WHAT HIKING CAN TEACH US

WORDS & IMAGES: KATE WEINER

Moving to Southern California has been a challenge. Of the many gifts that this region has to offer, however, hiking is my very favorite (that and the amazing farmers' markets). As I navigate this new space, exploring the surrounding mountains and deserts has been a saving grace.

Much as I love to hike, it's an activity that is almost always dependent on whether you own a car. Although I don't own a car, I have friends and family who do. I've found my hunger to hike grate against my desire to live a car-light life in the same vein as our friends from Recumbent Gourmet. I'm still figuring out how to better align my values and my actions; for now, I do everything I can to leave the trails better than when I arrived. And I know for sure that every time I hike, I feel my passion for environmental activism reignited. Hiking teaches us so much about how to be in this world; how to listen, how to give, how to share.

For many of us, it's too cold right now to contemplate a hike. That doesn't mean we can't create the space in our days for a wander. Traveling the terrain of our own backyards and city streets and college campuses is a treasure that is perpetually within our reach (read Alison Znamierowski's Neighborhood Naturalist for inspiration). In that spirit, I want to share several of the lessons hiking continues to teach me. No matter where you are —no matter how cold (!)—I hope one of these ideas will resonate with you and give you a reason to get outside.

SELF-CARE IS VITAL

Most of the time, it's easy to let self-care go to the wayside. We might fail to prioritize hydration and rest in the face of school and work; we might consider it superfluous in the fabric of our daily lives. When you're hiking, you don't really have a choice. Self-care is vital. The challenge is to ask for it. Recently, I found myself trying to keep up with my much stronger brother on a particularly arduous hike. I finally had to stop and say okay, I need to drink, wait up. The more we hike, the more we learn to ask for what we need.

WE ARE NATURE

Every time that I am in what I consider "nature," I am reminded that everywhere I go is always "nature" of a kind. Trees grow in the city too; layers of soil underlie concrete sidewalks. It's not that hiking brings us closer to nature. It's that we are more cognizant of the birds overhead, of the plants breathing in, when we make our way to spaces far from traffic lights and strip malls. By recognizing what this strand of nature can do for our spirits, we can find the inspiration to bring more green back into our communities.

CHANGE IS CONSTANT

Things are changing. For better. For worse. You can do the same hike three times in a single week and each experience will bring you into contact with new wildlife. Maybe you'll notice that the angle of the sun changes how you perceive distance. Maybe the water in a riverbed will flow faster than only a few days before. The continuity of change illuminates for us what truly matters; particularly, the need to conserve our natural resources.

YOUR BODY IS A BEAUTIFUL THING

A strenuous hike makes you feel alive. It's pretty damn COOL everything your body can do from the small adjustments needed to maintain balance to the sacred act of breathing in and out. Feeling connected to our bodies in this way helps to reshuffle our perspective. The small things don't weigh so much when we are truly inhabiting the worlds we walk through.

Share with us in the comments what lessons hiking has taught you so that we can build a little compendium of where to go and what to see for when our souls need lifting.