Wild Life

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Apr 09 2013

A breath of fresh air

UM student explores her backyard wildlands

Voices of NexGen

Santee Ross
UM NexGen Intern

I wouldn’t call myself an outdoors person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and climbing mountains, but I won’t lie – I love the comforts of society. I love my little bed, my little tv and my not so little collection of movies. But now and again I get the urge to strap my boots on and get outside.

When I hike a trail or simply gaze up at a towering mountain range, it’s a breath of fresh air (literally) for my body, and even more so, a breath of fresh air for my soul. I go stir crazy if I haven’t felt the shifting earth under my feet, the smell of new or old trees, and the comforting sound of mountain silence.

I’m from Wyoming, so I’m no stranger to mountains and prairie. But until a recent experience this past summer, I didn’t realize my soul craved the outdoors. I didn’t understand what it meant to be outdoors.

Back home there’s a section of the Wind River Mountain Range called Sinks Canyon. It’s full of picnic areas along the river and a spiderweb of trails enjoyed by beginners and experienced hikers. I knew a few familiar trails and favorite spots I hiked to, and I wasn’t the type to change things up — but eventually I did.  Though my feet hated me that day, my heart and soul awakened with enough love that my feet didn’t really mind later.

One early afternoon last summer, I had to be at work in a couple of hours, but I felt a tremendous need to get a hike in. I started up one of my normal trails that hugs one side of the canyon, a semi-steep climb that snakes inbetween boulders and cedar trees. The smell of cedars made me smile despite my lungs gasping for air. I decided I wanted to climb up farther than I had gone before, hiking off the trail and climbing up the steepest part of the hill to get where I wanted to go.

As I stood alone at the top of this canyon, gazing out across the distant prairie to where the horizon swallows the land, I felt more free and at peace than ever before.  More magnificent than the view was the sound of the mountain, a silence so loud that it opened the way for a huge wave of nirvana to flood into me. In that moment, I realized what being outdoors means — accepting your connection, however strong, to this land.

That connection is different for everyone:  my urge to be outdoors every so often doesn’t compare to those who feel the urge daily, and the connection is experienced differently in my familiar canyon than in a desert or forest.

In Sinks Canyon, I felt deeply connected to the land in my hometown. It’s a freeing and peaceful wave of emotion that I feel not just on mountain tops, but in everyday outdoor experiences. Being outdoors is a breath of fresh air that everyone’s soul should experience.