Nature is the basis of human existence. It provides us with food, clothing, shelter, air, water and sunlight. We are intrinsically connected to nature as it functions in mysterious but beautiful ways to captivate and inspire us. However, we are becoming more disconnected than ever before. This disconnect plays out in our relationship with the natural world today – one that prioritizes human gain and economic development with no regard for the environment.
Due to the growing trends of urbanization coupled with our growing dependence on technological devices, many people are starting to have less reason to go outside. While these trends of modernization can be argued to have improved the quality of life for many, it’s important that we recognize the disconnect that human development has created.
How can we fix this disconnect? It can be as simple as spending more time in nature. A study found that those with a greater orientation to nature have better mental health, social cohesion and physical behavior. But why? It’s suggested that the noises, textures, lights, and smells that nature provides are a naturally conducive message for the brain to slow down. This can help reduce anxiety levels and improve moods.
Spending more time in nature also allows people to build a deeper appreciation and understanding of it. Another study suggests that people with a higher appreciation of nature and those who spend more time in nature engage in a variety of eco-friendly practices. Immersing yourself in the natural world can help guide you to a realization that it needs protection.
Everyone experiences nature differently – for some, it might be sitting outside and listening to the birds. For others, it might be a stroll in the park, or an afternoon at the beach. For me, it’s backpacking.
Backpacking is a combination of hiking and camping. It consists of an overnight or multi-day hike out into the wilderness where your backpack is essentially your home. Your backpack consists of food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. Backpacking has been a way for me to escape modernity and deepen my appreciation and understanding of nature. There is no greater time for thought than when I’m surrounded by an ever-growing and changing environment that is filled with ecological richness and dynamicity. As I trek through some of the most beautiful landscapes, I take the time to acknowledge, observe and reflect.
For each backpacking trip, I research and learn about the indigenous groups that inhabited/ inhabit the region I will be traversing. Indigenous peoples are the first stewards of this land and thus, acknowledging and learning about the people that have walked it before me is a way of showing respect.
As a student, I try to learn about the tribe’s land use management. In universities, we’re taught more modern ways of land use and resource management. While this isn’t a bad thing, traditional practices are oftentimes overlooked, but are just as useful when it comes to sustainable land management and conserving pristine environments.
I also practice “Leave No Trace” as a way to reduce my impact and to further treat the land with respect. Leave No Trace consists of seven principles: Plan Ahead & Prepare, Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of Other Visitors. These seven practices are extremely crucial for any outdoor activity. They promote sustainability and the minimization of human impact with the hope that these environments will be protected for future generations to experience and appreciate.
While I’m out on the trail, I experience the environment for what it is; I take in the sounds, the scent, and the landscape. It can be difficult to live in the moment in a society that is filled to the brim with various forms of consumption, distractions, stigmas and expectations. We get so caught up in achieving our end goals without ever taking the chance to appreciate where we are right now in our lives. Backpacking allows me to take a step back from our fast paced society and to observe the wildlife and ecology, which is something I don’t get to do everyday. The environment is ever-changing and for me to experience it at that very moment, is something that I find beauty in.
While backpacking is a way for me to live more in the moment, it’s also essential for me, as an environmentalist, to reflect on the future. While I’m backpacking I’m filled with questions such as: What are we doing to preserve environments like this? How long does this land have until it’s destroyed by human activities? What can I do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
I reflect on these things because pristine environments are the cornerstone for backpacking. However, it would be selfish of me to say that we must protect these environments for the sake of backpacking alone. Protecting these environments is much bigger than backpacking. These ecosystems are at the foundation of civilization, as they clean our water, provide us with food, purify our air, regulate the climate and much more. Backpacking guides me to a deep realization that we are nothing without these ecosystems. It reinforces my work as an environmentalist and inspires me to achieve a more sustainable future. We must preserve these ecosystems, as they gift us with endless amounts of knowledge, beauty, complexities, and recreation.
Backpacking is a way for me to engage with the natural world through land acknowledgement, observation and reflection. I encourage all who can, to take the time to experience the natural world as it is right now; to see the beauty in it, but to also recognize the destruction that is currently happening.