The air is fresh and clean, and sunlight filters through the green boughs of ancient fir, hemlock, and cedar trees. It is cool as we tighten shoelaces, don our backpacks, and pick up our fishing rods to begin our hike down the forest trail to the river.
It is the last day of September and the weather is perfect. And while it might not seem like an adventure for most, to me, a hike in the forest is always fun and has the potential for something great. In British Columbia, in this temperate rainforest that we call home, there are always wonderful things to find. During this week just passed, I had the opportunity to spend a day with my dad, finally hiking a section of trail that we had talked about for quite some time.
Sumallo Grove is located in EC Manning Park, a provincial park just East of Hope, BC on the west slope of the coastal mountain range. The trail is called the Skagit River trail and runs 15 km through several forest types. It is not a particularly difficult trail, easy by most measures, but on this day, we were carrying heavy packs filled with lunch, water, coffee, and of course, our fishing waders and assorted tackle. Our goal was to find some undisturbed sections of the Skagit River for catch and release fly fishing for rainbow trout. Fishing in beautiful and remote spots like these does take some work, but fish or no fish, the rewards are worth every bit of effort.
While fishing is the official “reason” to go on a hike like this, the truth is we both just like being in nature, especially these west coast rainforests. The air is clean and fresh and filled with the fragrance of cedar and hemlock trees that are all around. Even on a hot sunny day the forest is cool and lush, with wild ferns and moss covering most surfaces. Birds and squirrels are common, and an encounter with a bobcat, black bear, or even a cougar is possible.
We fished a couple of likely looking spots and while we didn’t catch anything on this day, I am extremely grateful to be able to continue building these memories with my father. I also feel a huge sense of gratitude to him for introducing me to nature and for his deep knowledge of the local flora and fauna. His knowledge of birds, plants, and local history is unmatched by anyone else I know, and I feel very privileged to spend these days with him, soaking up his knowledge as best I can.
The truth is, my age, there are few people who still do this type of thing regularly. Who knows, maybe they never did even when they were young. Most are pretty much sedentary, or if they exercise, it is on a digital treadmill or some other machinery in a gym in the city. Some run outdoors but its almost always in an urban setting, with the accompanying stresses. Many, if not most of my contemporaries are overweight, with all the typical diseases that accompany a life spent mostly sitting, staring at a digital screen, indoors. At my dad’s age, his cohort is virtually absent, other than a few very healthy and vigorous men and women that we run into on the trails from time to time. It makes me wonder about cause and effect. We know that being in nature is good for our mind and body, but is it good enough to make us live a richer, fuller life? I think yes, maybe it is. Recent research shows that there are many very positive side-effects from the time spent in nature, but which comes first? Does a life of ability and agility come from increased time spent in nature, or is it the opposite: Are the people who are destined for a long healthy life intrinsically drawn to nature? Could a curiosity of the natural world be a predictor of a long, well-lived life?
I tend to think that it’s maybe a combination of the two. Time spent in nature in our formative years and curiosity of the natural world will combine to ensure time spent in it – throughout a lifetime. Time spent in nature also often means long hikes in the wilderness, scrambling over fallen logs, loose stones, and slippery trails that gain altitude as much as they descend. Maintaining activity in this way is not easy, yet it is extremely beneficial over a lifetime; it is part of our evolutionary existence. We have evolved to live in nature, not a concrete jungle. We evolved to walk through forest trails listening to the sounds of the wildlife around us, not hurtle along asphalt-covered roads at highways speeds in isolation cells constructed of metal and plastic, shielded from any natural sounds or outside experience.
I truly believe that spending time in nature is something greatly lacking in modern society and that it should be a part of every child’s education. I also believe that a knowledge and understanding of nature and the environment is just as important to society than learning multiplication tables by rote or any of the other 19th century educational standards. These days, I’d go so far as to say experience in nature is more important than math skills. How can you care for, or want to protect something that you have never experienced? I hope that in my lifetime more people can gain some nature experience early on in their lives so that they too can learn to love nature and the things found in it. I hope these words find someone who will go outside and benefit in some small way, and maybe bring some kids with them. One of my many goals with Happy Eco News is to help inspire people to get outside to appreciate and protect nature, and I continue to work toward that end as I believe the more people love nature, the more they will work to protect it.
So, thank you to my dad, for taking the time to spend it with me on these adventures for all these years. It’s pretty special to think that we’ve been enjoying the outdoors together since before I was even able to walk. Thank you for teaching me how to ethically enjoy our natural world, for instilling in me a deep appreciation and care for nature, and for teaching me that not much in life is better than a drink of ice-cold water from a battered tin cup, in the mountains, on a warm day in the fall.
Happy Eco News, October 5, 2020
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