What I Learned from Hiking, Part 4

During the time I did all of this hiking, I learned a tiny bit about how the natural world operates on a number of principles. I found that the more I hiked, the more patterns became apparent in nature. For instance, most trees will go to great lengths to reach a reliable source of water. All trees, no matter how hardy, cease to exist without it.

Contrast that with something like partnership or friendship or love. A person will go to great lengths to try to reach sources of relationship. Even those without the desire to reach for relationships are usually characterized, and often correctly, as not well. Well or not, all people demonstrate a need for connection, just as all trees need water to survive. Without it, people tend to cease to exist as well. 

So there you have a principle that is as universal to people as it is to nature. And why shouldn’t it be so, since people are at the most fundamental level, part of nature. What is true for the trees, rivers, clouds, and animals is often true for us. 

 Science gives a number of principles different names like “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” or “Rain Shadows” or “Slope Effect.” Hearing these technical names referring to basic tendencies of the natural world obscures the universality of what happens in nature, but they’re talking about simple common sense things. The Second Law says that entropy is undefeated vs. the universe. This funny word really describes what we know: everything will die, and the dying stuff will one day come back as the stuff of the living. All energy remains constant. The stuff that makes us up is as old as the universe, even older than the mountains. It’s the way things are; even philosophy can’t deny it.

A principle is a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived. Nature presents a state in which man has generally not imposed order and mechanical contrivance. Therefore, natural principles become plainly apparent in the most simple of ways. What is not readily apparent, however, is in how the principles you might see on a hike apply to the principles you see in “the Real World,”and it takes a little imagination at first to see that water is to trees as love is to people. However, making that leap creates empathy with surroundings, especially those surroundings that speak a pure, simple, clean message.


The term “The Real World” is typically used to browbeat teenagers out of a perceived fantasy existence that is considered self-centered, dependent, and unnatural. However, this same fantasy existence is one that we share as we drive about in cars, watch television, shop at grocery stores, and pay our taxes. That this seems to be the natural way of things is a product of how accustomed we have become to civilization, yet this construct is every bit as self-centered, dependent, and unnatural as the lives we often criticize teenagers for trying to live. I don’t offer this as a criticism of life, because it’s clear that people do the best they can, and in spite of all the shitty things that happen in the world, life in a material world (with enough connection to the world underneath) is still more than worth living.


It takes enormous amounts of energy, often expended in the most unnatural ways imaginable, to keep our civilization from simply falling apart. Similarly, it takes enormous amounts of energy, often expended in the most unnatural ways imaginable to keep our lives together; our bills paid; our clients happy; our deadlines met. We sit in unnatural positons, doing unnatural things like staring at computers and driving in cars. And we do it so that are lives are full of meaning, because without these things, life becomes very hard. 


In nature, wasted energy only occurs when things are done against natural principles. Try to plant a crop of one plant, and nature will create weeds, pests, and droughts. Leave the land alone, and nature will do whatever nature can do. Energy is not wasted in strange ways when nature lets. Life gets on just fine without any interference. It is our contrivances that throw things out of balance. You can control some things, perhaps, but you can’t change the laws of nature. When we try to do this in our own personal lives, by trying to control circumstances or each other, we create pain and destruction. However, we need to look no further than out our windows to see how to make sense of the patterns. 


I still thinks it’s important to stay connecting to the world beneath and behind all of the stuff we fill our lives with. Natural places exist for the sake of existence. There’s no agenda other than to perpetuate the species. Out of all this struggle comes natural principles, such as “adaptation leads to success” and “all lifeforms are expressions of their environments.” These principles apply as much to a person as they do to a tree, or a dog, or a potato, or even businesses, governments, nations, and civilizations. 

Principles are true, basic conditions for all things, and nature offers the proof of this every where you look. The more immersed I become in this, the more I appreciate just how deeply interconnected everything is. 


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