Acacia Elkins, Army Spouse, Bowie, Maryland
"It is Nature’s indifference that makes her both marvelous and fearsome. Her consistency gives me a sense of security, every time I return I see she’s faithful not to change. Yet I know it’s not for me alone that she remains a sanctuary for the human soul.”—John Muir
I spent a week in the Gila with 7 veterans and two NOLS instructors. Mostly strangers to each other, we risked spending a week in close quarters in the middle of Gila Wilderness together. I’m pretty sure this kind of thing is the premise for many reality TV shows. You know, from Lord of the Flies to Lost, put a bunch of strangers together on an Island and watch what happens. But, in this case, instead of petty drama rooted in selfishness, there was grace and understanding. We not only survived our time in the Gila, we came out more alive than ever.
One participating veteran’s friend doubtingly inquired, “You’re going to spend a week in the wilderness with a bunch of strangers?” To which he responded, “Yeah, it’ll be fine, they’re veterans.” It’s this attitude that made each willingly risk to eat, sleep, lead, follow, and learn for a week in a completely unfamiliar environment.
It was a perfect combination, this pre-existing trust and the indifference of Nature. We spent almost every waking hour together working at the simple tasks involved in outdoor living. The best hours were on trail, I felt like with each step and breath I let go of some city worry. By the time we peaked McKnight Mountain on the third day, I felt light as air. I was thriving in the current moment, soaking in the scenery. Although sitting on top of the mountain was definitely a highlight in my year, it was a mere moment in the life of the seemingly ageless McKnight Mountain.
For how “social” our lives are, being in constant communication with everyone through Facebook, Twitter, etc, our few days in the wilderness seemed more social than any in the city ever could be. Why do I say this? Without the constant distraction of checking into some virtual world, we were at ease to actually get to know each other. We told stories about our lives, our friends, and ourselves. I certainly laughed more in that week than I had all together in months. A day on the trail seemed so long and full because I was present in every moment. It felt great to forget what day it was. When we weren’t talking or laughing, we were met with wide-open spaces on all sides and a penetrating silence that encouraged contemplation.
During the week in the Gila, I think we all got to know each other better than we could in a week in the city. Most of our group, when asked why they go outdoors, said, “The camaraderie.” I agree, the wide open sky and lack of distraction press us to be present to Nature and the people we are with.
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