Why Go Outside?
“I go to the hills when my heart is lonely, I know I will hear what I’ve heard before.” So sings Maria in The Sound of Music. Ambreen Tariq of @brownpeoplecamping says “When you go to places you believe you don’t belong is when you see the profound.” Maybe you head outside to walk your dog, to tend your vegetable garden, to ride your unicycle, or to feel the rush of adrenaline when you summit a mountain. The reasons people go outside are endless. The thing that I’ve found, and love about the natural world, is that it can hold all of our reasons for going outside. It can meet us where we are, and it never fails to deliver something to nourish and inspire us.
I have a practice of going on a silent, solo retreat in the wilderness every season of every year. I find that this regular encounter with quiet and wild places grounds and aligns me to be in the world the way that I want to be. On my solo trip this summer, I had the chance to go to the Desolation Wilderness and spend some time exploring a quiet, cold mountain lake.
On the first morning of my solo, I was emerging from my second swim of the day, and I noticed a bizarre sight of what seemed like a two headed caterpillar clinging to a rock. One head was facing skyward and another pointed out towards the lake at a ninety degree angle. I’d never seen anything like it. A few moments later the perpendicular facing head moved, and in a flash an entire second caterpillar came out of the first, flipped around, and clung to the first caterpillar’s body. “Oh my!” I thought, “they’re mating!”
A few minutes later I looked down at what I thought was my duo of caterpillars, and saw that the one that had done the flip was now slowly growing beautiful, iridescent wings. Over the next half hour an entirely new creature emerged that I eventually identified as a dragonfly.
Once the dragonfly’s wings had fully formed it spread those wings wide, held onto its bug carcass, and stayed perfectly still, drying off in the sun. After a while the first dragonfly I had seen closed its wings, and in the blink of an eye, flew off, back towards the trees and granite peaks that surrounded the lake, leaving its now dry and paper-thin carcass behind.
I looked around and noticed five black water bugs crawling out of the water. They were going slowly, and stumbled as they went. They did each eventually find a rock to cling to, and as I watched I realized that these water bugs would soon have a “second” head burst out of their backs, and that an hour later they would become the carcasses to which a new dragon fly would cling in the warm sun, and from which they would fly away.
As my solo continued, I learned that it was not only my rock that was a transformation zone for dragonflies, but that this phenomenon was happening a thousand fold, all around the lake. There were empty carcasses everywhere -- shells that spoke of new life, of letting go, and of trusting one’s internal wisdom of how to become one’s whole self in the world.
I share this story because it speaks to me of the many and varied stages of life that we all encounter as a part of being alive, that can be quite palpable as we transition to a new school year. First year students who are emerging from the water having trusted their instincts to find a place to support them as they continue to become themselves. Sophomores who are settling into this now known place and finding the courage to jump out of their old carcass shells and explore their identities. Juniors who are letting their wings emerge, wings that will support them on to their next venture, and Seniors who are letting all that growth and development integrate as they prepare to fully dry off and fly away to whatever might be next. All of these are vital parts of one’s life, each with its own gift and challenge.
Any one of us could relate to different parts of this dragonfly’s story, regardless of our class year or age. You could be a first year who feels like they’re drying off, a faculty person who feels like they’re emerging from the water, or a sophomore who feels they are flying away! Whatever your relation to this story, I also share it because for me it exemplifies how the natural world has the capacity to companion us in every state of our being. It can join us in the adventure we seek in surfing and summiting mountains, in our desire for quiet and stillness, and in the experience of storm and upheaval. If we take the time to get out there in it, and to notice what we experience, we can encounter that which will inspire and nourish us, reminding us that we belong however, and wherever, we are.
So first, where are you, and why might you seek some time outside this semester? And second, how can MA Outings create space for you to seek that encounter? Whether it’s exploring Mt. Tam with Liz, Ellie or Jon, kayaking among the bioluminescence with Tania, Diane and Abby, or surfing, hiking in the city, and/or exploring the Sierras with a pack on your back, I encourage you to check out this season’s twenty-eight offerings, sign up for what draws you, and see how the natural world might meet you just where you are.
Look inside, and Get Outside MA!!
Director of Outings