Nature as Adult Playground: At What Cost?
Don’t worry, this is not another piece about the state of Mother Nature, climate change, or some hardcore PSA about the urgency in which we must care more and do better.
Let’s hope that is common knowledge at this point (and no, that claim does not bypass the need for continued right action). Beyond the restoration conversation, though, is a need for this one: there’s a deeper undercurrent of dysfunction that has to be addressed. Like now. You in?
Oftentimes, hiking in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, I am awestruck by the demonstrative, performative, competitive and active nature of Nature’s people. No matter the weather, be it an ice-pocalypse or 100 degrees, people are scaling, jumping, and sprinting up and down mountains. I’ve seen bare legs in winter and have watched tough terrain foster folks with compromised arms, legs, necks and backs.
Their various body-braces literally do just that: they brace themselves in pursuit of returning to peak performance. As an athlete myself (or so I thought, before now), I promise you, this form of activity is a whole other animal.
The other day, I was strolling up a mountain with the intention to get grounded, be with my breath, and experience the immediate restorative quality of silence. In the past, I chose specific trails for their length and intensity. It wasn’t long until I realized I could not honor my intentions while coming from an exercise-prioritized mindset. Maybe some people can. That’s cool!
While there’s nothing wrong with Exercise-Brain, I saw how my prioritizing physical appearance over Nature, to attain fleeting and ego-dictated goals, kept me from me, entirely. Since then, it has become an intuitive and therefore empowering practice to go where I’m called. To let Nature teach.
On my latest hike, I experienced a jarring moment that solidified my being on the other side of this exercise-dominant default setting. I was traversing a steep incline when I looked up (which I often forget to do), and lost my breath completely. On both sides of the human-made staircase was a line of deer, five to my left and four to the right. I landed in the middle.
Having witnessed at least 30 deer (seriously) that week prior to this moment, I already felt extremely close to them. I stood frozen by the profundity of their horizontal positioning in relation to mine, which was vertical. At this moment, our paths were quite literally crossed and sacred geometry took on a whole new meaning.
It became incredibly clear to me that Nature, though certainly here for our leisure and wellness, embodies its own language and enforces a particular etiquette that requires humble compliance. It was only moments before this one I had intentionally presented sacred offerings to the land upon entering the trailhead. I no longer enter natural spaces without them for one reason: the land is not my own.
It is my responsibility to attune to the spaces I inhabit and fine-tune my awareness to the energy I’m bringing in to them. The offerings I bring along, consisting of dried flowers, herbs, cornmeal, tea and/or tobacco, facilitate my intention-setting prior to the hike and assist calibrating to a receptive mode. These offerings guarantee a deepening and clarity behind all experiences that follow.
Hence, these deer. Beautiful, gentle medicine. So I pause. I feel immediately and concretely that these beings, in this moment, represented a threshold in my life that I was crossing. I was to ask them my permission to traverse their land and it was granted. Together we co-existed peacefully and divinely protected. They served as my guides forward. Onward and upward. Literally.
I looked down at the small trek I’d made thus far, aware of a triathlete making her way up to me. I figured it’d be best to let her pass, given that I was milking Nature’s magic and remained curious about how she might also react to such a moment. As I watched her, this woman came and went without so much as raising an eye. My jaw fell open.
Is it because people are people used to this living here? How can people be used to this? I grew up in a town called Deer-field and I am still not used to this. Do they not see what’s happening here? How can they not see what’s happening here?
I was dumbfounded. I wracked my brain trying to understand such a seeming-dismissal. I stood with recognition for when I was in a similar place: physicality or bust. If nothing else, that was the threshold I crossed in that moment. To no longer be that person. I am so grateful to be on the other side, seeing old selves.
Let me be clear: this is not about judgment. There is nothing wrong with doing things how we do them when it’s all we know how to do. That said, what a contrasting moment. It showed me different ways of relating to the land: being on it doesn’t necessarily mean being with it. It’s more complex than just playing outside or staying indoors.
There are layers in between regarding how to interact with and honor this living entity.
When I see folks running up and down mountains, I think of Nature as an adult playground. I remember jungle gyms and monkey bars as I watch them jump on rocks and getting joyfully caught in mud. I’m reminded of the young me who cast spells with twigs and collected treasure. There’s nothing more pure than opting for outside. Kudos.
At the same time, when I see folks running up and down mountains, I also see destruction and stomping, littering and some form of trespassing too. Even in free, open, city-governed spaces, I feel there’s a need for individualized self-governing for all those who enter. Be intentional about your presence. Acknowledge where you are. This is my perceived way to do no harm.
This is the way to serve and preserve the land.
Simply, my hope is that Nature is enjoyed and experienced respectfully. Through appreciation, not indulgence. Through mutual, shared inter-beingness, not something that is used at the expense of ourselves and/or our surroundings. A relationship is never about one or the other, but both. How do we find equilibrium? How do we attune more to one another?
I feel it every single day in my quest for silence. I sit by the lake, only to be accompanied by boisterous conversations from all echoed angles. To me, that too is a form of stomping over the pre-existing dynamic.
I went to meditate recently by a half-frozen lake and to conduct a gratitude ritual at the time of Winter Solstice. In preparation for it, I witnessed a family across the way skipping rocks on the ice as they glazed over with a unique Whoosh sound. Some rocks penetrated the water and continued underneath the ice layer with a hollowed reverb.
Same deal: my first thought was, “Wow, that’s pure fun. That’s exactly what nature outings should be.” Harmless and simple. Joy from rocks and water.
The second thought however, was, At what cost though? Are the fish okay? Is this not destructive? Can you stop now? I couldn’t help but feel the aggression behind chucking rocks into an entire ecosystem without acknowledging the potential impact.
I’m certainly not presuming to have answers or impose any right way to be. All of these moments are loaded with conversational edges, things worth celebrating as well as room for growth. Nobody’s perfect and all is well. At the same time, I strongly feel our personal relationships with Nature need to be integrated into the sustainability and restoration conversations for even greater collective impact.
And I don’t mean our relationships with Nature as in how we feel about Her, but how we treat Her. And I don’t mean how we treat Her to strictly address how we use and abuse resources, but how we relate to land on a personal level. How do we each enter space? How do we each contribute to it?
This is more than just leave no trace, but a proposal to improve the space through our energy fields and intentionality. Whatever that means to you, a willingness to be more aware is the greatest gift you could give to yourself and the great Mother. That, to me, is the definition of play. Try it out.
If you want to run up a mountain, have at it. Just be mindful of the deer pastures and fellow creatures paving your path. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to slow down for a while. Or to stop and smell the wildflowers. There’s a reason they are there. They want to be seen by you. They don’t just want you to run by them, they are waiting for you to visit.
Paige Frisone is a writer and poet stationed in Boulder, Colorado. Originally from Chicago, her writing pursuits began at Butler University, finishing her Creative Writing/English Literature degree at Naropa University with an integrated contemplative psychology focus. Her diverse loves and endeavors involve mind, body, earth and energetic-centered practices. Her work seeks to emit gripping psychosomatic experiences while simultaneously addressing concepts regarding the psyche and soma. She’s usually moving by the lake or reading barefoot in the grass, soaking up the sun with deep gratitude for all.