Category Archives: Lifestyle

Forged Knives, Handmade Goods, and How It Affects Our Natural State of Mind

Fire

(Photo of master blacksmith at AsanoKajiya handmade knife and Japanese sword company. Check out their site here.)

I think often of how when society leans further and further towards cheap, machine-mass produced goods, we lose an aspect of what is natural in the loss of value towards human made goods. I’m not saying that it will always be any better quality, but for a lot of the goods, people produce them because they feel strongly about what they make.

Having and owning goods made with that passion or attention to pride in one’s goods is an aspect of “natural” that I place great trust in.

The reason why I have such a passion and interest in the natural world is because I have a relationship with the outdoors. Along this same road, people who have a passion for the goods they produce have that special relationship with their work that is missing from most machine-made items. The human connection to the work is strongest when things are made by hand.

TheOutLife focuses heavily on Nature and the importance it plays on our lives, but nature is not only for the forests and lakes and streams but also applies to how close something is to natural. And natural goods have always been handmade. By bearing in mind that natural goods are made naturally, we gain a new way to connect with the life and wild world around us.

We need to create a pervading view that human beings are not above work and use the world in the same way a beaver may build his den or a bird builds its nest. They don’t use tools to live, they produce the means to live themselves.

Automation brings people further and further away from what being a responsible consumer means. It’s consumerism that cuts swathes of forests and automation that means people never see what the cost of living does to the natural world. Getting our hands dirty or seeing the people who do is what truly makes us value the things we own.

Recently, I took a trip to Japan and had the opportunity to forge a knife with a master blacksmith in his shop. As he talked about his art, he said that although he loves and sees beauty in his finished products, it’s the process that he sees the most beauty in. He takes his pride from the process, not the result. This view is never going to come from a machine assembly line like it does when someone has a hand in the process.

So, how do handmade knives correlate to the belief in what is natural?

They are made by hand.

And it is the human hand that will make or break the natural world.

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Cloudy Mornings and Meditative Brain Waves

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Studies have shown that the brain produces patterns that mimic those seen during meditation when it responds to nature or natural scenes and suggests that it is indeed meditative to hike, fish, or camp in the outdoors. These waves, known as Alpha waves, are present during deep relaxation and are thought to produce an organic sense of calm and peacefulness. This sense of comfort is closely associated with natural phenomena called “fractals” that are a specific complex pattern that our human brains instantly pick up and recognize. Because of the brains ability to predict these patterns it becomes less distracted by extraneous sensory stimulation and leads to a meditative state. It’s almost as if with nothing to react to, our entire body takes a deep breathe.

In normal life within cities and urban areas, our brains are constantly reacting to some sort of stimulation and never have a chance to slow down. Whether or not we realize it, this high-strung state of attention impacts our very ability to think. The cars we see as fast-moving predators, the airplane flying overhead distracts our ability to hear, and then our phones and TV’s and music further dampen the quiet thoughts that swirl gently in the back of our mind.

Nature, at least to our senses, is predictable and stable so it gives our brains a chance to breathe.

Now, as I write this blog post I’m sitting on a porch swing the morning after a rain storm, the air is chilled, and the sky is a beautiful mess of clouds slowly undulating as they make their way through the air. The thing is, I can FEEL those brain waves. It’s in the way the next thought and next sentence comes through without thinking as if this entire paragraph is already written in my head and all that comes next is to put it down on paper. I can hear the cooing of a morning dove and the way the birds tweet happily in the wet air, their song pausing only to eat a surfaced worm and fly it back to their young.

Although I sit on the front porch at my home right smack in an urban neighborhood, I am able to find the flow of life thick and deep when the world and light is subdued by mother nature’s natural events.

Watching Robins catch worms, writing, swinging on the porch swing with my golden retriever snuggled next me, it’s little wonder why inspiration hits strongest when nature is present. I’m so familiar with this sense of peace that it’s become an addiction for me to seek out and experience.

The world outside is beautiful. If you’re not already out there, go find where you feel happiest.

Go find some Alpha waves.

Real Memories and Manufactured Feelings: The Difference Between TV and OutLife

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During a recent camping trip, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby mountain and the resulting thunder was the loudest and most severe crack I think I’ve ever heard. Immediately, those at camp looked at each other in shock and the ones out gathering fire wood came running back in a half panic lacking any of the wood they had gathered. I was laughing in the way you’d laugh after getting off an intense roller coaster while some of my group wished for that sound to never again happen in their lifetime. Then, if that weren’t enough, the following downpour was so heavy that we were sitting on the table portion of our picnic table and huddled under the canopy above us. To make things even worse, the smoke from our sputtering fire started to push under the canopy after we had lowered it and so it was a cold, wet, burning lung mess as we were truly caught between two terrible options, pouring rain or choking smoke.

After the rain, bleary eyed and coughing, we emerged from under the canopy, raised it back up, and continued the evening preparations. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that at this point we had to use flashlights to see anything.

It was a heck of a way to spend the evening.

But, I absolutely loved every second of it and have decided that it is among my favorite camping memories.

It was scary like a roller coaster ride.

The moment was riveting as a car chase.

And it was as difficult as the final boss in a video game.

But, and the reason why I used simple examples, is that these things I compared lightning to are manufactured examples of organic thoughts and emotions. The video games and theme parks are just attractions that monetize the exact same feelings that we can have in the outdoors for free.

Theme parks sell fear and adrenaline when the ear-splitting roar of a thunder crack and flashing lightning will inspire in the mind and body the same fight or flight response.

Television and movies sell excitement and edge-of-your-seat anticipation when the first few seconds after a lightning strike will do the same thing as you wait for the thunder to follow.

The whole situation itself was time consuming to work around and difficult to deal with as there were elements outside of my control that I had to deal with.

In every single aspect of the outdoors there are things that will show you the beauty and danger and magic in the world but we insist on receiving those feelings manufactured and reconfigured for us on TV screens and attractions.

Fear is fear as excitement is excitement, there is no chemical difference from fear adrenaline and excited adrenaline except for your own frame of reference for that situation.

When we experience something, see and taste and feel and hear, that thing becomes a memory of something we did, not a memory of someone else’s life. For this reason, I find it hard to play video games or watch TV anymore as those actions are so empty that many times they cease to perform any function at all but a way to kill time. As humans, our lifespans are short and precious yet within that time there is so much that we could actually do.

Yet a book CAN become an experience to be paired with getting outside our house and car and reading in a hammock on a mountaintop. Books travel with you and thus become essential to you in a way that transcends videos and movies. It’s an effort to read a book, to pick it up and flip the pages instead of turning it on and passively laying and vegetating on a couch or chair. Books tell you “Take me on an adventure” and urge you to have a journey on two fronts.

Manufactured goods are nothing new and we grow up with a plethora of options before us, manufactured foods, emotions, and experiences all fall under the same title. Yet when we dig deeper and see what happens when we gorge on the easy way out, we all dissolve hopelessly into decadence.

The outdoors is one path towards real life. But, put simply, we will discover who we are in the process of pursuing things that are natural and true and honest to character building.

That is why I fight for what‘s real.

That is what I believe to be the natural way of life.

Leaving the Boxes to Claim Our Freedom: Why We Go Outside

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Let us close our eyes a moment and imagine two scenarios.

In the first scenario, you wake up from camping and find yourself to be very cold, arm hugging and shivering cold. It’s not the fact that you don’t have enough clothes on but the clothes you just put on were sitting in the cold air and are now doing little to help you warm up. Thinking of your options, you look at the comfort of your car nearby and getting inside, you turn the car’s heater on full blast to warm yourself for a moment. Although out camping, the car is your escape from the elements. Once heated, you shut off the car and resume your adventure in the great outdoors.

In the second scenario, instead of looking at the car you think of the way your dad told you to do jumping jacks to stay warm and you decide to take a jog. Not a simple jog though, you decide to begin bounding around rocks and trees and moss and grass, hopping to and from small boulders in the ground like a mountain goat, just for fun. Your breathing picks up and although you begin to tire, your warmer than you were before. Suddenly, you have too many clothes on and you take off the thickest jacket and set it on a camp chair. You are wide awake, smiling at your childish scramble, and ready to take on the day.

Here’s what I see. If we are out in the world confronting our difficulties and making physical memories whether they be good or bad, we are in tune with our life, limits, and abilities. To sit in the car and passively wait to warm up is a waste of the internal fire we all have inside of us. It’s an acceptable form of laziness because from a young age, most of us are taught that getting from point A to point B is the same no matter what path one chooses. Yet although the end result of getting warm was the same, the inherent process of both ways fundamentally changes a person.

On a recent camping trip, I was both option A and B. There wasn’t enough fire wood to have a morning and evening fire and recent rain kept everything damp enough to be useless this early in the morning. As the first one up, I wondered if sitting in the car wouldn’t really be cheating. I mean, I deserved it right? The key was in my pocket. I have the license, I should’ve just done it.

But to me, that’s just cheating. I don’t want to put myself from the box of the tent straight into the box of the car and continue ignoring the fire in my heart. That bit of wildness is something we all have inside of us, it’s constantly growing and itching to be let out. Whether TheOutLife is sports for you or the outdoors for me, that wildness already has the answer for a lot of life’s maladies.

I think what begins to happen is we no longer know what the rain feels like on the skin because it becomes such a bad thing.

“Oh no! It’s raining!” “Everything is soaked!” “It’s putting out the fire!”

All the time we hide in these boxes to escape weather, yet to me, that weather is another step towards a true relationship with the wilderness. To remember that we can’t control the weather or the temperature forces us to think of our own resiliency.

I could’ve just said, “It’s cold, I give up,” but instead I did what I have the given ability to do.

I lit a fire within my heart.

As I ran it burned and the fire continued to crackle long after I had sat down.

TheOutLife is all about making the decisions that will show us what mother nature really is. It reminds us that natural processes of life are experiences to rejoice in and what doesn’t kill us makes us that much stronger.

 

A Passion Found in a Relationship

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It’s difficult to describe the emotional connection I have to the mountains and forests. It’s as if when I’m back in my city neighborhood the world loses so much meaning and understanding replacing it with societies smothering asphalt.

I know how to fish and where they will be and what I have to do to catch one. I know how the flames of fire spark up into kindling in a certain way so I have to construct the fire carefully. I know where each step is placed and the way animals leave their memory as prints and tracks and burrows and dens. These things I no longer think about. I no longer have to question my actions because I do and think things instinctually, immediately, and with confidence. There are no convoluted aspects to learn unless the outdoors is something you have never experienced because it is all about instinct, feeling, and emotion. A love for the wilderness is a relationship with place, with the earth, and something so fundamental to the human spirit that we cannot describe to what we are attracted to.

At first, I was taught to live with mother nature, and now the skills I have most developed have no place in this modern world.

Aldo Leopold said that, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

This concept readily applies itself to any mode of outdoor recreation. Many people do not understand the learning curve in a hobby like fishing where all they have to do is “cast a line and sit on the shore” when the place they sat and the way they weighted their line and where they casted all matter to their success. As an outdoorsman, like how an ecologically minded person may see a world of wounds, I see a world of ignorance “in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Fishing is not easy. And though I am capable of doing it, that knowledge holds no place in the world. It doesn’t matter outside of the rivers and lakes of the outdoors.

Thus, in nature is where I feel most comfortable. Suddenly, the way I’ve lived my life is being used. My knowledge is not in movies or video games or electronics, but I can start a fire with flint and steel and catch a rainbow trout for dinner.

This awareness of my passion is nothing new, I have always been this way. Going through school and life knowing the outdoor love I have curated is useless in modern times.

Yet somehow, I hold onto the glimmer of hope that my connection with the natural world will become useful. Someday I’ll be able to connect a passion with a job or existence where I’m able to continue this relationship.

Until that day comes, I write. I sometimes get to see the mountains around me. And hope that maybe through my struggle, others will find the nature in their lives as well.

 

 

 

 

A New Take on Light Pollution: Blinding Lights and Gentle Beams

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I recently arrived home after a three-day camping excursion, and I think one thing hit me the most out of all the aspects of camping versus urban living. Sitting at my desk and writing in my notebook, I realized how very bright and blinding the world is, when compared to the relative soft light of a thick forest. While camping, I sat on a rock in the woods. At my desk facing the window, I realized that I had to draw the blinds because the light reflects here from absolutely everything.

The cars and concrete and other windows strongly assaulted my eyes with reflected light that is unimpeded because of the lack of cover. While camping, the sun was shining brightly yet the gleam was dampened by the leaves and tree trunks so the light reaching the forest floor was reduced to a gentle speckling.

I continued my musing on this topic and realized that there are many aspects of light between the two areas that truly determine how the biodiversity of the land is supported.

In my neighborhood, the sun shines so strongly that planted flora will wilt and shrivel up because the soil itself will dry out into a solid block of dirt. To prevent this, I am required to either plant in shade, provide shade, or make sure that I water constantly.

However, in the forest, the trees protect the plants below from sun scorch (currently accosting my plants) and forces the atmosphere into a humid and damp state so that plant life on the forest floor abounds with the presence of mosses and lichens alongside what we think of as normal fauna. Although a powerful sun is present, the forest floor is healthy. The natural openings between tree limbs and spaces in the canopy where the trees have fallen expose new patches of ground where ground dwelling plants erupt. This natural speckling of light prompts biodiversity among our mountains.

The specific area I live was once prairie land with its own hardy plant species able to weather the heat of the sun. However, by adding more and more refractive surfaces around us, it raises the amount of light hitting the plants and animals in the area beyond that of simple direct sunlight.

In fact, there are recorded instances of city sky scrapers melting parked cars across the street because the amount of reflected light is focused and amplified onto it thus heating it to a melting point. Needless to say, the plastic components of the car were quite effectively ruined.

When we think of light pollution, at least in the way I thought it applied to me, it’s in regard to our ability to see the stars at night. Major cities and urban areas have so much light pollution that it dampens the light of the stars at night and some areas lack the ability to see the stars at all.

I’ve concluded that light pollution can occur strongly during our waking hours as well when the light is strongest in the sky, because we begin to create higher man-made levels of light in the area.

I could not find any studies or articles on this topic so who knows if day-time light pollution is a viable topic of discussion anyway? But stumbling across the idea while sitting at my desk, it was enough to make me think of human’s ability to cope with it.

When snow covers the ground, spending large amounts of time in the area without proper eye protection can result in a condition known as snow blindness. I wonder how that condition changes when the snow is replaced by windows and cars and metal and plastic and concrete and house paint.

Does it?

 

 

Watching Water: An Education in the Outdoors

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There have been many instances, especially during fishing, when my eyes pick up more information than the people around me see. Until I point out the fish or bug or bird it remains invisible to my companion. Now, this does happen often and with everyone, there are always going to be instances where someone else sees something that my eyes miss.

The thing is, there is a very significant difference in what I call my “fisherman’s eyes” than those that are untrained in staring at water. On a recent camping trip, the pond’s surface was rippling with the surface activity of many fish and I repeatedly remarked on this to which my sister responded with, “What do you mean? I can’t see anything!” From my vantage point the reflection of the pine trees made the water’s surface a dark green color so all rippling water shown with the glinting presence of fish. From her seat, the water glare made all the pond a bright white sky so I knew to angle my eyes differently.

This awareness of surface glare is not actually something that I was taught but something I instinctively understand will aid me in fishing. I have the automatic instinct to look at the water in a certain way to pick up things that others, like my sister, may sometimes miss. This concept abounds in fishing where my ability to see or feel or hear what others miss makes me a better fisherman.

In another example, I can perceive a fish bite versus a rock on the lake bottom just by years of learning to tell the difference between the two.

This phenomenon is something I think about often because it means that my mind is specifically geared towards fishing differently from others. It begs the question “What about the people that have never been fishing before? What are they to do when I see tons of fish activity and they see a lake with rippling water?” It is my philosophy that if you have an ability or specialty then it is your responsibility to share it with others.

If you have a fisherman’s eye or a photographer’s composition or even a way with words, use your gifts to help and teach others. All of us with quirky aspects have a duty to show our peers what we know to be possible.

To me, watching water for fish is second nature. I automatically crouch and cast and interpret where the fish are at. By experiencing my passion with other people, I am constantly reminded that my abilities make me a teacher. I am not a master by any means, but my education in certain things extends beyond the edge of gen-eds for outdoor recreation.

This I found from watching water. Some say fishing is boring and they can’t draw and don’t like writing and can’t cook but in all these things it takes an education to pursue. School is not the be all end all of learning, they do not teach fishing at my high school.

Thus, I must be a teacher in my field. All outdoorsmen have that ability.

The question is, what kind of education do you have?

“Upon Which We Stride”

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There are many ways to love the trees
And each is to their own
But these are the ways I have seen
These are the ways I have known

Run blindly through the undergrowth
Swing wildly from the branches
Climb swiftly all the rocks of stone
Heed not anyone who watches

Here we are young explorers
Those who wander though not are lost
Here we are proud sentinels
Standing at our post

In this way we are proud
Proud enough to feel free
Though the changes here are not loud
Here we become all that we want to be

Then, if we wish to dig deeper
If we wish to incorporate spirituality
There’s a second option we pursue here
And it’s one of utter simplicity

We pick a rock or ledge by a valley
Or overlooking a lake
And keeping our minds gloriously empty
We find what dreams it will make

Our hearts feel the thrum of the earth
The variety of life is no surprise
We find home is the land of our birth
And the land upon which we stride

 

 

The Paris Agreement Need Not Die in Our Hearts

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I cried to hear our president turned the U.S. away from a future with the Paris Agreement. I ranted and cursed and shouted and broke inside.

If the leader of the land I love is able to steer a nation away from environmental protection then what’s the point? What difference can I make with my camera and my words and my love for a sick land?

Aldo Leopold said, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Thinking about it, my situation is no different from exactly what he defined with his writing. By knowing what I know and learning about the land, I see much more wrong with our relationship with nature than common knowledge covers.

In this fashion, I feel the pain of the land as we deface it and scar the surface. I feel sadness and regret and helplessness in the face of this great adversity.

So, as with all things, I turned to the world for an answer.

Good forestry and ecological management is based off knowing the land and the trees. Black Ash is also known as the “Basket Tree” because it’s characteristic strength and flexibility easily translate into strips of wood to wrap as baskets. Studies have shown repeatedly that Black Ash forests that live nearby communities who still are basket makers are environmentally healthier than trees left on their own.

How? How is that possible?

Well, when a Black Ash tree is cut, two things happen.

One, the light filtering down from the newly opened area in the canopy allows forest floor flora to flourish thus prompting extensive biodiversity.

Two, the Black Ash, like the head of a hydra, will overgrow more shoots to replace the one cut resulting in multiple young trees from the scarred base of one stump.

The Black Ash reminded me that although we may have been cut out from the legs, we must renew our vows to protect the land we love at all costs.

It’s a setback, a large one, but it only serves to further my resolve.

Mother Nature needs warriors to take up their pens and cameras and microphones.

We are her voice.

Nature doesn’t need to sink under pressure if the people defending it do not sink either.

We can be strong.

We will change the world.

I started this blog mostly intending it to be a medium in which to document my own view of the world but also to prompt outdoor recreation. As I became more involved and my inherent voice began to grow more used and proud, I find myself promoting a relationship with the outdoors in whichever way you or I see fit for our own lives. Incorporating aspects of the natural world into our day to day functions will help us better understand our place within the environment.

Whether you find a connection through fishing and the water flowing downstream or a garden on your windowsill, the relationships we promote with the land help us find our place within it.

There is no right or wrong way to experience mother nature and we cannot truly be expected to all grow our own food and go hiking and camping on every whim, however, it is not hard to begin with small changes.

Do some birdwatching by installing a birdfeeder and testing what seed brings what birds.

Take a walk through a park and try to identify the kinds of plants that erupt from the nearby sidewalk.

It’s the little things that translate into something bigger.

Oftentimes I forget that I don’t have to do everything. It is not my sole responsibility to make proper environmental stewards out of the world’s people. In fact, I probably do less than the average nature lover. I don’t always shorten my shower or eat less meat. I fail to recycle every bottle and a zero waste existence is far from my future.

Yet I’m doing this here. I try to live life by environmental ideals and maybe someday I’ll reach a point where my impact makes less of a dent.

All we can do, all anyone can do without working for the woods is do their best to make the slight changes to life or simply their attitude. I wasn’t born with this passion as it is now. My parents gave it to me on camping trips and hikes when I was old enough to walk and by continuing to see and seek what the natural world represents, I gradually fell in love with the mountains and trees and fresh water in the streams.

Like any relationship, it’s an ongoing process of give and take and learning about one another.

Though we are slated to leave the Paris Agreement, mayors and governors around the U.S. have vowed to continue to uphold the path to clean energy and it is in this resiliency that we can grow productively towards the future. It’s simply a grassroots response to the direction of clean energy. What once was a large scale global response to the environment has simply traded hands to the people of our great nation.

It’s as I said before, it’s the small changes in thought and action that we as people can uphold which will continue to support the health of the natural world. We need not the support of the government but the support of the people that are governed.

That is us.

We are the change.

 

 

 

Plants, Animals and, Spirituality

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An author I am recently enjoying by the name of Robin Wall Kimmerer is a PhD plant ecologist and a woman who identifies deeply with her Native American roots. These two concepts of hard science and indigenous philosophies are an extremely riveting pair of views regarding the natural world and the roles we play within it. Most if not all of her concepts outlined in the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” are ways of viewing nature that I never once thought about or even heard about before reading this book.

I have no religion. I do not identify with any sort of religious faith or ideal although I do consider myself spiritual and respectful of those things which only spirituality can explain.

One of these things is human nature relationships.

The native American people respected all things as they believed that the trees and mountains and plants and animals all have a soul or a purpose to play upon this great earth. Each component of the community’s harvest was taken in reverence of the land and direct respect of the spirits of stone and cell. Although this way of spirituality is interpreted as animism, these philosophies were simply an ingrained way of life that transcends the beliefs that the human soul is different from those of other facets of life. Most religions stake a claim on the land and the humans soul, that humanity was placed and given or own those things in which they need. Many native american cultures believe that humankind is the same as all other forms of being on earth and that things they have are gifts and are to be treated as such.

As a person with a deep attachment to the natural world, I wonder if this way of viewing the world has to be a religion in and of itself or if this respect isn’t something that should be inherent in all aspects of life. Growing up with my view, I feel as if respecting mother earth becomes a hippy or far left agenda saved for the tree huggers and environmentalists.

I don’t understand why this respect for the land has become a cult concept and not kept as part of my culture. I see why, but accepting that humanity could become so selfish and self-absorbed to accept the affects we have on our home seems lazy to me. It’s as if humanity decided that life beside their own is of a lesser value.

If people saw the trees as deserving of life as their neighbor, if people interpreted the food we have as gifts from the land we live on, perhaps we would have a healthier world.

Especially after reading this book, I’m realizing that the way we remove ourselves from direct interaction with nature as a living being deserving of our respect is something we missed from our culture. This idea doesn’t have to be a religious faith or a religious ideal, this way of life is simply respecting the living home we all rely on.

Every single aspect of the world has grown in some way and can die in some way.

Humankind must better pay attention and relearn that philosophy if we hope to save the place we call home.