In college, whenever I was feeling overwhelmed or just despondent, I would go to the beach, turn off my brain, and then slowly restart. Some people might call this meditating, but I called it my reset button. I just went into nature all by myself, stared at the waves, and then moved forward. It helped me prioritize, helped me put things in perspective.
Now my reset button is a little different. My fiancé and I took up backpacking a few years ago and each successive jaunt into the wilderness resets my life in ways I can’t quite process until it’s over.
Backpacking breaks my life down to it’s core. Every decision is based on where we’ll find water, if we’ll be warm enough, have enough food, be able to sleep. I could spend thirty minutes trying to get a fire started in the rain because at that moment that's the only thing that I care about - Warmth. I perceive more in the woods, the light, the rain, the tracks of deer, coyote, bear. Everything we need is strapped to our backs. Life is survival, and there’s freedom in that.
Coming home from four days in the wilderness is a relief but it’s also overwhelming. Suddenly water comes out of my kitchen faucet, and I have to unload the dishwasher. E-mails have piled up, people need favors, want me to respond, act, go out. Life avalanches in on us. Life is once again full of lists and tasks, brief conversations about what to do now that the cat is in heat, which insulation is best for our climate, googling solutions to every problem.
I don’t feel shackled to life, exactly, but I can’t help but feel like hiking fifteen miles a day to find the nearest running creek was a simpler existence. Identifying bear prints, markings, and scat, before finally running across a bear on the trail was a more satisfying experience. Pushing my body towards something, water, miles, a camp site, felt pure. It was cold, sure. Yeah, it hailed on us, but huddled around a camp fire, drinking wine we’d lugged almost twenty miles, that’s the sort of accomplishment that modern life, in all it’s incredible luxuries, just can’t offer.
Here I can write. Here I can be creative, and spontaneous. As we speak a heater is warming my toes, I am simultaneously editing my book and ordering groceries via Instacart. Amazon packages are delivered to my doorstep, and twenty feet away, my phone is alerting me of their arrival. I am cleaner than I’ve been in days, my clothes don’t smell like smoke, and all things considered I’m at peace. The luxuries a twenty first century life affords lets me be a writer, lets me answer any whim of a question in a moment, gives me the freedom to read and the spare time to wonder. But it’s not everything. Being comfortable isn’t everything.
Sometimes you need to turn it all off, and just let your brain be primitive for a moment. When you only care about water, food and sleep, the lists, the people, the wants just disappear.
That’s why I go into the woods. To let my brain take a break. Let her sit back and just survive. Then slowly, like a sunrise, let her reboot into modernity.