“What I know of the divine sciences and Holy Scriptures, I learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.”
– Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
This past weekend, we went on a family camping trip in the local state forest. While we certainly enjoyed ourselves, I will admit that this trip was more a comedy of errors than anything. Camping for any length of time with two boys ages two and one is not the best idea!
Yet, despite the frequent moments of toddler-induced chaos, it was still quite refreshing to be away from the trappings of civilization for a brief time. It reminded me of the importance of doing so on a regular basis.
But enough about me. Here are four reasons you should get outdoors too—even if its just for a hike, a walk, or a bike ride.
1. IT’S BEAUTIFUL
When you live in town, you miss out on a lot of beauty. Sure, plants and animals are still there in limited, controlled quantities amidst the concrete, but manicured lawns and cookie-cutter homes simply cannot compare to the majestic silence of a forest filled with trees that are sometimes more than a century your elder.
But perhaps my favorite part of being away is the stars. Looking up at the studded heavens, it is no surprise to me that many a philosopher was inspired to contemplation by gazing at them. Thousands and thousands, no, millions, of stars fill the canopy of heaven, telling the glory of God, but we city folk hardly ever see them because they are drowned out by the harsh, orange-ish glow of street lamps.
Get outside and experience some real, God-made beauty. You won’t regret it.
2. IT’S HUMBLING
Human beings can often be quite proud. We look at our technological advancements, our scientific breakthroughs, and we think that we our the masters of our own fate. “We have no need of God and we are dependent on no one,” says the deluded modern man.
Yet, being in nature puts everything in perspective. It humbles us. Here is a world that exists quite well without our permission. Flowers, trees, insects, an infinite variety of animals—it is a world teeming with life, life which we did not create and which we too often destroy in our materialistic greed.
More than this, being in nature helps us realize that we realize that we are indeed dependent on God. Despite what we may sometimes think, food does not come from the local grocery store, nor does water spontaneously generate in our faucets. Everything we have or create in this world has its source in nature, which in turn has its ultimate source in God. We are in every way dependent creatures. We simply need a reminder of this from time to time.
3. IT’S PEACEFUL
Far too often, I hear people complain about how hectic and chaotic modern life is. Of course, this hurrying here and there is often our own fault, but regardless of how we got so busy, the fact is, the noise of modern life is unhealthy for us.
Being in the woods is calming. Crickets and birds, rather than police sirens and car engines, are the soundtrack. Cell phones, and the glistening, stimulating, and all too virtual world they offer, lose their power amidst the trees. Appointments, errands, and shopping trips fade away into irrelevance. Everything slows to an unhurried pace, allowing us to clear our addled brains. You will probably find the peace makes it easier to pray, too.
Spending time in nature, watching bees dance from flower to flower, seeing the sun set slowly and the moon appearing in its place, and feeling the warmth of the campfire flames, is rejuvenating to the masculine soul.
4. IT’S CHALLENGING
As I mentioned before, being without modern conveniences can be humbling. Practically speaking, it can also be challenging in that we are forced to be more resourceful and creative in providing for our basic needs. You didn’t bring enough water? You better find a fresh water source. No toilet? Dig a hole. The ground is a hard under you sleeping bag? Man up.
In many ways, we modern men have become domesticated and soft. Yet, deep down, we still crave a challenge, and we relish the chance to push ourselves. Getting outdoors and stripping away modern conveniences can provide that opportunity.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
More frequently than we realize, we need to spend time in the peace and beauty of the created world. Being surrounded by God’s creation is necessary for each of us. Not only will we find praise and prayer welling up in our hearts as we experience the grandeur of nature, we will find our souls refreshed and rejuvenated, strengthened for the battle of daily life. What are you waiting for? Go outside.
PS: If you’re looking for a truly rugged and masculine experience that blends the Catholic faith, hard work, and the beauty of nature, check out Wilderness Outreach. It’s a fantastic men’s apostolate, and I hope to go on one of their wilderness expeditions in the near future.
Sam Guzman – Sam Guzman is an author and editor of The Catholic Gentleman whose work has appeared in several publications. He resides in Wisconsin with his wife and two small boys where he is also the Communications Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin.