It's simple, really
(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)Recently it occurred to me to wonder: Why do I even go outside, anyway?I go outside because I always feel better. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking in Shakerag with Susan and Jackson, or sitting on my tiny back porch with my laptop, or carrying glass recycling in the milk crate on the back of my old townie bike that used to be a hot mountain bike circa 1990.It doesn’t matter if it’s something I do every day, like walk the dogs, or something I rarely do right now, like climbing on rocks. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in shape or not — whether it hurts in that unused-muscles-being-pushed kind of way or feels fantastic in an I’m-just-skipping-down-this-trail-like-a-gazelle state of enjoyment.It doesn’t matter if I have to wear three layers plus wool Sherpa hat and fleece gloves, and still shiver. Or if I’m sweating in wispy running shorts.I just feel better. About life, about myself, about everything and nothing.I go outside because when I’m out there I notice things. I notice when the peepers start peeping, when the gnats take their positions at eye level, and when the daylight is lingering enough to read on my porch after dinner. I notice the lone trillium unfurling a mere half-block from three fraternity houses, and the turtle living in a stream within sight of All Saints Chapel.I go outside because I hear things. Those peepers. That unforgettable crazy jungle laugh of the pileated woodpecker. The sounds birds’ wings make when they swoop by into a nearby hemlock. The small vitality of running water in a narrow stream, which I’ve been known to post five-second videos of online.I go outside because it’s easy when I’m there to push myself, to test myself. Can I ride or run that far, or that fast, or over those rocks? Can I keep pedaling into that insane headwind?And those tests, those encounters with my limits, then tend to carry over into other parts of life. I say to myself, if I can train and improve and feel confident about doing this ride/run/hike/backpacking trip, then I can do other important things in the same sort of way, whether it’s renovating a house, or writing, or doing the job I’m paid to do. The path, the steps, are largely the same.I go outside because that’s where a lot of fun people are. If you’re mountain-biking or running or kayaking or camping with other people, chances are they’re enjoying it. So you’re surrounded by happy people enjoying life. It’s like going to an amusement park with no nearby booths selling fried Twinkies or funnel cake. Plus it’s free (if you don’t think about what bikes or running shoes cost).I think that as soon as I finish writing this column, and emailing it in, I’ll go outside. The sun is shining, and a breeze is moving around the greenery of late April. There’s a little pollen, but it’s not bad. I might run or bike or hike.Or I might just stand, and watch, and listen, and feel.