Recently I spent four nights in a tent with a fishing rod propped against a tree not far away. This was out of cell range and I had no idea what was happening in the world. Bears were said to be a concern. But I slept well, into the cocoon-like shelter at dark and up at daybreak, happy trending to euphoric.
I was recalling this little adventure the other day when news broke about the nut job in Florida who killed 49 good citizens and wounded that number and more. This was followed by an alert from the same state that an alligator had snatched a little boy on a trip to Disney World. You can’t make this stuff up. Nearly as tragically, you can’t escape it.
Time was that news, even from a nearby village, wasn’t heard for weeks or months. Now if China builds an island in the sea we know about it the same day. Ditto whether Britain withdraws from the European Union or the Twins bring up another guy from the minors who can’t hit a breaking ball. Connected oftentimes by our problems, our psyches bend reflexively to their frequency, intensity and, ultimately, their irresolvability. In response we caterwaul at the moon, sometimes literally.
The other day a friend and I were talking about fishing. He’s not a very good fisherman, so his point never has been to catch a walleye, bass, trout, muskie or even a crappie or bluegill. Also he owns a small boat and smaller motor. Hardly, then, a vagabond, or an adventurer, he typically fishes small lakes, many not far from his home, day after day casting his boat afloat at the same time, in the same way, he soon at the tiller, rod in hand.
“I fish because it’s the only thing I’ve found that focuses my mind enough so that I forget everything else,” he said.
This was a fair point and I said as much.
Others might suggest they experience a similar singularity of thought playing a pickup basketball game or spending a night on the town with a friend. Maybe. But distraction isn’t the only intention here. Sensory immersion in nature, broadly defined, is.
This can occur on a lake with paddle, oar or outboard in hand. Or in a field, forest or while crossing a stream, whether on foot, bike or horseback.
Only in these or similar places, beneath cloudy skies or clear, can the sun’s warmth be felt, or the winter’s chill, or wet grass, deep snow, wind or rain.
Soren Kierkegaard, the philosopher, made the point when he said, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”
The notion that nature heals dates back some 2,000 years to the time of Hippocrates, who believed nature is the physician of diseases.
Today, this isn’t literally accurate, of course. The interventional nature of modern medicine with its otherworldly skilled surgeons and countless high-tech gadgets paints a more complicated picture.
Yet it’s quite possibly true that the only antidote sufficient to blunt the news, particularly bad news, that craters our mind-sets daily from the four corners of an ever-smaller world rests … in nature. And to the degree that we remove ourselves from immersion in, or at least exposure to, nature, we risk our peace of mind, health and perhaps even happiness.
Sigurd Olson, the Minnesota ecologist and author, contended as much when he wrote, “Joys come from simple and natural things: mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water.”
Thursday morning, not long after sunup, I walked the dogs beneath a clearing sky. As I did, I recalled vividly my four recent nights in a tent, fishing rod leaning against a nearby tree.
I thought also about the river not far from our farm that at this time of summer features a hungry smallmouth or two, also perhaps a muskie. This is a narrow waterway and I stared hard and long at my old Wards john boat with its 8-horse outboard swinging from the stern, knowing soon it, and I, would be adrift again in the river’s currents.
I fed the dogs, and should have gone inside then to start work.
Instead I pulled a sorrel horse we call TNT out of a pasture, threw a saddle over his back and climbed aboard. By now the sun had risen well above the treetops. The breeze was soft. My boots felt good in the stirrups.
Later, over breakfast, I would read the day’s news, good and bad, letting the chips fall where they may.
For now, I was happy, trending to euphoric.