We go outside, initially, because our parents make us.
We protest of course, longing to stay inside and watch TV or build furniture forts, but they point unflinchingly towards the door. And reluctantly, we trudge out.
But soon we discover puddles to jump in, bugs to catch, and trees to climb. Then we are off, pasting maple keys to our noses, blowing dandelion fluff on the winds, holding buttercups to our chins and tasting clover. Notably, we need no instructions or encouragement to engage with the world beyond our walls. If one ever needs proof that we are all, at the core, creatures of the wild, just watch how instinctively children explore a forest or wander a shoreline.
As the years pass, a slow yet undetected metamorphosis occurs, until one day we wake up, and realize we are heading for the door voluntarily, instinctively, even longingly. A fondness for nature is both innate and universal, posits E. O. Wilson. One might even call it an addiction – of the healthiest variety, I’d argue, for both mind and body.
Gradually, as cement walls and daily obligations rise around us, we begin organizing our schedules to include a bike ride in the park, a walk through the forest, or paddle on the lake. We dream of the weekends when we set off, along with a posse of like-minded friends, towards mountains or beach, national parks, secret spots and roadside camps. Leaving our beds and residences behind, we return to another home; to sand between the toes, sun on the shoulders, wind in our hair, and at night, the solid earth beneath us.
We go outside to rinse ourselves of worldly stress, and to taste again that simple life. In our escape, we leave behind Facebook and Twitter for a brief time, choosing instead face-to-face time beside the campfire, and the tweet of the kingfisher along the riverbank.
We go outside to recharge. To sweat. To ingest a healthy dose of dirt. And learn lessons that cannot be taught in any book or website. We go to test ourselves, and our instincts. To enjoy our friends in a different light. To set our imaginations alight. We go to taste freedom.
Amid those cathedral groves, blue waters and high peaks, we glimpse the insignificance – and the ephemeral beauty – of our own precious life. In the process, we unearth a kinder, gentler incarnation of ourselves. It seems an inescapable truth that we are always a better person for having been outdoors.
In an increasingly neurotic, stressed, socially isolated, sedentary and suburbanized world, we go outside to make sense of what’s going on inside. To lose ourselves, and to find ourselves. We go outside for reasons that transcend words.
With time, we begin dragging our own kids outside too. Or our friends’ kids. Or nephews and nieces. To sniff fresh-cut grass, cherry blossoms and budding poplar. To carve sticks, ride bikes and skin knees. To feel the soft belly of a gasping trout, and marvel at a fluttering hummingbird. To light a fire with birch bark. Roast marshmallows. And watch the Milky Way drift across the heavens.
Call us a tribe if you like – the outdoorsy ones, the dirtbags and granola munchers, treehuggers, nature lovers, and fitness freaks – but we go outside simply because we love it.
If you’re not already out there, playing around too… well, we’re sure hoping you’ll join us. There is always room for another beside the campfire.