“The Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go” – John Muir
To me, beauty is found in the wilderness. The absence of man’s touch makes nature truly beautiful. Nature is eternal- it does not need us humans to keep going, and when man-made creations fall away, nature will remain. That’s a beautiful thought. For every new iPhone app that’s developed, there’s an oak tree that has only ever been- and will only ever be- what it is today, and what it has been for hundreds of years. Eternal. And no matter what frustrating or irritating things happened to you today, the sun will set, the sun will rise, and the trees will greet the morning. John Muir had it right when he said, “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere… Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn.”
The way I see it, there is no better way to embrace the unique beauty of wild spaces than to leave one’s cell phone at home. When walking through nature free from the odious ‘electronic leash,’ for once I am free to be fully present in my surroundings and to just let my mind wander without blips, beeps, and vibrations interrupting my every thought. When walking through the woods with only my own musings for company, I realize the full extent of how often my thoughts are segmented, interrupted, and fragmented throughout the course of my day by technological intrusions. The outdoors provide a welcome reprieve.
A silent walk through the beauty of the woods is relaxing, freeing, and spiritual, and helps me remember what really matters. Many nature-lovers will tell you that they come away from a hike with great ideas, a fresh perspective on problems that need solving, and renewed energy for the day, while spiritual people also feel closer to God. Again, John Muir was on point when he said: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”
As we all know, the byproducts of modernity – climate change, pollution, deforestation – are jeopardizing our ability to enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. But let’s consider the impact of a newer “evil”: social media.
Unfortunately, since the advent of Instagram and Twitter, millenials’ romps through nature have become less contemplative and more, shall we say, image-conscious. I’ve gone on countless walks with friends whose first instinct upon seeing a beautiful vista is to whip out their phone, start playing with filters, and begin generating clever hashtags. If the scene is especially beautiful, it may earn the coveted hashtag ‘#nofilter,’ as in, “Instagram’s filters actually could not make this scene more beautiful than it is in real life.” Nevermind the fact that throughout this process, the friend is not even looking at the beautiful surroundings that inspired the photo in the first place, but down at a reproduction on a smartphone screen. It goes without saying that this “nature needs a filter” perspective is enough to make Ralph Waldo Emerson turn in his grave.
Worse still are the multitude of self portraits aka “selfies” in nature that abound on social media. Heaven forbid we get dirty or sweaty while hiking, thereby ruining our “selfie game!” The fact that nature is now even being used as a flattering backdrop for the main attraction – close-ups of our faces – raises uncomfortable questions about vanity & self-presentation in our generation.
Simply put, the beauty of nature is now being commodified, and worse – trivialized, when a big part of nature’s deeper beauty is its separateness from the manmade, superficial, and technological. A sweeping panorama, for example, is no longer experienced through the senses alone, but through a screen. One’s first instinct upon seeing a beautiful corner of the outdoors is to document it for social media’s sake, instead of actually experiencing nature for nature’s sake.
As our generation becomes increasingly reliant on technology, the placid beauty of nature becomes ever more vital to my well-being. It’s where I don’t have to answer to anyone’s demands, respond to anyone’s communications, or be bombarded by updates of every kind. I’m “off the grid,” and that’s freeing.
I live in a tiny gold rush era town, and when walking through the woods near my house, I can almost imagine I am in the 1800’s. There’s no discernible difference between that time and this one when I’m surrounded only by trees. That’s incredible to consider, and all the more reason to turn off your data when you embark on your next outdoor adventure. Consider your surroundings and what you think of them, not what your followers would think if you were to snap/filter/post. Focus on your own thoughts, the beauty surrounding you, and its effect on you. Because the aesthetic beauty of the outdoors is only a sliver of its overall beauty; the real beauty of nature is how it can transform, slow down, and distill our thoughts in a way that may no longer be possible in any other 21st century environment.
*Photo taken by Natalie Powell