Wranglers from the dude ranches where I’ve lived have noticed that it takes guests four days of being away from their busy lives before they notice the lupine blooming between their brand-new cowboy boots. Soon after, they realize that their cabins have been sitting in the midst of meadows that blossom like exploded rainbows with reds, yellows and purples. And that’s the moment they let go and their vacations really begin.
But I’ve noticed that some vacationers never quite do that — never quite release the mind-set they use in daily life. They run their vacation time much as they do their businesses back home: set alarms, organize daily schedules, follow the news, keep track of the stock market, give orders, constantly rush. One well-known television newscaster zipped into my shop at a local resort one summer morning, held up a swollen, discolored thumb, and said he was on his way to a whitewater float trip on the Snake River. He needed a Band-Aid so he could paddle. I said, “You can’t paddle. Your thumb may be broken.” He said, “It hurts a lot, but I’m in a hurry. Can I buy a Band-Aid?” I convinced him to stop at one of the urgent-care clinics we have for visitors before heading for the river. “There’s one right on your way.” He rushed out my door before I finished giving him directions, and 10 minutes later my phone rang. He was lost. “Where’s that place again?” If this man ever got to his float trip, I suspect he whipped up the water with his oar till it looked like meringue. To him, his thumb was merely an impediment to his plans; the outdoor adventure, however, was something he needed to check off that day’s to-do list.
And yet people — even the busiest ones — need nature. It grounds everyone who spends some time with the unseen world of thoughts, feelings, images, ideas. Anything that successfully pulls us back into our bodies and onto the earth offers balance. We each have rhythms inside: Breath draws in and presses out, the heart beats, blood pulses, eyes blink, muscles clench and relax over and over with a rhythm all their own. In nature, we can more easily sense these bodily rhythms, become conscious of them, and in doing so we also become conscious of the earth’s rhythms. Tree boughs dip and sway, wind moves, sun glints off leaves and water, blossoms open and close, roots push down, sprouts push up, spiders weave, birds sing, bees hum all to a rhythm that reflects nature’s aliveness. It might take a bolt of lightning across the sky, followed by a resounding boom, to grab our attention, but when nature does succeed in focusing our awareness, we get pulled out of our egos and into our bodies. We look, listen, smell, taste and touch. Our senses attach us to the earth, and for one moment we become exquisitely conscious of a unity with life.
Even at home, we can experience a wonderful calming when we take our bodies on a stroll through the neighborhood, or spend a few minutes lopping the heads off spent petunias, stacking firewood, watering the lawn. When life becomes especially difficult, I regress to historical forms of human behavior: hunting and gathering. I go into the forest and pick berries, gather pinecones or dried weeds for a creative arrangement, track deer. I take off my shoes and walk barefoot on the earth to soothe myself further. Such activities move us to another kind of time, the kind not kept by clocks but rather by the rhythms of the slow-growing things around us, the dip and sway of breeze-blown tree branches, the pace of nest builders, the easy float of clouds. I’ve noticed that when vacationers finally succumb to nature, they carry their bodies with new ease, and their faces emit an open light. I’m convinced that if we cultivate an awareness of the natural world, we will care for ourselves and for the planet better. And we won’t ever waste four days before we notice the lupine blossoming between our boots.
Tina Welling is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She lives in Jackson, Wyo., where for 25 years, she and her husband ran the Rosebud gift shop based at the Snow King Resort.