My ideas bank seems to go bankrupt every time I sit down to write a column on a Wednesday night. But a quick walk usually fixes the problem—whether that is walking to class at a slightly more leisurely pace than my signature half-jog or taking 10 minutes to circle a Winthrop courtyard.
This week, however, nothing could bail out my bankruptcy. I took a walk (it was nasty outside), bought time by giving my room its monthly clean (tomorrow it’ll swing back to equilibrium), and grabbed friends to ask for ideas (didn’t work, thanks for nothing). My semesterly brain clog has finally arrived and it is time to go back to the woods. And while the woods are on my mind, why not kill two birds with one stone by pulling an inevitable Nicholas Kristof and preach the outdoors gospel?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that “the outdoors” has become quite a fad lately. If you’ve climbed a mountain in the past few months, chances are pretty decent that your current profile picture is you-plus-water-bottle-plus-backpack, your windblown hair hinting that you’re somewhere high up. In a world of insanity where connection is taken for granted, disconnection has become cool. On a campus saturated by people sporting Patagonia and flannel shirts, looking and becoming “outdoorsy” has become something all by itself, perhaps even a bit disconnected from why people go to the woods in the first place. Indeed, it’s an activity that is inextricably linked with socioeconomic and racial complications of accessibility and image, on our campus and beyond.
If the word “outdoorsy” strikes up an image, so too does “being outdoors.” When the Great Outdoors are preached, likely there are other virtues being preached with it. Going to the woods buys you remoteness for profound reflection. It’ll give you a solitude that is both beautiful and lonely; it’ll make you more appreciative of both yourself and the people that surround you. If you are in company, it’ll open up space for deep conversations and genuine connection. It’ll make you more appreciative of Earth. It’ll test you both physically and emotionally. It’ll even out all that you carry inside, as you balance on shaky rocks and unexpected roots.
This is one outdoors gospel—albeit an overly exposed one (I am complicit)—but it doesn’t have to be yours. Although many around me are fellow preachers, I am aware that many of the buzzwords that surround outdoor activity are subject to eye rolls and half-hearted nods. In a similar way, the popular image of “outdoorsy” often turns away people who feel the pressure of decking out in hiking gear to hit a trailhead.
The woods are beautiful because no matter how many people share them, they are infinitely yours. The Appalachian Trail is famous for looking pretty much the same all along its 2000-plus miles, but every step and every experience at a summit is different and contextualized in the unique complexities of your life and your situation. The woods are full of these disconnected stories but wonderfully united in their emptiness for each individual person; you go for your own reasons, and it is your experience to sketch. Once you’re in the sameness of the trees, it is your choice how much you want the crude realities of our external differences to play into your experience.Likely I have ended up reinforcing my own gospel while attempting to speak to the customizable beauty of the woods. At this point, getting outdoors has become so ingrained in my value system that it is hard to see outside the box. So that leaves just one solution for you: get out there and see for yourself.
Jenny J. Choi ’16, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.