Man, Nature Makes Me Uncomfortable

Nick Pearl | Brevard, NC

Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.” This quote encompasses my love of outdoor education. Each time I enter the wild places, I learn a lesson I did not anticipate.

As a teacher of wilderness survival and a skilled wilderness guide, I feel confident in any weather, in most environments, and with varying amounts of preparation. I have slept in a tarp during rain, snow, freezing rain, and hail. I have encountered bears, venomous snakes, mountain lions, and relentless biting bugs. I have managed anaphylaxis, broken arms, a broken hip, and varying degrees of lacerations. The wilderness offers many opportunities to challenge your limitations. After all that I have seen and managed the greatest thing I have to conquer is myself.

Note that I said that I was “confident” and not comfortable. Learning doesn’t come from comfort. When you listen to new parents, the stories that begin, “let me tell you how easy today has been,” are few and far between. Not because the stories of easy days don’t exist, but because those experiences are not as valuable to our existence and constitution as the days where your infant son poops on you during a business lunch. We learn through adversity. We learn through discomfort. We learn through our standard routine and paradigm being pushed outside our standard operating procedures.

When we face new problems, we learn to solve problems. Nature will always present new problems. Even the simplest of hikes can present puddles to explore, down trees to negotiate, and animals to engage or avoid. Any unexpected experience presents an opportunity for a lesson. This is why I enter the forest.

On Huck’s (my oldest child) 3rd birthday, our family hiked to the top of John’s Rock. In my mind, I wanted to take my son up to this beautiful peak and make the world seem bigger. To show him how capable he was. I wanted him to experience the contrast of looking up to where he was going, then looking down to where he had been. Once we made it to the top, I remember feeling a bit disappointed that he was indifferent to the view. He was fascinated by small pebbles and sticks on the ground once we reached the peak. I often think of this lesson: we each found what we needed that day on our trip to the woods. He found little discoveries, and was content with where he was in the world. I learned that I can craft the experiences, and he would uncover his own outcomes.

My experiences in nature (as it often does), reshapes my identity from being a teacher to a student. It allows me a new understanding of experiential education with each excursion. And I am always reminded: I can frame the environment, design the activity, and set the goals. However, each child uncovers their own lessons, and it is always exactly what they need.


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