I visited Boulder, Colorado during a period of high-strung, self-absorbed, drinking-the-New-York-Kool-Aid stress, desperate to find clarity by walking away from the asphyxiating confines of my concrete jungle.
Boulder’s light and carefree air was an instant contrast to New York City’s thick and heavy atmosphere, so often pollinated by urgency and restlessness. Boulder was reminiscent of a trendy and eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood while still embodying the effortless charms of a quintessential mountain town. Vivacity lined its red, brick-paved streets in the form of vibrant, dew-kissed tulip beds and street musicians, backs arched and brows furrowed in pursuit of their vocation. The Rocky Mountains quietly loomed in the background, a soothing yet powerful reminder of my insignificance when compared to Nature’s most grandiose creations.
Nature’s sublime has an alchemical ability to awake spiritual and emotional renaissances within the soul. I felt it pulling at me while dealing with an all-consuming situation in the city, and it was only when I arrived that I understood why. When I forced myself to walk away and glance behind me, I was startled by all the dust that had risen in the wake of my self-negligence. Resentment, entitlement, and superficialities had accumulated so thickly that my vision could not begin to clear until I was far, far away from the source.
It is amazing how much healing can be generated by even the smallest exposures to Nature. Nature’s extraordinary power lies in reminding us of our frailty and transience in this world through humility rather than submission. In just a few days, Nature reminded me why feeling vulnerable is a necessary predecessor to setting our most enlightened, inspired selves free.
Nature’s vast, uninhibited landscapes free us of control by exposing our instincts.
The subtle pulse of despair I feel upon entering large spaces is a signaling reminder of my urban resignation to inhabiting tiny, cluttered spaces. Much like Tom Hanks’ character from Cast Away – when he is unable to comfortably sleep on a bed after having spent years accustomed to laying on the rugged grounds of wilderness – I am so unsure of what to do with newfound spatial freedom that I feel an instinctive urge to retreat to a small, enclosed corner wherever I go.
It is paradoxical, in a way: the more space is made available to me, the more vulnerable I feel. A confined space that I know inside out is comforting because it gives me the illusion that I can exert control over my surroundings. Once the space becomes bigger than my mind can manage, however, I can no longer influence it. I lose control. I’m at its mercy.
There is a sense of liberation that accompanies being rendered completely and utterly humbled by a force that I should have never believed I could control to begin with. Nature gives us little choice but to become observers of a space we must wholeheartedly accept we cannot understand. Freed from the mind’s oppressive obsession to understand everything, instincts are safe to crawl out and explore without inhibitions or judgment.
We find in Nature the same qualities that we find in our creative, instinctual selves.
The inexplicable, the limitless, the part that is unapologetic and determined to express itself to the world in full force. Just as it’s said that the Divine manifests itself in Nature, our instinctive side asks us not to question why or how something is, but rather to have complete faith in our inexplicable ability to move mountains when we will it so. While we may not stand a chance against controlling Nature, we are made from it. Its grandiosity is inside of us; we just have to learn to unleash it.
Our instincts are the closest embodiment we have to Nature. Freeing ourselves from the toxins and worries that saturate urban environments is the first step towards reconnecting with these origins. We must fearlessly protect our instinctive side from the over-analyzing mind, so that we may uninhibitedly communicate with our dreams, aspirations, and most creative selves.
Nature can be the warden of our most awe-inspiring moments.
My clearest, most transformative memories are rooted in the sense of awe that I felt from witnessing Nature’s phenomena unfold before me: I lucidly recall the slight discomfort in my knees as I kneeled over Hole in the Wall Mountain’s gritty sandstone boulder, mesmerized by the lazy slither of Montana’s Muddy River 3,000 feet below; watching with great intensity as the fullest, silvery moon I have seen lethargically exposed herself from behind a colossal dune in Merzouga, Morocco, as if taunting the greedy anticipation of the viewer; the sheer delight of sitting in a rickety canoe in the middle of the Amazon River, watching a brilliant rainbow materializing over the rainforest after a violent thunderstorm.
These memories will stay with me forever, flawlessly suspended in time. They are moments I draw strength from when I have doubts, that I seek inspiration from during stressful times, and that I anchor myself to when I fool myself into being consumed by my silly, everyday “problems.”
Nature embodies the traits we wish to possess.
My fondest and most valuable memory of Boulder can be summed in one moment of pure inspiration (bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this).
Hiking up Rabbit Mountain, I was instantly captivated by the remains of a charred tree on the side of the trail. Almost wholly blackened and with dysmorphic stumps for branches, the tree stood in quiet contemplation, as if patiently waiting for a passerby to notice it. Perhaps once beautiful and teeming with lush emerald leaves, it was now shriveled and gnarled, its charcoal flesh leaving a sooty residue at the slightest touch.
From afar, the tree seemed rooted in a state of utter loneliness, an old soul waiting for an end that just won’t come. Upon closer examination, however, I realized it was not alone. Rather, it was at the forefront of a long-forgotten battlefield, likely a fight lost against a past lightning strike or natural fire. A group of boulders clumsily clumped at the center of the scene, a scrappy plea for visitors to sit and rest. The boulders, a curious shade of coral coated in splotches of sea foam green, rested on once-fertile soil. Clumps of yellowed grass peppered the dusty earth, sadly resigned to prematurely become weeds. The only sign of animated vegetation were scattered tribes of dandelions, resiliently attempting to breathe life into what once was.
Past the clearing, this battlefield was littered with corpses of other trees, each bearing its own story of suffering and disfiguration. Those that lived to tell the tale proudly bared scorched branches as battle wounds, while the less fortunate lay defeated, their wooden skeletons strewn across the tired patch of land.
While my description may paint it as unappealing and desolate, I did not view it as such. This place radiated the resolved sadness of someone that underwent trauma but emerged from it with a sense of unshakeable peace and strength. Its beauty could not be explained by societal standards of proper aesthetics, but rather by the aura of inner fortitude that this point of earth exuded and generously shared with those curious enough to look past its deformed façade.
Captured in the memory of this single, gnarled tree was an invitation to look beyond initial appearances; a lesson to come to peace with your sufferings and draw strength from them; and a reminder of how Nature indiscriminately afflicts Her own children. Frozen in my memory of Boulder will be a scorched tree, a beacon for wearing one’s vulnerability with pride and resolution.
We need Nature because it replenishes the soul.
We built these magnificent cities, but Nature built us. While the city wears us down, takes from us, and returns little beyond superficial values and monetary awards, Nature has the power to strip us down without making us feel helplessly naked. It is a delicious vulnerability that, if we are courageous enough to accept and welcome, inspires the most sincere of thoughts.
Nature paves a gateway to our soul, where at the door we may find that the battlefield scars that reside within – which we may have initially deemed ugly and unworthy of examination – are in fact strikingly beautiful for their resilience and ability to shape us.