Wander: To move aimlessly, spontaneously.

On a recent backpacking trip a friend and I started talking about how the wilderness impacts us. We started bluecollar-theorizing about how getting deep into the backcountry seems like a necessary rhythm of life that so many (including the two of us) don’t maintain strictly enough. It was hard to state just how, but we agreed the wilderness does something incredibly special to us when we step into its beauty and quiet, surrounded by life’s incredible intricacy and balance. This topic has really captured my interest over the last 6 months; so much so that I spent the summer plowing through books about ‘the idea of wilderness’. I have learned a lot dabbling in these texts but what I have come to believe above all else is that wilderness/nature/creation/backcountry – whatever you’d like to call it – helps we humans maintain (even reattain) psychological, social, and spiritual health.  

Wonder: A state of awe.

When I go into the woods the thing that characterizes my reception of the environment around me has to be wonder. The experience of being surrounded by the beauty, stillness, and intricate and abundant life somehow reinvigorates and reorganizes my sense of the world around me. It changes my posture toward the world; I am deeply humbled by the wild, surprised and enamored, amazed and inspired. When I come back to civilization after being out for even just a few days, I find I have a greater sense of purpose and am more reverent to the daily mysteries, intricacies and wonders of life. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jesus constantly, almost religiously cycled into the wilderness during his ministry. There is something about the breath and life of creation that connects us with our creator.

Wonder: To call into question.

Maybe that isn’t your interpretation – maybe you are aversive to words like spirit, creation, creator. I can understand that and would love your thoughts in the comments or emailed to me! I am all about open and honest dialogue and believe questioning our beliefs is the only way we can become self-aware and mature in our views. All that said, I find a connection between my experience in the wilderness and the constant process of making sense of life, of humanity. It is easy to get bogged down, pulled into melancholy when confronting the abyss of questions, ideas, truths and lies. I think the wild helps us stand before our own unknowingness while retaining hope, belief, and wonder.

An in-process painting investigating wilderness, 2012.

Wander: To move according to the gravity of wonder.

Several summers ago I was floating the Methow river by myself (actually it was how I got home from work that summer, but that’s another story) and I had one such wilderness realization. I watched the birds diving for bugs, an almost choreographed ballet, and realized they must be enjoying their sporadic, daredevil flight. Maybe that is too ‘anthropomorphic’ for some but I really sensed their pleasure in that moment. What struck me most is that they were feeding as they did this; they weren’t just surviving, like some life-science movies may have you believe, they were enjoying their existence. That experience was a sort of epiphany for me, that there is a path of life in which we, like those birds, might enjoy our livelihood. It makes me wonder if Christ had seen a similar display when he spoke of the birds in Matthew 6:25-34. Repeatedly being in the wilderness has led me to this idea and helps me live in it because, like I mentioned, nature seems to have a re-posturing effect on me. That is, it helps me to live in wonder and to make room to wander. 

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