The Great Outdoors

By Michael Polletta

What is it that makes it so great?

I walked down the trail with my hand out to give him a high five. He reached out and slapped my hand, and we were both smiling from ear to ear. I had just spent several minutes watching this little boy log rolling himself down the snow covered trail as I was finishing my hike to Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park. His mom and grandmother (I’m guessing) were watching as well, and mom was filming him on her phone. They were speaking what sounded to be an Asian language, and didn’t seem to know English.

I watched this little boy rolling in the snow like it was his first time ever experiencing its joyous simplicity. He had a huge smile on his face after each turn rolling down the trail. Mom and grandma seemed worried that he was in my way, but I stood and watched with an equally big smile on my face. This little boy was just living in the moment; enjoying the freedom of the fresh air, the cold breeze, the swaying of the trees, and that sweet sweet snow.

Andy Williams says this is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I agree. I’ve always loved winter, especially playing in the snow. At 43 I still get giddy when I see the mountains draped in their first coat of white for the season. That first snowfall signals a change. For some, it signals that it’s time to pull out the thick sweaters, space heaters, extra blankets, and hibernate for the next several months. For others it signals that the fun is just getting started.

This is the time of the year when nature gets down to its bare bones and simplified. The wildflowers have withered away, the mosquitos have all hopefully died a slow and painful death ?, and the crowds have all settled down for a long winter’s nap. All that’s left is rock, dirt, snow, trees, and some ice. Sometimes the simplest of things can be the most beautiful and enjoyable.

I saw another child who made me smile while was hiking back to my truck. He sat quietly in his carrier backpack while his young mom carried him up to Dream Lake. No fussing, no crying. He just sat quietly taking it all in. I can only imagine what the little guy was thinking. I left wondering if he’ll be the next great mountaineer. I wish I took a picture of them.

These two kids gave me a glimpse of hope. In a time when computers, video games, and soccer seem to rule many kids’ lives, these two were experiencing the great outdoors. They were learning about the joy that can be found in the midst of simplicity. They were learning that the great wilderness that is around us in so many different textures and colors is actually one of the safest and comforting places you can be. They were learning that nature, in all of its forms, is the greatest pre-school, elementary school, middle school, college, and technical school all rolled into one. There is no better place to learn geography, mathematics, geology, biology or chemistry. There is no better place to learn astronomy, meteorology, or physics. There is without a doubt no better place to learn how to be a critical thinker and how important it is to always be fully prepared for your day, because nature will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t have these two important life skills. There is no better way to learn about physical fitness and the importance of flexibility, functional movement, coordination, balance, strength, muscle endurance,  aerobic and anaerobic endurance, and core strength. The change of seasons also brings about new opportunities to experience each of these scholastic topics in new and exciting ways.

Humans weren’t designed to spend their days sitting indoors. Sitting within the confines of 4 walls and a roof is definitely not the best environment for humans to learn. If we want to be the most well rounded and well educated people we can be, we must spend time outside. It’s even becoming more and more evident that spending time outdoors is often the best medicine that can be prescribed. Hospital patients recover more quickly when they have views of nature from their room. People with anxiety experience fewer symptoms when they spend regular time outdoors. Doctors and nurses have been shown to commit few mistakes during patient care when they take their breaks among nature. Patients ask for fewer pain medications when they are exposed to nature. I get anxious when I go too long without being outside. Being outside is what makes me feel alive.

I want to encourage you all to reflect on the past year and what you’ve learned about yourself during your outdoor excursions. Reflect on what areas you’ve grown in and what areas you might have some work to do. Ask yourself what do you really know about those favorite places you like to spend time in? Do you know the history behind your “playgrounds?” Is there a place you really want to get out to but you haven’t because you just don’t think you’re fit enough, or have the skills to do it? What can you do about that? Ask yourself if you’ve ever really experienced complete silence. What kind of feeling does the thought of complete and total silence bring up in you? Why is it that those elk with the big antlers seems to be fighting with each other in the fall? Why is it that you’ve noticed that you suddenly feel better when you take a good strong whiff of that pine aroma in the forest? What is it that nature was trying to teach you this year?

I’m grateful to Bivy for having me be a part of their organization and that they give me the ability to encourage others to get outdoors. As we head into the new year and our government shutdown continues to just show the world that our country’s leadership hasn’t learned the essential life skills that our outdoor places can teach, let’s show them that the rest of us have indeed learned them. We’re all different, and that’s OK. Let’s be leaders and acknowledge that strength is built upon acknowledging those differences and leveraging those differences to create positive change.  Let’s show the world that even though the government has “shut down,” we can still take care of our public lands and that we can manage them ourselves. Let’s hold each other accountable and make sure we’re picking up our trash and taking it home instead of letting trash cans overflow. Let’s not let the bathrooms get disgusting because someone else isn’t cleaning up after us. Let’s not park where we’re not supposed to. Let’s thank those park rangers for being responsible, caring adults, and doing their “jobs” even though they aren’t getting paid. Let’s act like…adults.  Now go outside, it’s good for you. See ya out there.

Check out Lake Haiyaha trail

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