As college students in a decent-sized city, we spend almost every moment of our time in close proximity to other human beings. When I lived in the dorms, I remember realizing that there was almost never a time when there was more than 10 feet between me and another person, whether it was my roommates, classmates or random people on the street.
I’ve written before about the importance of a little bit of stillness in daily life, but there is another type of separation from society that we definitely do not get enough of in an urban setting unless we actively seek it out: nature.
There is something extremely calming about purposefully removing yourself from the noise of daily life, unplugging from technology and reverting to the basic state of human existence.
You don’t realize how different the city can be until you leave it. The air smells different – cleaner. The sky is clearer. The buzz of noise is still present, but it’s changed. Instead of the humming of voices, car engines, air conditioners and motorcycles, you can hear the constant movement of natural things – tree leaves rustling against one another, bugs humming, water running. Instead of the occasional jarring sounds of sirens, car horns and shouts of friends from across the street, you can hear birds singing to each other, ducks and geese calling to their flocks and the sounds of deer dashing through the foliage of the forest.
This may all seem very idyllic and Emersonian, but I think it’s important to remember that much of the world exists in a state relatively unaltered by human development. And I’m not bashing human development or society – I spent the last four days in rooms full of women going through sorority recruitment.
I think there is immense value in the company of other people, and I really enjoy things like running water, the Internet and refrigerators. It can be nice to remove yourself from these things for a time. It can also be challenging in ways different from the challenges of society.
Two years ago, my dad and I hiked from the south rim of the Grand Canyon down to the northern bank of the Colorado River. The hike down takes about half a day, and we camped two nights at the bottom, spending a day exploring the canyon floor before hiking for a full day back to the top.
Though the distance from rim to floor is about a mile, if you have ever been to Grand Canyon National Park and stood on the edge, the sheer size of it is enough to make you gasp. It is not an easy hike by any means, and to this day it is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, both mentally and physically. It forced me to appreciate the natural power of this planet on which we live.
There is awesome human power in the world as well. Revolutions are born from human thought, and we have found ways to manipulate nature’s power with the force of an atomic bomb. It would do us all well to remember what was here before us, take advantage of the beauty of it and realize that it will be here long after we are gone.