Pleasure in the Pathless Woods

by Tanya Wardell, Fort Worth

Rediscovering My Connection With Nature on the Open Road

Pleasure in the Pathless Woods

Dallas/Fort Worth is a vast, sprawling metroplex made up of several closely connected municipalities which form the largest landlocked metropolitan area in the United States. Its more than six million people are surrounded on all sides by suburbs, skyscrapers, and highways. Most people who live here would tell you it’s impossible to get by without a car, since this gigantic metroplex spreads out over approximately 9,000 square miles. Much of that space either is, or is being made into office buildings, retail outlet centers, or suburban neighborhoods. Living here makes it easy to forget that there are places in the United States which aren’t covered in concrete, asphalt, billboards, and street lights.

And boy, did I forget. I, having lived here for the past twelve years, had become so comfortable with the idea that my big city is all that exists in this country that when my boyfriend and I decided last year to take a road trip around the western United States, we actually experienced a sort of culture shock. There was so much more out there than commercial architecture and congested traffic. So much beauty and diversity and openness in the United States that we almost felt as though we were in a different country every day.

We spent two and a half months on the road, driving from the bottom to the top of the country and then back down again. We’d made it our mission to spend as much time as possible in the natural or forested areas of the United States, to get away from the city lights and urban sprawl and rediscover what it means to feel connected to nature. We had no plan, except that we would make no plans. Most of the time we didn’t know where we would end up until we landed there. We slept in our little two person backpacking tent, and there were several occasions where our “showers” consisted of nothing more than a swim in a lake.

I remember waking up one morning in the mountains of Colorado, inhaling deeply, and thinking “so this is what it feels like to breathe.”  There were the hot springs in Idaho where we spent the whole night lounging in mother earth’s jacuzzi,  entranced by the thick blanket of stars flickering brilliantly in the sky. We learned to appreciate the strength of nature in the deserts of Utah as we huddled in our tiny tent while fierce dust storms shifted the landscape on little more than a moment’s whim. The sweeping plains of Wyoming, golden and green, dancing in the summer’s breeze made us feel as if we were the only people in the whole world. I remember the ocean waves along the entire Pacific coast from Washington to California, which seemed to chant sacred mantras as they moved patiently and powerfully through their tidal cycles. Then there was that one night in Arizona, a night I spent terrified and at the same time hypnotized by the concerted howls of wild animals (I was sure at the time they were enormous wolves, but later discovered they were probably just small foxes), howls which seemed to come from above and below and all around, closer and farther away all at the same time.

Though I learned several valuable lessons during the two and a half months I spent on the road, there was one which struck a chord in me deeper than all the rest, and to this day vibrates in the very core of my being. Simply put, nature is the great scale upon which we balance our lives. It is larger than our tallest skyscrapers, and more powerful than even our most advanced machines. It is equal weight creation and destruction, equal weight persistence and patience. It is all around us, and it is us. If we can remember that our concrete cities, while useful and comfortable, don’t put us above nature, only farther away from it, if we can take even one minute of every day to appreciate how the natural world is as much our family as our mother and father, then we can become part of it. We can love it as our own, we can connect the world together in a community where people live balanced in harmony with not only each other, not only with highways and suburbs, but with plants and animals, with forests and plains, deserts and oceans.
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes. By the deep sea, and music in its roars; I love not man the less, but nature more." -George Gordon

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