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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside
It was Mother Nature’s first act of the New Year: an epic windstorm the likes of which longtime Alaskans had never seen, came sweeping through my area, bringing with it incredible destruction and week-long power outages for some people, which is a big deal when the temperature is below zero. Gusts over 100 miles-per-hour with sustained wind of up to 40 miles-per-hour for 48 hours pummeled the region. Tractor trailers flipped over on the highway. Buildings literally broke apart and flew off. A natural disaster was declared. It was the most incredible weather event Ive ever seen.
As it was happening I imagined the destruction that would reign in the woods behind my house, where beetle kit trees frequently fall in small wind storms. And when we headed back there we found the entire trail system covered in one fallen tree after another.
Fast forward four months, and then snow melted enough for crews to get back there and clear the fallen trees so we could easily walk the paths again. And while we had explored around them a little when they were still down, the paths opening and snow leaving have given us a chance to do more.
We aren’t just staring at things from a distance, we’re tromping through the growth to see what we can discover. How do the insides of the stumps look? What’s it like to stand in the crater left by a toppled tree’s root system? How crazy is it that THIS tree snapped in THAT spot?
A few recent walks in the woods have included these off-trail adventures, sneaking carefully into the brush to check out something interesting, following paths already set by wildlife. It sounds child like behavior, rushing uninhibited, open to discovery. But we aren’t children.
We’re following our curiosity.
It seems to me that as we become adults we leave curiosity behind. Sometimes we reframe it as “adventure,” heading into nature to do something epic. But what if you took back that curiosity drive you had as a kid, and didn’t just follow that instinct, but gave it permission to be and to thrive.
What if you gave yourself the space and do something fueled by wondering what you might find? Would this look like pausing on a walk to examine some cool fungi, or to touch some bark instead of focusing on the destination? Would this like driving a little out of the way just because you wanted to see what something is like or how the air smells in a certain place? Would this look like wandering? Would it look like wondering?
I’ve had a few conversations recently while recording some upcoming podcast episodes that have me thinking about the value of simply following my own curiosity as I move through nature. Curiosity is something I’m used to trusting in my professional life. The instinct helps me find and tell good stories as a journalist. When I want to know more about something, I write a news story. When Im curious, I follow the question and get the answer.
But I often dont let curiosity serve and fuel me in my outside life, where I’m much more focused on the doing. Following curiosity can be a meandering path. It can feel inefficient. But it almost always ends up being rewarding.
About a month and a half after our epic windstorms another, different, weather event hit a region near me. Warming temperatures paired with plentiful, heavy, wet new snow created perfect conditions for a historic number of avalanches. Recreation area managers in Hatcher Pass preemptively closed the area to all use, and not a minute too soon. Over just a day or two multiple, huge avalanches swept down the mountains and over the roads were we often drive or ski. So incredible was the destruction and avalanche debris fields that the road remained closed for about two months while crews worked to clear them so cars could get through.
Obviously I had to go see this.
Except I didn’t actually have to. Ski season is over, at least in my head. Today as I record this is the first day of May. So, in my opinion, ski season is also actually over. It’s stuff growing season, guys! We do not need to ski anymore.
But. My curiosity said – what does that debris field look like? What’s it like to ski over that? Would it be hard? Would it be interesting?
And so we packed the skis and went to find out. We followed that curiosity. And as I result I can tell you that when the snow comes pounding down the mountain, it carves a path that looks a billowing, snowy waterfall paused in mid stroke, snaking down a broad path with everything either pushed out of the way on its sides or blanketed by its towering fall out. I’m so glad I took the time to follow my curiosity and see that.
Understanding the power and value of child-like curiosity is one of the gifts of my daily outdoor time, and I know learning to harness it can be a gift for you, too. You can see photos of what our outdoor curiosity has helped us discover on Facebook and Instagram at HumansOutside. And I want to see photos of your outdoor time, too. Tag me wth #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.