Nurturing the Wild Within

Recently I have been reflecting on my outdoor life. It’s been that rare thing: a sustained love affair. One that has transcended and outlasted all my other interests, jobs, and, dare I say it, personal relationships.

Trek to Observation Mountain in Kluane National Park, Yukon

But for a long time, the only thing that counted for me was long trips into the wilderness. Once over, I’d spend the rest of the year dreaming about the next summer. Living in my apartment in the city and reluctantly knuckling down to the routines of 9-5 life, it sometimes seemed like a long, arduous portage through life’s travails to get to the next adventure. Sure, I’d still get out for weekends and the odd week here and there. But it wasn’t enough.

Having trekked solo through the Tajik Pamirs, paddled down the Yukon River, and packrafted in the Russian Arctic, each year I would get greedy for more. Just as some of your friends seem to constantly upgrade their phones or cars, so each trip and destination for me had to outdo the last. I’m no elite climber or paddler, for sure, but an insatiable restlessness and curiosity has always propelled me to search out the world’s wilder places.

A high-altitude lake in the Pamirs of Tajikistan

As I get older, start to pay off a mortgage, worry about a career and entertain the prospect of family life, I’m scared that my longer journeys into the wilds will no longer be possible or consigned to the same frequency as the Olympics.

But then again, the way I interact and appreciate nature is also evolving.

Rather than just hinge my outdoor life on the big trips, I have tried to integrate elements of nature and the outdoors into my daily life. The last few years I have started to forage for fresh greens, berries, and fungi in the forests around my apartment. Sometimes I go after work in my suit and shoes, emerging with a fistful of mushrooms and a broad grin on my face.

The city can also be a source of outdoor inspiration. I often take my packraft down to the water near where I live and join the throng of boats including cruise liners (I just hope they can see me way below), or else enjoy weaving new routes through the waterways of the city. The spring floods even bring decent rapids in the middle of town.

Hard work getting to the headwaters of northern Finland’s Ivalojoki river

Just recently, I took a friend, a refugee from Syria, out to my local nature reserve on a cold winter’s day. We stepped out onto a frozen lake – to which he exclaimed he’d only seen in movies before. His enthusiasm as we shuffled over the ice was infectious and got me to wonder whether I couldn’t rekindle that same feeling of awe and inspiration each time I ventured into nature on my doorstep.

My imagination will always be fired by the asceticism and challenge of wilderness travel, but enjoying nature is about far more than the epic mountains and rivers of this world.

An older friend of mine, a hardcore mountain climber with an impressive Alpine résumé, has with age come to develop a passion for the tamer, but botanically rich delights of the horizontally flat peat bogs close to his home. Many would find them boring, but for him it’s been a new and exciting chapter in his relationship with nature. It reminds me that we can constantly evolve, but that our childlike enchantment never leaves.

Enjoying a night in the woods close to my home

Enjoying a night in the woods close to my home

Over Christmas, I was back home in the UK and revisited the countryside of my youth that had helped to inculcate my passion for nature – by any comparison it seemed tame, fenced off, and the opposite of wild. But it was also beautiful and I loved it.

Roger Deakin, a famed naturalist, once wrote he could spend a whole lifetime just studying a hedge. Now that’s the level of connection I want to have with nature. Sure, my pulse is always going to quicken when viewing images of New Zealand’s Fiordland or the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. But I’m not there now. Instead, today I’m packing a small bag and stealing out for a couple of hours to visit that old, gnarly pine in my local wood.

 

Alec Forss is an outdoor writer/photographer and freelance journalist focusing on environment and culture. He is based in Sweden. Follow him and his adventures at Alec Forss.

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