Our Faded Sense Of Wonder

August 2017
The single, most dangerous threat to humanity is the fact that while we're living, all of the hopes and dreams we had as children, slowly fade away.

There are many disturbing consequences of one species’ unchecked population growth towards a suffocated oblivion, but one of the more unsettling outcomes of this reckless and egocentric lunacy is seen in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs prediction which foretells of a ten-fold increase in urban living occurring between the years 1950 and 2050.

Many of our unfortunate kin will never experience the ethereal sensation of walking barefoot across real land and feel the undeniable texture of a living, breathing earth beneath their toes. They will spend the entirety of their lives corralled like animals within the confines of great metropolises built on the colorless foundation of concrete and asphalt, far removed from the vast expanses of wilderness we had once come from.

To walk on land, real land, under the canopy of towering trees, through thick underbrush and over horizons of unfamiliar terrain assuages the spirit with faint memories of long ago when discovering the great silences and epic vistas found only in the wild filled our spirit with transcendent satisfaction.

We can thank our tame acquiescence towards the Atomic Age of Man for bringing forth the unwavering hum of city life where our keen senses are awash with planes, trains, and automobiles. Man has come a long way from the loincloth primitives of yesterday but not far enough to forget the nomadic wanderings through nature as he is still attuned to the great lakes, snake rivers and lush forests that he had lived with for so long.

In years past, this friendship with Mother Nature would have commenced in our youth as each human being is born with an instinctive curiosity that fills their childhood with lively adventures forged by limitless wonder and beautifully open minds.

Giant white pine in Minnesota's Lost 40

Some trees are worth more when they're not cut down. The Lost 40

The early period in life is a time when we are still receptive to earth’s impressions, which bring about indescribable excitement from even the most simplest of things.

Exploring dense fog with unfeigned eagerness for what materialized next. Standing still over sweeping landscapes and casting an ear to the faint symphony of birds singing in the lower marshland. Watching trees swaying in the summer breeze and hearing a euphonious flutter composed from thousands of soft leaves beating in crowded flight. Poking a snapping turtle with a long stick just to see if it would bite back. Doing nothing else but listening to the soft pitter patter of raindrops falling upon a cabin window just because you could.

Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.Ruth Krauss, author of children's books worth owning

It’s with this raw naivety that children interact with the natural world and only by trekking outdoors, away from the self-labeled progress mankind has become so fixated with, can we find this unique atmosphere which nature so graciously provides. The youthful mind wonders with lucid thoughts that they too are a part of this enchanting wilderness.

Unfortunately, the fearless and enthusiastic period of youth is not impervious to the manufactured desires of contemporary adulthood. Though if it were, hot damn would it be the ideal state of mind.

While we’re living, the dreams we have as children fade away.Noel Gallagher, musician, godlike

By the time we reach the prime of our life its as if we’ve completely forgotten this organic inclination towards the wonderful exploration of nature.

The most atrocious misfortune of growing up today is that this clear-eyed vision for what is truly beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed, or even put out, by the over-commercialization of sterile and artificial things which only serve to preoccupy. Why must this devilish thing have to happen? To have our sense of wonder expunged from all but the deepest recesses of our consciousness?

Engagement, That Detestable Ball And Chain

In the mid-1970s, a study published by psychologists Marc and Helen Bornstein found a linear correlation between a city’s population and the briskness of its foot traffic. The exact reason why walking cadence parallels urban congestion is open to serious debate, but two things come to mind right away.

First, the sensory overload received from city life could affect a human being to unknowingly limit their exposure to artificial stimulants by moving away from them, the louder the clatter the quicker the escape. Second, there’s the hustle and bustle experienced in larger cities which could affect human patience adversely. People have tendencies to hurry through their affairs to avoid congestion and to minimize time spent waiting as they try to get more things done.

Bornstein data showing correlation between population and the mean velocity of foot traffic.
Location Population P Mean Velocity V(ft/sec)
Pyschro, Crete 365 2.76
Itea, Greece 2,500 2.27
Corte, Corsica 5,491 3.31
Safed, Israel 14,000 3.70
Dimona, Israel 23,700 3.27
Bastia, France 49,375 4.90
Netanya, Israel 70,700 4.31
Iraklion, Greece 78,200 3.85
New Haven, U.S. 138,000 4.39
Jerusalem, Israel 304,500 4.42
Brno, Czechoslovakia 341,948 4.81
Athens, Greece 867,023 5.21
Prague, Czechoslovakia 1,092,759 5.88
Munich, Germany 1,340,000 5.62
Brooklyn, U.S. 2,602,000 5.05

This second thought is utterly bananas that man be hurried in his business, trying to squeeze all he can into it as if success, or relaxation, must be reached hastily. Our time on earth is very fragile, temporary, and precious. The worst thing a person can do with that time is be lulled into the psychosis of busyness.

Busyness is a symptom of how we’ve become helplessly absent from our true selves, living life as if we had forgotten our own mortality. The existential tension between presence and progress has us handcuffed to an unwinnable battle between what we need to do and what we want to do. We hypnotize ourselves into a blind frenzy, engaged to business, and speed through life in the endless pursuit of tomorrow.

Deer peaking through trees in a quiet forest

We should all learn to slow down and move through life with the graceful beauty of a deer out in the wild. The 100-acre Wood

Why must we live like this? To be swept up in an obsolete philosophy that demands laborious dedication toward economic gain. We fall into daily routines of delaying our freedom until another day that will somehow provide a more favorable chance to finally live.

But so rooted are we to routine and habit that those who do make it to retirement find they have nothing left to do. The grander vision of wonder and discovery has so faded in people’s minds that the only attempt to remedy their boredom is to plop in front of the television and collect worldliness vicariously.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.Annie Dillard, author and poet

It’s this single, most dangerous threat to humanity that is the plague shortening our lives. Another day, another dollar, the busyness of our economy. Too readily do we enter employment and conform to the almighty dollar culture where the memories spent in nature are replaced with the monotonous blur of indoor activity.

Moreover, when we’re not preoccupied with business, vices and social callings assail our small dinghy of a life from all directions like the high waves of a savage storm. Oh how we lust for that port of peace and tranquility found within the breath of a quiet forest’s solitude. To sit there and just be. That’s what people need.

A quiet foot path along the Superior Hiking Trail

Have you ever wondered what could be discovered if you followed every path to its end? The Superior Hiking Trail

Quite honestly, it’s a small part of our life that we really live. Society’s lost battle. Never enough time to do everything we would like, let alone keep in touch with nature. But perhaps it is not the shortness of time that is our woe but how we squander so much of it.

The average person is as ill-equipped for managing their time as a redneck is at managing their bank account upon winning the lottery. Diligent overspending. There’s a foolish wastefulness which never fails to occur when we’re under the delusion that a commodity will never run out.

The unstable balance between leisure and responsibility blows chunks all over our helpless maturity. This is why the good old days seem so nostalgic. Busyness had not yet grasped us by the balls.

The good news is that a potent antidote still exists, at the time of this writing, to reawaken that inborn sense of wonder. And yes, I realize America loves its prescription drugs, but no, this doesn’t involve anything you pop, shoot, snort or push. This is about reintroducing yourself to mother nature. What reason is there not to?

The Threshold Of The Unknown

The last remnants of wilderness offer stability in our delicately precarious world. Breathing in the permanence of grand vistas conjures up the awe-inspiring immensity of space and time, filling oneself with the oldest satisfactions of man sensing the first vague glimmerings of meaning in the universe.

Contemplating the awesomeness of this undeveloped world is to broaden our awareness of wonder and imagination. Without this kickstarting spur, our creative minds would lose all mobility to probe and explore. The wildness of nature invokes that playful wonder and serves such a pivotal role in man surveying his relationship with the cosmos.

A sense of timelessness is felt when extended days are spent in nature. The long sought after phenomenon of time slowing down emerges when there are no longer any appointments to keep, no schedules to maintain or instruments of engagement. Man’s tempo becomes relaxed and sedated to accompany the rhythms of nature; clouds ballooning overhead, the sun easing across horizons and drawing out those curtains of burning color, the changing of the seasons, and even the growth and decay of vegetation filters into our consciousness that this casual speed of living is exactly how we've always known it should be.

High Falls at Tettegouche State Park

The permanence of falling water fills one's being with the grander vision of life. Tettegouche State Park

Adaptation takes eons of time. The excessive rituals of modern civilization are still unnatural to our mental and physiological processes which have slowly matured over millions of years. We are still at odds with this last tick in our evolutionary clock, being hurled into the whirling complexities of a modern society that demands swift assimilation.

People are not born with a tabula rasa but are embedded with behaviors and feelings handed down through a genetic codex not yet translated. So ingrained into our consciousness of these grand vistas of nature and the great silences of wilderness that the mere mention of them expands our soul with romantic ideas of rich and colorful experiences. The lure of undeveloped wilderness is greater than just the epic vistas and lookout points which tempt the adventure of discovery. It is the grander vision life found at the threshold of the unknown and with it, the clear conscious ecstasy felt in the reclaimed sense of wonder.