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Outdoor Diary: Using Nature to Make Relationships Better

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We talk a lot about getting outside to improve our lives, but what about using it to make our relationships better? Did you know heading outside is a great way to create so-called “sacred spaces” with people in your life?

In this episode Amy talks about heading into nature to create sacred spaces with her husband, Luke, over a grown-ups-only outdoor summer adventure.

Some of the good stuff:

[:55] Sacred spaces

[1:45] How the outdoors helps build sacred spaces

[3:00] How Amy and Luke create sacred spaces

[4:41] Working through challenges together

[5:51] Worth it

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Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

I think a lot about what nature can do to me and for ME. But what about what it can do for me with others? What about the way it impacts my relationships?

Back in Season 1 I interviewed my friend Corie Weathers, a licensed mental health counselor whose advice on relationships I so value. She talks about the idea of “sacred spaces,” the experience of a transformational event in your life, something that becomes a pivotal part of who you are. It could be a traumatic event. But it could also be a time you overcame a big challenge. When these “sacred spaces” are something we experience with another person, we grow to share a special bond with them. Often those experiences happen independent of the people who are important in our lives. For example, the events my husband, Luke, experienced while in Afghanistan are a big part of who he is. I wasn’t there. And I’ll never know what that was like, truly. It’s a sacred space for him. Similarly, while he was gone I experienced really intense events on the home front. He’ll never know what those were like. It’s a sacred space for me.

We’ve also talked a lot in the podcast about why the outdoors is great at giving us chances to become grittier, more resilient people by putting us in uncomfortable situations that stretch us beyond our comfort zones. They may be really minor seeming in the moment — like being uncomfortable in less than ideal weather, or hungry after a big adventure but not quite being at the car yet — or they might be big, like doing something that scares you or taking on and moving through a big challenge.

If you’ve ever tackled something outside a little outside your comfort zone and with other people, you probably feel an usual sense of closeness with them. Maybe you have some inside jokes created on the trail. Maybe you feel like you have an insight into them the way other people might not, just based on watching them overcome something hard. And maybe they saw you do the same, so you feel like they know you in a different or special way.

That experience is a shared sacred space — and the outside is awesome for giving opportunities to create those. Corie advises turning to nature to give you chances to develop those shared spaces with people who are important to you, like a husband, wife or other family member.

And that’s exactly what I have been spending some of my time doing. Once a year or so, my husband Luke and I set aside a week while our kids are away at camp to take a grown-ups only vacation, with an outdoor focus, of course, because it’s something we both enjoy. We use the time to go and do some adventures our kids might not be quite ready for, or are just a little bit beyond their abilities or comfort zones.

This summer we headed down to McCarthy, Alaska, an end of the road teeny, tiny town in the middle of nowhere and adjacent to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We had done a little backpacking near there a few years ago, and regretted since then that we hadn’t made the effort to go all the way to McCarthy. So this year we packed the Vanimal, dropped the kids at camp, and made our way down the McCarthy Road. We camped at the end of the road at a bare-bones campground and spent a few days just playing in the park, including riding our bikes up the National Park restored old Kennicott copper mine, doing a run up and back the next day. Then, we camped at a wayside on the road and ran 14 miles out and back on the Nugget Creek trail, a gorgeous run where we saw no bears but some huge bear paw prints and met and were feasted on by all the mosquitoes in the land.

After that we drove to our favorite off-road campsite near the Matanuska Glacier where we tried something neither of us had done before: ice climbing. We hiked out with a guide from the MICA guiding company and spent the day ice climbing on the glacier. Finally, the next day we picked-up the kids and came home.

These days were full of challenges that developed shared sacred space type moments, and not just because we tried a new sport that challenged us both. There were plenty of moments where, having been feasted on by mosquitos, we were both uncomfortable and had to move through the challenge. At another point we ran out of water, only to find that the campsite did not have water as advertised. Solution? Luke hauled the water container ¾ mile by bicycle, filled it at the “community creek,” and then biked back over a really rocky path with the 40 lbs jug balanced on the bike. He did not fall, the jug did not fall, and I remain very impressed. I obviously biked along as moral support and photographer. And for what it’s worth — that water was delicious.

I like to think that the experience of traveling for a week and having these adventures together improves our relationship. Spending time with my husband certainly reminds me why I like him, sparks great conversations and lets us get to know each other better — something that is still a work in progress even with our 13th wedding anniversary on June 28.

I hope you’re taking the time to not just get to know yourself by spending time outside during the warm days of summer, but also inviting the people you love there with you so that you can get to know them and they can get to know you. Taking the moments to build those sacred spaces is so worth it.

Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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