Colin Harrington: The joys of roughing it


WINDSOR In his latest book, "The Nature Principal" (2011), Richard Louv, also author of the very popular, "Last Child in the Woods" (2005), speaks of lost interactive experience with nature as a strain on mental health and happiness in many people. Demands of the digital-age lifestyle cause many people to be deprived of the natural world of forests and fields, lakes and oceans, backyards and gardens to the extent that many are suffering a kind of depression as a result of this disconnect.

He suggests that "a new nature movement" might go so far as to recommend doctors and counselors prescribe nature with naturalist interpreters who would become a new kind of therapist. More exposure to nature can help with depression and health problems, and in many cases, alleviate them.

This is not a new idea by any means, but it does have a more modern twist in an age of obsessive I-phone checking and video game addiction where many actually require deprogramming at special camps. Fresh air and the effort to walk a mile or two on a nature trail can do wonders to cure many ills and bring an undiscovered joy back into being.

I think some of the problem with getting outdoors for some is the hassle, roughness, and peril. I have written about ticks and extreme weather in this column, so I know it can be rough to get outdoors. But I have also discovered that roughing it can become half the fun.

Many people feel that any perception of hardship is to be avoided at all costs, especially when it comes to their children. I have fond memories of getting all banged up, scraped, and bruised when I was a kid in my pursuits of adventure. We need to supervise kids a lot more today but we also need to let them experience adventure and sometimes that means falling down and dusting off. Every little kid will have to fall off a bicycle at some point and although it is heartbreaking, it is also instructive and confidence-building.


Anything outside the comfort zone of air conditioning, insect-free space, physical challenge, even spending time in fascinating ecosystems can be harsh and boring to many people, at first. I notice a lot more big-screen plasma TV’s in people’s homes. It’s easy to get planted super-comfortably on a nice couch watching sports or a movie. Everyone deserves rest, elegance, and comfort.

Coming in from the campsite to have dinner out in Truro we saw a large-screen TV at the Black Fish restaurant bar that was so clear, digitalized, and real it seemed I was more at Fenway Park than the people in the park! I haven’t owned a TV in 20 years so it was fantastic! I liked it very much and I also walked outside within 10 minutes because I needed to catch the high tide in my kayak and I missed the campsite and trails at Wellfleet bay.

We enjoy grilling fish at the campsite and setting an elegant table outside under the trees as much or more than sitting a restaurant. As I get older I value peace and quiet the more I can get it and practice it. Mark Twain wrote a great book entitled "Roughing It" when he was young and developing his style. His "rough-hewn humor" guides the reader through great adventures as the young Twain avoids cities for the excitement of the open plains and the rugged Wild West! Getting out there, even for a walk on a little country road, the trails of the Pittsfield State Forest, or around the monument on Mount Greylock will inspire, excite, and renew the spirit.

Of course, outdoor adventure should be matched with experience, ability, interest, and tolerance. As far as I am concerned, any distance on challenging or dangerous. The whole idea is to have fun. Half of the fun is learning gradually about the environment, technical skills, and being aware of limitations. There are many people to admire and emulate but it is prudent to be yourself and if walking for a half hour at Canoe Meadows on Holmes Road is your limit, it’s a great thing. Bring binoculars for the birding.

My friend Norman Baker is an example of a very extreme adventurer, finding himself in the Arctic regions or the uncharted wilds of British Columbia. He loves it. He was navigator on Tor Heyerdahl’s Ra Expedition a long time ago.

I love the idea but I very much enjoy a day’s bike ride or an afternoon hike in a scenic spot where I know I will be comfortable, moderately challenged, and treated to a little more adventure.

Colin Harrington is an educator and writer and an occasional contributor to The Eagle.


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