Saturday, September 01, 2007

Acadia: No Windshield Tour for Me

"I am well again, I came to life in the cool winds and crystal waters of the mountains..."
--John Muir

My recent trip to Acadia National Park was a great experience that reinforced in many ways what I have been reading about in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

  • Primary vs. Secondary Experience - No windshield tour for me - My friend and I hiked over 10 miles of the park's trails through boreal forest, over three peaks (including Cadillac Mountain), and along the craggy coastline. Our park experience was far more intimate than that of the "windshield tourists" that we came across at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. We encountered multiple ecosystems (tidal pools, bogs, and the forest), observed rock formations created by glaciers, and, best of all, got to experience the solitude of the park--something only those who wander off the beaten path can do.
  • "Restorative Environment" - Speaking of solitude, certain areas of the park were remote enough to allow us to enjoy something that is nearly impossible outside of nature--pure tranquility. Sitting on a mountaintop, the only things that broke the silence were the occasional dragonfly clicking by or a breeze rustling the conifers. By the second day of the trip, my body felt completely relieved of any stress.
  • A sensory experience - The atrophy of the senses is an important topic that Louv covers in his book. Without much direct experience with nature, many people become two dimensional--visual and auditory--when it comes to their senses because that is what the electronic world offers. Being in the heart of Acadia--on the trails--I not only used my sight and hearing, but also smell, touch, and taste. The boreal forest has much to offer those who senses are rarely tested--the cool air, the different smells of nature, and blueberries growing wild.
My trip helped reinforce much of what I have learned this summer through my reading and experiences. First, when learning about nature, nothing comes close to direct experience. I can learn a lot about nature by watching The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, but simply walking in a forest and being observant can teach me much more. Second, nature could possibly be the most underrated natural medicine there is. Louv speaks of its healing powers often in his book, and I have now felt its restorative power.

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