My better half thinks my aversion to taking hikes is a little odd. I try not to say much, but for the most part being amongst the splendid silence of nature does nothing for me and even less for my soul—assuming I have one. This isn’t just a function of my relationship with my significant other. Many others have recommended hiking or backpacking to me as a prescription for an obvious illness that I have, and yet which no one can name. The hills, I suppose, speak to them —but these hills say nothing to me.
You see, I once used to love being in nature, spent weeks in the foothills of Denali with nothing but bears and mountains to talk to. Hit the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, ice shards hitting me in August and Kodiak island down south, earth-shaking bears huffing up trees. From Alaska, Corsica, Norway, to the Pyrennes, I’ve been everywhere, man. But my time in Alaska—so much time alone to “discover myself”—led me to find that there was little, in fact, to find. And now being in silent vistas only stirs up a certain disquiet in me.
Sobering, this initial realization, but I held on to the hope that by standing before a vista of rotting peaks I could find something. Instead, I learned that there was nothing to be had out there and that there was little real value being in the middle of nowhere.
I admit this might be a case of, “everywhere I went, there I was”, and having flawed protoplasm to start with, but it is what it is. Truth be told, it was my time in the Army, and my realization that my previous worldview had been so wrong, so skewed—despite or perhaps because of these moments in the wild—that I wanted to know enough to protect myself from such a mistake in the future. Perhaps this desolate imagination was a symptom of a deformed heart, but “know thyself”, a.k.a. self-discovery, was thoroughly replaced with “know thy gods”, a.k.a. knowledge of the world and the people in it.
I find this hard to explain to others, to say nothing of the love of my life, and I know, reading the plethora of “nature is good for you” articles in the Times, and seeing social media highlight-reels of people’s examples of nature conquered and framed—that there is a lot of propaganda for this view. That’s why my aversion to hiking is harder to explain than why I’m a writer.
The few times I’ve been struck by the muse, the only appropriate tool to write with- a phone- always signals horrific things to others. Funny, because when I do get looks and comments for being on my phone, I understand that others cannot know my reasons for writing, cannot know my background for those reasons—even if their base assumptions, that I’m shallow and superficial are probably true. So I try not to make assumptions about them, don’t think that the entire idea of hiking is little more than a status signal that one is rich enough to waste hours on a trail and to not need to know everything about this world. For I remember how they once felt, I remember that awe. I just don’t have it any more.
And as I think hard on this, I think it’s the silence which gets to me, it makes that cavity where my soul once was echo a bit too much for comfort. Better to be in the human cacophony of our cities, better to keep an eye on our foolish destructive species.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com