wilderness

The Cure for Mental Illness

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I have been off the water for a week. On the York boat, I spent about a week’s time continuously in nature, and this just reminded me of an inspiration I had about few weeks ago: spending time in nature is the cure for mental illness.

We humans are complex beings. Putting ourselves in boxes — apartments, condos, office buildings, skyscrapers — is simply not a good way to treat such amazing, creative beings. It is akin to putting wild animals in zoos or fish in aquariums. They are neither happy nor healthy — they need stimulation, territory to roam, prey to chase and the world to explore. Freedom. So do we also need stimulation, space to explore and be free, and there is no better place than out in nature.

I know some people get sad over trees being cut down and green spaces in cities being removed. I can relate — but I can also show you places where the trees are eager to grow! They are so close together, it’s amazing they have enough soil. I’ve seen trees grow out of cracks in rocks. Don’t fret about the trees — they are still growing lots, all over the place! You just aren’t in the right place to see them.

We have a connection to nature that no other being on the planet has, and when that connection is rusty, it shows. We can observe nature, learn from the animals and plants that we see, but most importantly, we can learn to appreciate it. Appreciation is the most important vibe in the universe, and feeling raw, unencumbered appreciation is incredible freeing. It is impossible, I think, to be depressed while watching birds chase each other around the sky. And they sing just for the joy of it! How can we worry or fret when facing the abundance of a mighty river or the soft, green moss of a lush forest? Even in the desert there is an amazing beauty, and life abounds everywhere on this planet.

Except perhaps in big cities. Sure, there are some birds, but it isn’t the same. Cultured outdoor spaces, like golf courses or manicured parks, aren’t the same as nature either. Wild animals simply don’t go into urban areas with no plants, no green. Every city needs some parks, so if you live in a city, find the green space and go sit in it. Even better — get out of the city, and breathe some fresh country air. Get into the wildest (unmanicured or untouched) place you can. Watch the birds fly. Notice the trees sway. Soak in the blue sky and become fascinated by the clouds. Feel the sun warm you and enjoy the breeze on your skin. Listen to frogs, look for critters and remember who you are: a creature, yes, but a creative one, full of imagination and life, intuition and connection, Spirit and intelligence.

I would love to help someone do a formal study of mental health patients spending time in nature, going for walks in the bush or sitting on a river bank. If you know someone who would be interested in studying this, please contact me.

Three Hundred Kilometres…

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Well, yesterday afternoon at about 3:00 pm, I finished my paddle. I kayaked by myself all the way from Peace River, AB to Tompkin’s Landing (where the ferry crosses highway 697). I sprinted the last hour (about 11 km) because I saw a thunderstorm approaching and didn’t want to get caught in it. Here are a few stats for ya!

    – My GPS says 305 km paddled, but it was tracking while I walked around a bit too, so it’s probably about 295 km paddled or so.
    – My GPS says I spent about 40 hrs 49 min moving and 20 hrs 28 min stopped. But of course it doesn’t account for time it’s turned off (at night, and at some stopovers).
    – My gear weighed 86 lbs (39 kg).
    – My kayak (a Prijon Kodiak) weighs 62 lbs (28 kg).
    – I weigh 130 lbs (59 kg).
    – Therefore, my arms and core body transported 278 lbs (126 kg) approx 300 km! (The current did help!) And I also lugged that 148 lb (67 kg) kayak up the shore repeatedly!
    – I spent 6.5 days and 6 nights on the river.
    – My average was 46 km per day. I aimed to do 50.
    – I sat on shore through 2 thunderstorms, with nothing but a raincoat for protection! (That’s also why I didn’t make 50 km every day.)
    – I used 1 bear-proof container, 6 dry bags, 1 mesh bag, and about 30 ziplock bags!
    – Of the 6 times I camped in the wilderness, 4 times were completely away from people (more than 20 km). The 2nd night I camped at Sunny Valley with a farm and cottages nearby, and the last night I camped on a new friend’s yard (wonderful Metis man I just met). 🙂
    – I did all this with no rifle, only a can of bear spray, but I didn’t see any bears. I don’t think I could have kept a gun dry anyway….
    – I didn’t lose or break a single item I brought along. I think I only had to hunt for something once (I wasn’t sure where my hair elastic was).
    – I had 1 bath, 2 “washcloth baths,” and washed my hair 3 times.
    – I saw deer, moose, elk, wolf, various bird and beaver tracks. I saw actual deer, including some fawns, elk (one calf), beavers, bald eagles, other eagles/hawks. No wolves or bears.
    – I heard all sorts of interesting sounds and birds that I wish I could identify! I’m pretty sure I heard an elk calling — it’s like a moo with a question mark!

I’ll post pics soon — I haven’t downloaded them all yet, as I suspect I might not have enough memory left on my computer to handle them all. I’ll have to clean it up a bit and delete some old stuff! There was some truly unbelievable, beautiful scenery… and I hope my much-zoomed photos of the elk cow and calf turned out! You can check out the progress map Darren made for me here.

Tidbits of wisdom from the water:

    – You can’t check if something is dry with wet hands!
    – Don’t make fun of a small cumulonimbus cloud, saying it’s “cute.”
    – One stroke at a time, you get there.
    – Every stroke counts. If you can make a little thing you do over and over again more effective, it adds up fast!
    – Wind does not have to stop you — it may slow you down, but progress is progress.
    – If you’re passing somewhere you may never be again, stop and explore!

Some other revelations:

One day, I was hunting through my clothes to find my a shirt to wear. I came across my long-sleeved purple striped shirt and said “yay! I love my purple striped shirt! I’ll wear that!” And I realized that I don’t say “yay!” about many of my clothes. So, I am getting rid of the ones that I don’t absolutely love.

I have way too much STUFF! I lived great for a whole week on 3 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 2 pairs of undies, 1 set of PJ’s, and minimal other stuff. Why do I have all that stuff at home!?!?

I spent 2 whole days in very meditative paddling, partly because my shoulder was sore so I had to pay close attention to make sure I wouldn’t hurt it or pull a muscle. It was so enlivening! Now, I find I am doing everything more meditatively. In fact, even just walking around making camp was meditative in a way, because I had to watch every step, make sure I wouldn’t twist an ankle on a rock, or put something down in such a way that would allow it to fall over and roll into the water. Or thinking about where to put each and every thing my hand touched — because if I put it down in a bad place, it could get muddy, wrecked, lost, or simply be too far for when I needed to reach for it. So my every action became a meditation.

Initially, I had an attitude of independence and exploration. Later on, I had a feeling of harmony with nature (not independence or separation or being apart from nature) and discovery. In this sense, discovery is more “let’s see what’s out there” and exploration is more “let’s find stuff and claim territory” (more ego).

There are so many more things I learned/realized…. some will be whole blog posts of their own! But it’s getting late and I was going to go to bed early, so I’d better get to it! 🙂 And I plan to paddle the last 130 km soon (from Tompkin’s to Fort Vermilion)! It will take about 3 days — let me know if you want to join me! I wouldn’t mind company!

Related Posts: Identity Crisis of a Magical Pixie | Finished the Paddling Trip | Peace River Expedition

Yoga in the Bush

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I’ve been suffering from a bit of cabin fever lately… so last week, I decided it was time for an outing. Besides, this blog has had a lot of mental adventures lately, and no physical ones.
So, I picked the day — I had good weather — and planned the outing. I was going to walk the skidoo trails near town, towards the west, and see how far I could go. I got underway a bit later than I had hoped, so I only hit the trail around noon. I told my honey not to look for me until 7 pm. He was surprised I would be gone so long, but I really needed to spend some time in the bush, away from “it all,” with lots of quiet and time to think.

skidoo-trail
It was pretty easy going, at first. The trail was pretty well-travelled (by machines, not people on foot). Besides skidoo tracks, there were many wildlife tracks, which I tried to identify, of course. There were a lot of startling large paw prints; if it was feline, it had to be a cougar! But I realized that it was probably canine — wolf tracks. I suppose it could have been dog tracks, if someone had brought their dog skidooing, but judging by how many tracks I saw — it went on for miles — if probably wasn’t. So that was fun! I was sharing the trail with a pack of wolves, some of which were huge. Awesome. I also saw smaller, presumably coyote tracks, rabbit, mice and some very strange tracks (see below).

owl-prints-in-snow

Neat, eh? Bird tracks, or more specifically, marks in the snow from wing downbeats, an owl perhaps! That was neat, and I saw it a couple of times. I also saw bird feet tracks, from birds walking. Not sure if they would be grouse or another ground bird (probably) or ravens. Ravens walk a bit, but I think they prefer to fly. I saw a few that day, and also heard and saw chickadees. Other than that, it was pretty quiet, especially once I got farther from the highway. Lots of quiet time to think and enjoy the fresh air.
It gave me time to think about my future, and my priorities. I’d been a bit grumpy lately, so I had a chance to get that out. I may have to find a new job, or start my own business, so I thought quite a bit about that. I stayed in the present moment pretty well, so my memories of that day are very clear. The sky was such a beautiful blue… and trees crisp and creaky. I know it sounds weird, but they were!

trees-and-blue-sky

I walked for 2 hours along the trail, then decided I was tired enough I should head back. My legs were starting to hurt a bit, but I thought I’d be fine. I had stopped a few times, had drinks and snacks, but had kept on pretty steadily. On the return trip, my legs (hip flexors) started to really hurt, and at one point, I felt both my hips dislocate ever so briefly! Yikes. So I took a few more breaks, did a little stretching (hence the title of this post) and took my time. I am not sure if the snow was getting softer (it was pretty warm out) or my legs getting tireder, but the walking was harder. By the time I got back to my car, I was in pretty bad shape! I couldn’t lift my legs more than a couple of inches and they hurt like heck! My lower back was also hurting quite a bit.
I ran a few errands around town, and then went home and took it easy that night. I saw my chiropractor and had a hot bath loaded with epsom salts, and the combination enabled me to feel fine the next day. My legs were a little tired and my hip flexors a little sore, but I could walk and do stairs (important for me to get to work)! In the past, my muscles have taken so long to recover from exercise that I was pleasantly surprised how well I felt the next day! I was completely back to normal the second day after.
I am so glad I did that hike (11 km altogether)… it was just what I needed. So let me encourage you — if you are feeling the need for some self-care, exercise, a change of scenery or a change of pace, do it! Listen to your body; if one part of you is trying to tell another part of you something, don’t ignore it! That would be just plain silly.

Happy hiking!