writing felt tiresome after a while. Louv introduces us to dozens and dozens of individuals, often a new one each paragraph, to illustrate the points he’s trying to make. Here’s a woman who is living a very sustainable life in a suburb…here’s a man who’s done a marvelous job connecting families with nature…here’s a couple who went for it and bought a farm in the country and are now dedicated to preserving nature for others… The list is long, and it doesn’t make for a satisfying read. It feels like overkill for something that you “got” five paragraphs into the chapter. For the cerebral, logical types who need to see charts and statistics, this will be gratifying. But for me, it smacked of the same choppy pacing of a reality show with fast-forward zooms and punchy editing.

Toward the end of the book, Louv laments that there aren’t any educational choices for people who want to learn how to connect people with nature. I disagree, obviously, having attained a masters’ degree in ecopsychology from Naropa. Naropa used to have an excellent Wilderness Therapy program, which incorporated outdoor education with the principles of ecopsychology. I know that Naropa isn’t the only accredited school that is offering these kinds of programs. Of all the research Louv had done, he definitely overlooked this one.

Overall, The Nature Principle is a good read for someone looking for a few good reasons to get outdoors and experience nature, or needing hard evidence to cite for others who aren’t so inclined. I suspect, however, that Louv is preaching to the choir on this one. The only audience for this book is probably one that’s already well-aware of the human-nature connection.

 

 

Less Nature, More Drilling (Ugh!)

Last week I received an e-mail from the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, the nonprofit formed in 1995 to construct the Continental Divide trail, with the sad announcement that they are ceasing operations. Their Board of Directors had to make this difficult decision due to “increasing pressures from development in the West, rising land costs, and challenges with the longstanding down cycle in the economy”.

The Continental Divide Trail is a hiking trail that stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, and in Colorado it traverses the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. As of 2011, 2,268 miles of Trail have been completed, and volunteers were responsible for 525 of those miles, and to date 832 miles remain to be constructed.

The CDTA was a long-time graphic design client of mine. From 2001 to 2010, I designed their quarterly newsletters, event flyers and posters. I was proud to have contributed to the success of their campaign in this small way, because I believe that the completion of the trail is not just good for state tourism and mountain economies, but for providing low-impact ways of re-connecting people with nature and wilderness. This is important to the future of our planet. The news that they’re closing their doors was not just a shock, but pained me to think that this project may never be completed. I certainly hope that I’m wrong about that.

How many hikers have experienced moments of wonder, transcendence and revelation on the Continental Divide trail? How many families came to volunteer through the last 15 years to swing a pick and shovel dirt and be a part of this legacy? What kind of impression did that make on kids, and how were their lives affected forever? How invaluable are these experiences to future generations?

We need more nature in our lives, and low-impact access to wilderness such as the CDT, the Colorado Trail or the Appalachian Trail, not only provides this kind of access to anyone of virtually any background, education and income level, but helps stimulate local and state economies with tourism. People come to Colorado from all over the world to hike these trails in the summer. It helps mountain towns maintain a decent economy in the summer, when ski resorts are closed. Being able to experience the peace and beauty of wilderness on a well-maintained and relatively safe trail with others is something we may have been taking for granted during the economic boom of the later part of the last century. When the economy takes a downturn, as it has in the last several years, everything but the most critical of services and support systems gets underfunded or neglected.

In the current worldview, access to nature is not seen as a “critical” service. As things get progressively more uncertain, it seems that jobs and money take precedence over beauty, human health, ecological health and sometimes even common sense.

About the same time I heard of the demise of the CDTA, I read that oil and gas companies were gearing up for more fracking operations along the Front Range—this time in a couple of state parks. I have already witnessed more oil and gas operations setting up shop in Dacono, Erie, Commerce City and Broomfield. Energy is something that is almost never in soft demand and as we fall on the downward slope of the peak oil parabola, we are becoming more and more desperate to eke out anything we can, anywhere we can find it. Nothing is sacred anymore. Drilling near suburban neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds? Sure, why not? We need the jobs, and the gas. Setting up a rig in state parks and maybe even National Parks? Well, where else are we to find new pockets of energy?

These operations are not just unsightly and polluting, they are a disturbance to the wildlife and human residents. A Denver Post commentary from October, 2011 sums it up nicely: there are things that are priceless that are worth protecting for future generations. Clean air, clean water, quality of life.

If I extrapolate the future based on what I’m seeing today, I will predict that in ten or twenty years we will have less nature and more oil and gas rigs. We will have sold out our precious, irreplaceable resources for a quick buck and in the end, we will not have avoided economic and societal collapse, we will have just postponed it a few months or years. We will have less and less unspoiled stretches of wilderness and more cancer, more poverty and more despair. This is the future, unless we all commit to educating ourselves and doing some deep soul-searching.

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Resilience In Traumatic Times

By Carolyn Baker, PhD.

Original article can be found on Carolyn Baker’s website at CarolynBaker.net.

NOTE TO READER: Carolyn and I will be co-facilitating two workshops in Denver, CO on the 3 Keys to Resilience in Uncertain Times. If you’d like to meet others and discuss your thoughts and anxieties about what’s happening with the world’s economy and environment, and learn ways to cope emotionally and spiritually, please join us February 4th and March 10th. For more information or to register click here or email me at magsemerson@yahoo.com.

 

While mainstream media has been encouraging collective dithering over a possible U.S. government shutdown, the chilling realities of off-the-chart levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, escalating upheavals throughout the Middle East, and surging oil prices have been simmering in the background, remaining the lethal environmental, geopolitical, and economic time bombs that they are. Weeks ago, I was well aware that a government shutdown was highly unlikely but would be used to distract our attention from more urgent matters, and thus, I reported only one story about it in my Daily News Digest.

I recently returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?

In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like Obama’s 2012 campaign and the royal wedding.

And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world where having a full-time job is becoming increasingly rare, how they will access healthcare without insurance or the money to pay out of pocket, or how they will make ends meet in forced or voluntary retirement.

Obviously, these anxieties are relevant to the world’s middle classes and not to teeming masses of human beings living on two dollars per day or less. Ironically, however, it is frequently the case that for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing. They hear no reports of nuclear meltdowns, and even if they did, such news would seem insignificant in the face of needing to secure food or water for today—a type of existence that contains its own traumas and yields dramatically short lifespans.

Having inhabited a middle class existence, one can only comfort oneself for so long by reflecting on the plight of the destitute in far off places. One’s immediate reality is an anomalous deprivation, a stark loss of the familiar, and the looming reality that things will not get better, but only worse, and that these losses are unpredictably punctuated with frightening events such as extreme weather, natural disasters, nuclear meltdowns, or the terrifying consequences of rotting infrastructure such as pipeline explosions or collapsing bridges. These realities take their toll on the body—sleepless nights, a weakened immune system, moodiness, anger, depression, despair, and often, suicidal thinking. Whether the trauma is dramatic and frequent such as a 9.0 earthquake in Japan followed by high intensity aftershocks, or whether it slowly grinds on amid a disquieting sense of the permanent loss of so much that one held dear, the landscapes of countless lives are forever, painfully altered, emotionally littered with charred shells of once exuberant and robust routines.

Yes YOU Have Been Traumatized

But, you may argue, I haven’t been traumatized. My life is amazingly normal. I’m weathering the collapse of industrial civilization reasonably well and feel profoundly grateful.

Indeed I celebrate your good fortune, but I must add that no inhabitant of industrial civilization is without trauma because that paradigm is by definition, traumatizing.

It is only when you understand the extent to which you have been traumatized outside of your awareness that you can effectively prepare for and yes, welcome, the demise of empire and its ghastly assaults on your soul and the earth community.

In the face of extreme weather events and earth changes, skyrocketing food and energy prices, increasingly dramatic expressions of civil unrest globally, massive unemployment, global economic evisceration of the middle classes, and the proliferation of toxins worldwide—whether from fracking in Pennsylvania or leaking reactors in Japan, we are all in varying states of emotional breakdown and breakthrough. The sands are shifting under the feet of all human beings on this planet. Nothing is as it seems. “Things fall apart,” said William Butler Yeats, “the center cannot hold.”

Call it whatever you like—collapse, Transition, Great Turning. Put a happy face on it or a terrified one, but regardless of how you spin it, regardless of how much you want to feel good about it—and there is much to feel good about, the changes are dizzying, sometimes delightful, sometimes devastating. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be alive, and it’s an excruciating time to be alive. Sometimes one feels schizophrenic, sometimes bipolar. But all of that, yes all of that, is traumatizing to the human nervous system, and if we don’t recognize that, we’re probably hiding out in the “Hurt Locker” of empire.

So how do we not hide out? How do we face our trauma, begin healing it, and protect ourselves as much as humanly possible from further wounding, particularly as life becomes even more traumatic?

The Transition movement has provided us with a treasure-trove of resources for cultivating logistical resilience in our communities through awareness-raising, reskilling, and creating self-sufficient and sustainable communities. Anyone not involved in this kind of logistical preparation is only half-awake, yet many individuals believe that no other preparation is necessary. Might that not, in fact, be one characteristic of trauma? Just as the PTSD-scarred combat veteran insists that all he needs is another good battle to make him feel better, it may be that the hunger for one more gold or silver coin, one more case of freeze-dried food, one more bucket of barley, one more permaculture class, one more emergency response training is yet another means of avoiding the emotional healing and preparation work every human being needs to do in order to navigate the accelerating unraveling of the world as we have known it.

A Few Ways Of Developing Emotional Resilience

1)     Understand that industrial civilization is inherently traumatizing. Make a list of the ways it has wounded you and those you care about.

2)     If you are involved with a Transition initiative, start or join a heart and soul group where the psychology of change (see The Transition Handbook) can be discussed in depth and group members can share feelings about the acceleration of collapse as well as share how they are preparing for it emotionally.

3)     Become familiar with your emotional repertoire and how you deal with your emotions—or not. Imagine the kinds of emotions that you and others are likely to feel in an unraveling world. How do you imagine yourself dealing with those emotions? How would you prefer to deal with them?

4)     Think about how you need to take care of yourself right now in an increasingly stressful world. What stresses do you need to pull back from? What self-nurturing activities do you need to increase?

5)     Who is your support system? If you do not have people in your life with whom you can discuss the present and coming chaos, you are doubly stressed. Find people with whom you can talk about this on a regular basis.

6)     What are you doing to create joy in your life? Do you have places in your life where you can have fun without spending money or without talking about preparation for the future?

7)     What are you doing to create beauty? Life may become uglier on many levels, including the physical environment. How can you infuse more beauty into the world? Use art, music, poetry, dance, theater, storytelling and other media to enhance the beauty of your community and your immediate environment.

8)     Consider creating a regular poetry reading salon in which people come together perhaps monthly to share poems or stories which express the full range of human emotions. Many communities have found poetry sharing events to be incredibly rich venues for deepening connections and their own emotional resilience.

9)     Spend as much time as possible in nature. Read books and articles on ecopsychology and take contemplative walks or hikes in which you intentionally engage in dialog with nature.

10) Engage at least twice a day in some kind of mindfulness practice such as meditation, inner listening, journaling, guided visualization. Still another tool for mindfulness and community deepening is sacred earth-based rituals which can be done individually or shared in a group.

It is important to remember that challenging experiences are not necessarily traumatizing experiences. The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will constitute massive trauma. The less attached we are to living life as we have known it, and the more open and resilient we are—the more we are utilizing the myriad tools that exist for preparing our emotions, our bodies, and our souls for collapse, the more capacity we create for navigating a formidable future.

All of the above suggestions are related to releasing stress from the mind and body. As the external stresses of an unraveling civilization accumulate, we all need ways for letting go of them. My friend, Jerry Allen, of Transition Sebastopol, California who is also a Marriage and Family Therapist, recently penned an article entitled “The Importance of Effectively Discharging Accumulated Stress As Our World Moves Into Crisis,” in which he states:

Learning to effectively release accumulated stress is not some peripheral process that is needed primarily to treat returning soldiers and victims of abuse, as important as that treatment is. Learning to let go of accumulated stress and discharge new stresses is a vital skill for all of us who are preparing ourselves to face the unknown future. It is as important as doing physical emergency preparations. We have witnessed the chaos, rage and panic that can grip communities when devastating changes happen. When panic hits as someone yells “fire” in a crowded theatre, other voices need to be ready to stand aside and start singing loudly to calm the people and re-direct their energies.  Such work has saved hundreds of people from trampling deaths in panicked crowds. If we are still too activated by our own build up of trauma, we will not be in a position to discharge fast and take quick decisive community initiative.

As we prepare to serve in a helping role among many, it makes sense to train a vibrant cadre of our community members on how to cultivate body awareness, let go of stress fast, remobilize our adaptive capacity and be ready for action. It also makes sense to explore and adapt the use of story, song, dance, ritual and whatever works to help our communities come together, heal together and strengthen our joint body for action.

My just-published book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition is chock full of re-usable tools for creating and maintaining vibrant emotional resilience. It is also ideal for use in Transition heart and soul or study groups focused on creating emotional resilience.

I do not assume that a world of increasing crises will be a world devoid of cooperation or community building. In her brilliant 2009 book, A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit notes that in most natural disasters, human beings, in most cases, unite in a spirit of cooperation to support each other. While I certainly concur and reviewed Solnit’s book in an article entitled, “Disaster: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” I am also well aware that cooperation is not the only response to trauma. Furthermore, the collapse of industrial civilization is most likely to play out in an irregular, “lumpy” fashion in different locations at different times. How it plays out and over what period of time will dictate how humans respond. One thing is certain: Responses will not always be benevolent, caring, and cooperative.

Thus we must prepare for a very uncertain future by consciously cultivating emotional resilience. This involves addressing the myriad ways in which we have been traumatized by the current paradigm and training with intention for encountering situations in the future which may be even more emotionally challenging in a world unraveling.

 

Carolyn was a psychotherapist in private practice for 17 years and a professor of psychology and history for 10. She is the author of several books, including Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition (2011) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). She manages her website, Speaking Truth to Power at www.carolynbaker.net. Carolyn publishes the Daily News Digest which is a collection of independent news stories focusing on unprecedented transitions and options for navigating an uncertain future. She also writes a regular column entitled Collapsing Consciously for Mike Ruppert’s website, Collapsenet. Carolyn tells stories with an African drum and leads workshops on Navigating The Coming Chaos and on Relationships In The Long Emergency. She has a Transition coaching and spiritual direction practice locally in Boulder, Colorado and by phone or Skype worldwide for people who want help with dealing with the unprecedented challenges of our time.

Fear of Predators

Written by guest blogger, Darren Johnson.

Darren Johnson is the author of Taking a Walk on the Wild Side, a blog born out of his personal love of nature and his desire to help youth and adults improve their lives through higher self-esteem, good decision making and strengthening family bonds by building a relationship with nature.  He spends as much time as possible in nature activities such as hiking, photography, food plot and habitat development, and other conservation projects.  Darren believes that an active relationship with nature is one of the best things a person can do to reduce stress while improving their overall health and happiness.

As I slowly moved through the dark field toward the forest, I heard the sound of running in the woods ahead.  I stopped to listen, expecting that it was just a deer I had spooked in my pre-dawn clumsiness.  Instead, what I heard chilled me to my core.  The running got more intense, as if more than one animal was making the sound.  This was followed immediately by sounds of a desperate struggle as if an animal was rolling around on the forest floor fighting to get up.  Then something similar to a loud guttural scream pierced the air, followed by a short silence, then the sound of something large being drug across the forest floor.

I froze, totally consumed with fear.  I hadn’t ever heard any sound like this before.  My heart was telling me to turn and run to the safety of the truck but my body was froze motionless.  I remember trying to be quiet but at the same time feeling like I was gasping for air.  I slowly turned to look at my hunting partner to see if he had also heard it.  I was hoping that somehow, I had imagined the whole incident but the look in his eyes told me otherwise.

By now, the forest was silent again as we stood in the field desperately trying to figure out what to do.  My mind raced to try to rationalize the sound as something mundane and not dangerous.  Try as I might, I kept coming back to the same conclusion, that we had heard a mountain lion bring down a deer on that pre-dawn morning.

Fear to a reasonable degree is a good thing.  It is part of our internal defense system that works  to prevent us from making poor decisions or getting caught up in dangerous situations.  Fear is a good thing as long as we don’t let it dominate our thought processes and actions.  Simply put, fear is one component of our internal risk management system where unconsciously, we assess the potential reward compared to the potential risk before taking action.

For much of my life, I have been exploring the fields, woods and waterways.  That means that I have spent more than my share of time outside in dark conditions.  I inherently have come to grips with most of the risks and subconsciously deal with them rather than fear them.  These include minor things such as tripping over logs I can’t see, sliding down hillsides or falling into creeks.  It could even include more significant risks such as coming in contact with venomous snakes or other predators.

By nature, I am a very analytical person (my wife would even say over-analytical and after intense analysis, I would have to say that she’s right) but on that fateful day, my analytical side abandoned me and my emotional side took over.  Perhaps it was the magnitude of the sound in an otherwise silent forest, maybe it was the darkness or just the fear of the unknown.  Maybe it was the combination of many factors but regardless of what caused it, fear consumed me for the moment.

This type of fear can be seen all around us on an almost daily basis.  The media tries to create fear to gain audiences for their product.  Living in Indiana, I am amazed how the local media tries to make every 1 to 4 inch snowstorm seem like a natural disaster.  It works though, as TV weather forecast ratings go up and stores sell out of milk and bread in anticipation of the “white death” that is coming.

Parents try to create this fear within their children by making exaggerated claims like “if you don’t do well in school, you won’t make it into college and be able to get a good job so you’ll end up homeless!”  Stores try to scare us into buying the latest fad or trendy product by saying things like, “Get yours now before we’re sold out and they’re gone forever!”

The media also over blows the coverage of deadly human interaction with predators.  A single encounter makes the news for weeks while the multitude of murders, rapes and other abuses in our cities hardly makes the news at all.  Again, it is the media trying to create an emotional attachment to the story so that their audience expands, a “fear factor” so to speak.

If we stop to think about any of these situations for just a moment, it doesn’t take us long to determine that the majority of the time, there is no real reason for fear.  There is reason to prepare, and be cautious, but fear in these cases is nothing more than an impediment to achieving our goal.

It is the same with encountering predators in the wild.  If you spend any length of time whatsoever in the wild, you will come in contact with predators.  Most of the time, you won’t even be aware of this contact as the predator avoids you and all is good.  Some times, you might see the predator as they are fleeing, which again presents no real danger to you.  Only occasionally, a statistically insignificant portion of the time, does this situation present any potential for danger to you.  For those few times where an adversarial meeting between you and the predator might happen, keeping a cool head and logically responding can mitigate any danger to you.  Knowing the behaviors of each predator and how best to respond is more productive than fear ever will be.  Dealing with this situation logically rather than emotionally puts you back in control of the situation and allows you to enjoy your outdoor activity.

To put it in perspective, think of the thousands of bears, mountain lions and wolves in the U.S. today.  Next, think of the thousands of hikers, hunters, fishers and picnickers who hit the trails every day.  The combination of people and predators being in the same general locale at the same time presents the possibility of many encounters each day.  Yet when you count the actual number of fatal encounters with all of these predators combined in any given year, you can count them on your fingers.  A handful of instances spread over thousands (maybe millions) of interactions make the fear of predators unfounded.

While we can mathematically prove there is not a significant risk of a deadly encounter with a predator, we do know that this fear exists in some people and must be dealt with.  First and foremost is to acknowledge the fear and don’t try to deny it.  Understand the statistical magnitude of the risk or in other words, realize how little at risk you actually are.  Realize that the fear might not be as rational or justified as you originally thought it was.  I believe the next step is to refuse to be defeated by the fear and decide to productively manage it.  Then you can prepare by educating yourself on how to best deal with the potential threat.  Knowing what to do, if the situation ever arises, will empower you to be able to enjoy your connection with nature to the fullest.

To illustrate the power of emotion and fear working together, let’s look at this question.  For your children’s sake, which you should be more fearful of, a gun kept in a house with children (with ammunition present also) or the same house with children and a swimming pool?  From an emotional standpoint, most everyone including myself, would initially be more fearful of the house with the gun.  I own several guns but it just feels more dangerous than a swimming pool, which elicits thoughts of summertime fun.  The statistics in the U.S., however, prove otherwise.  Household swimming pools cause about one child drowning death for every 11,000 households with pools.  Considering there are about 6 million pools, this means that on average 550 children die each year.  Child gun deaths currently average about one for every one million households with guns.  While there about 200 million guns estimated to be stored in households, this results in about 175 child deaths each year due to a gun kept in the house.  So which has reason to be more fearful, guns or swimming pools?  Clearly it is swimming pools with approximately one death for every 11,000 households compared to guns with one death for every 1 million households.  In fact, swimming pools are about 90 times more likely to cause a child’s death than a gun but I bet you haven’t seen anyone on the news promoting a “turn in your swimming pool” program, have you?

Can guns in a household result in a dangerous situation?  Absolutely, but the vast majority of gun owners are responsible people who use caution, education and logic to effectively manage the risk rather than fear.  Can bears and mountain lions harm you?  Absolutely, but you can effectively manage this risk also by means other than fearful avoidance of nature.

So, how did I deal with my “mountain lion” encounter that day years ago?  After calming myself down, I came up with three possible scenarios.  First, we had totally misunderstood the sounds and it was not what we thought (I didn’t believe it, but it’s possible).  Second, we had interpreted the sounds correctly, but it was another predator, likely the much more common and smaller bobcat.  Third, it had been a mountain lion but it now had a full stomach and that meant it was not on the prowl for more food.  I don’t know which of the three is correct, but they all meant the same thing.  It was safe to continue our expedition, which we enjoyed very much without any mountain lion sightings that day.

While you should definitely recognize your fears, you should work to manage them rather than be controlled by them.  Now go live your life, not your nightmare!