Living and exploring the outdoors in modern day life

Over the weekend, a reunion with expatriates brought back a rush of remembrances. Recollections of unforgettable experiences and the delights of exploring our roaring youths. At one point, a fascinating flashback bobbed its way back to the surface when one collegiate comrade brought up the blasts we used to have at school camps. “Ahh the Great Kiwi Outdoors” my mind wandered aloud. “What a yearly delight”.

Being one of the few Bridget Joneses in the cackling congregation I was then bewildered by what shattered me from my fond fleeting fantasies of days go yonder. A matriarch asserted “Schools don’t do this too often. It’s not seen as curricula relevant”. Another burly bloke bellowed, “Yeah, parents said they’d worry their kids would get injured in the bush”. Another seconded this motion, “Parent Teacher Association reckon it’s a ‘health and safety’ minefield”. And then the coup de grace “Besides my son has no need to be a Bear Grylls. We (her and her partner) both agreed it was best that the school canned camping”.

Canned camping! Why not school fairs, class theatrical productions, interclub sports, sausage sizzles or the end of year prom? Why was there no one there to douse these heathens in 100% O’Natural New Zealand Holy Water? How could these self-respecting colleagues of mine even have the nerve to still equate themselves with that noble Scouts badge of being an authentic bush worshipping Kiwi?

The dire truth is that our little darlings more than ever are missing a golden ticket to experience the majesty of nature which we older folk took for sheer granted. While we chased bees and scraped our knees, the new New Zealander seeks to keep his pet child in a gilded cage overflowing with fat food and electronic gadgets. How could any rational parent ever condone the advantageous pros for dropping the tablet to explore and experience our diverse and dynamic landscape?

Deriving pleasures from the aesthetically and spiritually uplifting panorama all while developing an admiration and respect for the holistic interchange between important natural forces and our place within this ecological jigsaw puzzle.

How is venturing into the bush not as cognitively beneficial as sitting in a cuboid bland drain box classroom reciting tired words from a revised but barely revitalised textbook? The excuses tumble down in dampening torrents. From fear of allergies to mosquito bites, from fear of camp food to the absence of electricity.

What is even more regretful is the efforts students themselves make to widdle themselves free from what we old timers saw as an inspirational journey. Returning as an Old Boy to my former college I asked the young ones if they still had the opportunity to go camping. “Yeah” one confident and assertive finely groomed lad contested. “But I hear they are a bit suck”. “Why do you say that?” I gently pressed on. To which he shrugged his shoulders and exclaimed to me “Well, there’s no reception. Can’t use your Smartphone, eh?” It was then I spun around and became illuminated. A hall replete with bright and brilliant young minds but where heads were buried like ostriches into tablets of all shapes and sizes.

And yet, when engaged in banter, these young men inflated in confidence and charisma, coming to life in such a wonderfully remarkable manner. Beyond the joys of self-discovery and spiritually finding oneself in the aura of Mother Nature’s grace and splendour camping was just as much about camaraderie and bonding with one’s peers. The enthralling feeling of accomplishing tasks together, sharing your sentiments and experiences with others and achieving growth collectively. Why would anyone ever wish to shy away from such a resplendent revelation of both interpersonal and social development?

Being tacitly taught NZ history without actually emotionally or physically feeling it felt bogus as far as I was concerned. And yet, like the great archaic good old fashioned traditional camp excursion the field trip itself was itself too being relocated to the relic cabinet of fleeting fads. How abominable those cretins!

Recently, I guided a group of exchange tourists on the original track (the Bridle Path) which was used by our early pioneers to carry in supplies from the port towards our main city. My city, Christchurch is a rarity as far a New Zealand cities are concerned as it is an interior hub reasonably distant from the services of a harbour (when ships MADE centres wealthy). In spite of this our city did grow and flourished and it was exciting to share my panoramic passion for all things regionally related. From the peak of the summit our province stunned us with her providence. My figure danced in the air like a brush colliding against an incredible canvas. Painting a picture of the events, characters and natural wonders which had determined our coming into being.

While not a professor. After having a mouth-watering morning tea of English breakfast tea from a piping hot billy accompanied with loving baked homemade sweet scones filled with juicy plump sultanas and lavished with generous glazing of Canterbury butter and dollops of firm creamy white spoonfuls of pleasurable palate whetting whipped cream I was approached by cheery rosy faced Uruguayan student. After having taken several cultural studies papers, she felt that these courses delivered by some of my own and certainly NZs finest professors and lecturers that I had captured the ‘magic’ of the Kiwi Experienced. I felt completely humbled by her generous praise and flattering kindness and tried to thank her as best I could in my barbarically brutal efforts to grapple with Castellano.

In the space of a 2 hour tramp, this sharp highly perceptive and jolly senorita had become a history glutton sucking up knowledge like a finely crafted South American sponge. Confident, self-assured and asking questions that would make my honours and post graduate pals green with envy. A trip which had titillated and tantalised her senses and I’m sure those of the other 11 nationalities whom came marching out with me that glorious sun drenched Christchurch morning.

To feel and envision the experience through our 5 senses is something that the finest books, art works and film and audio documentaries just cannot capture. The physical thrill you feel when every part of you feels alive during an occasion of sensory opulence. The memories of each student astounded me of how each one retraced the day from those who saw the passage through the emotions, the senses, through religious perspectives, through vocational understandings, by way of class and even more interestingly through sex/gender.

The excitable intermingling between various faculty students, the flowing chatter of intelligent well rounded individuals sharing their understanding towards an profound array of riveting topics and the collective enthusiasm for learning without the inhibitors of isolation, consoles and anything with a flat screen. Yes, they survived my vicious tramping flagellation and lived to tell the tale without having endured any life altering permanent mental or physical scarring.

Indeed, my brave little troopers had concretely confirmed my hypotheses that one could largely survive without tech and even be thrilled about it. Although I’m not tech phobic I still am a firm adherent to the idea that more gadgets contribute to greater inspiration. As one friend told me, he recently purchased a laptop to save on a paper subscription. Reasonable enough, I felt. However, when I quizzed him on some recent current affairs he openly confessed “you know, ever since I got that damn machine all I seem to do is play Candy Crush”. I’m sure that this is not a generic case. That said, I have found that people devoid of their toys are forced into being more cognitively proactive having to think on their feet with no assistance from the great and glorious Google search engine.

What I had witnessed was the renaissance of skilled autonomous thinkers dutifully going about artistically and with free flowing flair postulating marvellous opinions. This day trip had opened a window of opportunity for these wide eyed deep thinking foreign philosophers and it nudged them pushing them to explore their potentials in every sense of the word.

Academically, it pushed one driven Vietnamese girl to explore the impact that the debris from the rebuild were having on our waterways by way of the particulate matter (lead paint flakes, asbestos) that was entering our rivers and streams by way of our storm water drains. Another physically inspired Austrian informed me of how the day had influenced his desire to explore our backcountry and investigate the influence that therapeutic spaces have on our biopsychosocial wellbeing. Of the brief encounter that I’ve had with his purposeful prose, it seems as if regular contact with nature makes us more virtuous beings.

Camping and bush trekking are invaluable as they often bring us into direct contact with the natural dilemmas which we so seldomly learn about in our concrete jungles. Like one bright guy who has identified the perils which jet boats and jet skis are having in terrorising, maiming and even killing off marine diversity at several of our bays. This is not good for nature nor for our 100% Pure NZ tourism campaign. In one interesting paper I oversaw, increased exposure to natural audiological sounds received a far more favourable response from test subjects than the sounds of a tv channel changing tirade, the clicking of keyboards or the tick tocking of a clock.

One highly resourceful Chilean guy I met swore that hiking had not only heightened his sensory astuteness and the pleasures derived from honing in on the art of being skilled at relying on them for accurate information gathering but also vouched that he’d broadened his wider skillsets as a whole. He had learned to use a compass, use the sun and landmarks to orientate himself, predict the weather, to use plants for medicinal and nutritional purposes, to climb, to fish, to hunt respectfully, to ration, to identify and appreciate fresh water and to survive almost exclusively without the need for not even one lithium battery.

As one student once informed me, the media makes us clutch to our phones and tablets in the ‘fear’ that we will miss out on the latest scoop. We are petrified by the idea that we will be socially ridiculed by failing to keep with the information gossip train. As this fine individual professed, nature has the liberating ability to make us embrace and accept ourselves whereas society forces us to constantly contest ourselves.

Fascinating insights have strengthened the common perception that those who regularly or even sporadically add a dose of bush or camping to their lifestyle diet tend to be more confident individuals who assert greater control over their destinies. Furthermore, these “go getter” people whom tramp, hike, camp and generally seize life by the horns not only increase their access to more opportunities and greater possibilities and chance but they also regularly report greater the choices they eventually make, persevere with and undertake. In addition, the fruition and success rate of these actions followed tend to have a higher percentage rate of being satisfied, completed or obligated once elected as opposed to those who live less than “greener” goodly lives.

Their overly superior gratified approach to the accomplished life is reinforced in the more abundant and nurturing relationships and bonds which they form not only with family but also through external attachments with new contacts and strangers.

As a whole, these Green Legions tend to display sounder connections with other individuals in their day to day dealings and problems pertaining to social conflicts relationship dramas and dilemmas tend to be considerably fewer. As it camping, hiking and generally getting out is a mutually inclusive activity which can be undertaken or modified to meet most individual’s needs, many believe and attest to the powers of these activities and how they have solidified and gelled their family ties and marriages.

For those who engaged in these ‘therapeutic pursuits’ evidence affirmatively suggest that these ventures can concretely bring about certain health inducing benefits such as lowering anxiety levels, reducing stress, decreasing the risks of suffering from high blood pressure, minimising the perils of having to deal with cardiac related adversities to ones’ wellbeing.

In an astute and assiduous piece of investigative psychological documentation, it has been confirmed that for those whom were briefly exposed to a natural picture reported a rise in positive emotional thoughts and reactions. On the contrary, a graphic still of a city scape did not evoke or awaken as excited a response from the tested participants surveyed.

When asked to write about something (it could have been about anything) the ones presented with the natural image wrote more uplifting comments using strongly passionate and powerfully positive adjectives and verbs. There were reflections about wonderful past events, memories and inevitably future plans. The city/office photo could also entice some pro positions (ie travel, the excitement of city living) but a large number of testimonials were infused with heavily negative reflection (loud neighbours, small apartments, expensive rent, noise, traffic, pollution, crumby jobs etc).

Experience with witnessing the natural image also had the ability to inspirationally influence the way we felt towards often even “conflictive and divisive” topics. After seeing the picture of a place which was proclaimed as a nature lovers charm the conductors of the project thought that an image of a politician would quickly kill the feel good Hallmark card moment. However, they were sorely mistaken by their erroneous primary presumptions.

After absorbing both images these viewers tended to talk about the “questionable” political figures more favourably than those whom saw a picture of those in an office. In the latter case, they tended to draw a line of association between the two images (ie the man in the office looked stressed ‘maybe’ because he works long hours can’t find a decent car park, doesn’t earn enough, and PROBABLY because of that politician!). In the first case, the socio economic and political factors were largely nullified by the sentiments of free will, individuality and control.

The feelings of hope and expectations were certainly more visible in the case of the people who saw the nature image followed by the states man. In the concrete jungle of society, there was a feeling that the individual had less liberties to disassociate themselves from the powerful regulating forces of social conventions. Whereas, whilst camping or in the wild there was an opportunity to “let loose” and a release from the tensions of having to comply with social rules and the obeying of systems.

Similarly, those subjects exposed initially to an image of nature or someone in the wild then presented with a picture of traffic jam ones tended to become philosophical problem solvers when confronted with the paradoxical thematic issues. Instead of whining they suggested that to deal with the congestion they would, get up early, walk, bike, get a scooter. On the flipside, ones who first saw a slovenly man slouched in front of a flickering monitor tended to be highly critical towards the problem of pile ups itself. Launching and propelling a tirade of highly heated opinions towards the faults and flaws of the council, the road makers and even the other motorists.

Beyond stirring compassion, inspiring creativity and greatly lifting our spirits, the results tend to suggest that those who do “get out and about” more  tended to not only be more geographically and historically knowledgeable than the “couch potatoes”, but also tended to have a greater awareness of issues affecting the environments they encountered.

As a whole, there was a significant increase of both positive extroverted and introverted behaviours that came through outdoors orientated excursions. From social mingling with other nature lovers, to reading voraciously about the places on one’s bucket list, researching and attending lectures, to sharing these experiences via blogs/meet ups and other means, it’s clear that these natural encounters tended to elevate feelings of positivity, individualism, community and even spiritualism and faith building.

In a surprise finding it was discovered that strong views towards the environment, food and animal rights and our duty as custodians of nature were strongly and deeply evoked for those who regularly partook in natural adventures and escapades.

As the crusade to barter off more of Natural NZ ensues we should make it our objective to see for ourselves what we and our future generations have to lose. How can a textbook ever convince us more than the certainty of our senses? How can we live all our lives in a Green Eden when we choose to spend our lives largely sheltered in concrete jungles? Why are our children being deprived of the right to see their country?

I’m sure there would be fury if we were still teaching British literature and history instead of encouraging our kids to lap up our stories, so why shield them from our Secret Garden? Our eco Atlantis shouldn’t just be the preserve of German speaking trekkers and cashed up camper van cruisers but a paradise we should all be welcomed into.

I fear that like that catchy but deeply meaningful a Real McCoy hit Runaway that if we don’t break free we along with everything that we love will be chewed up by the Machine while we forget about the joys of ‘real’ living beyond the social factory/office which can suck the souls out of us. Or even worse when the leaders who guide us, like that other classic chime “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot”.

Let’s not allow our beauty to be disposed from us while more of our assets get vended off to the bidding vultures of big business. It’s time to show them whose boss. So let’s teach those gold noses whose boss, let’s out hike the Swiss, let’s frighten those tv networks with our absence and grab our backpacks, boots and tents and get out of town for a while. The sights which we have been missing out on for so long will be unforgettably priceless.

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