Fog rolls across Franconia Notch, White Mountains, NH. I took this on a solo backpacking trip.

Have you ever thought that being scared and uncomfortable in nature might jolt you toward new ideas?

People sometimes ask me why I go into the mountains by myself. I do it so that I will bang into the edge of comfort, free up my brain for new ideas to go pouring in. I’ve had brief meetings of the mind with people who are no longer alive, when I’m alone in the mountains. They didn’t talk; that’s not how it works. But I felt the insistent nudge to pay attention. In the distance, a hare passed through. Once at dusk, a friend and I heard a crashing sound in the trees beyind where we sat eating campstove pasta in headlamp light. Giant crashing sound—a moose passing through just as the sun made its final dip.

Sometimes, on dirt-covered trails of the lower elevations, I catch a mouse or chipmunk racing into its hole, away from me. I realize that their concerns, their world, and their fears, rarely match mine except that they probably are terrified of my boot’s thud.

Animals and plants are racing for their lives out there. Humans enter that world and we don’t really understand what survival must feel like to a hawk or a mouse or a bat or the mosquitoes the bat eats. But I keep going into the outdoors hoping that I will understand and learn to pay attention. Paying attention to animals that won’t talk to me allows me the space to listen to myself. This is the beginning of finding a rich flow of ideas.


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