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Getting in touch, in the wild

Your Turn OpEd, by Brian Beffort, September 5, 2013. Reno Gazette-Journal hoover0813_bbeffort4 Two weeks ago, I took my 9-year-old son backpacking in the Hoover Wilderness, which runs north-south for 48,601 acres along the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park. Our destination was Summit Lake; cold, clear and surrounded by soaring peaks. Forty-one years ago, my mother took me backpacking for the first time to this same place. Though I don’t remember the details —the rugged, multicolored geology, lakes dotting the valleys, the majesty of it all —I do remember loving being out there, especially watching a large trout swim between my legs as I stood in the icy lake. Only my son will be able to say, years from now, whether he was similarly impressed with our trip, but I did notice a few things: At home, rarely do days pass without multiple requests for “screen time” with computers, phones or television; sometimes there are tears when I say no. On our trip, he didn’t mention screens once, nor did he cry or tell me he was bored. Instead, he spent hours rapt in what educator Maria Montessori called “sensitive moments” —climbing trees, watching fingerling trout in a stream, building imaginary cities with rocks, watching hawks soar overhead. We spent hours talking, and I was often inspired by his questions: “Why does that star sparkle red but that other one blue?” “What kind of poop is that?” “Are bears going to eat us out here?” Our main concerns reduced to staying warm, treating water, cooking dinner and making sure our food and other smelly stuff was secured in our bear canister at night. We slept under a grove of pines, tracking the stars through the windows in the branches. Despite seeing few others while out there, we practiced consideration for others, plants and animals by practicing Leave No Trace while camping and traveling. He heeded my requests to step cautiously with emergency medical support hours, possibly days, away. And he learned fortitude, hiking 5 miles each way, while climbing and dropping thousands of vertical feet along the way. All of these are lessons we could not learn the same way at home. On our last morning, he said, “I wish we could stay here forever.” Watching him at peace in nature, while feeling the same, we experienced what Richard Louv and a growing number of studies show: though “civilized,” humans are also creatures of nature; part of us is at home in the wild. Being in nature heals, centers and inspires us. We celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this week (Sept. 3). I am deeply grateful that the Hoover and other wilderness areas remain beautiful and wild, so I can share them with my son the way my mom shared the Hoover with me. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the act this time next year, I ask people to consider the many benefits wild landscapes bring to our communities: not just clean water and air and habitats for wildlife, but also the myriad opportunities for families to spend time together, challenging ourselves, exploring and discovering, free from the noise, pollution and distractions of society, at wonder amid the beauty and majesty of nature. Brian Beffort is Communications Director at Friends of Nevada Wilderness.
Articles from my days as a freelancer for Sunset magazine: Sunset3  Sunset1Sunset2