Yosemite in Winter. Words from 1872 - Film from 2016

"Toward night all cloud and rock distinctions were blended out, rock after rock disappeared, El Capitan, the Domes and the Sentinel, and all the brows about Yosemite Falls were wiped out, and the whole valley was filled with equal, seamless gloom. There was no wind and every rock and tree and grass blade had a hushed, expectant air. The fullness of time arrived, and down came the big flakes in tufted companies of full grown flowers. Not jostling and rustling like autumn leaves or blossom showers of an orchard whose castaway flakes are hushed into any hollow for a grave, but they journeyed down with gestures of confident life, alighting upon predestined places on rock and leaf, like flocks of linnets or showers of summer flies. Steady, exhaustless, innumerable. The trees, and bushes, and dead brown grass were flowered far beyond summer, bowed down in blossom and all the rocks were buried. Every peak and dome, every niche and tablet had their share of snow. And blessed are the eyes that beheld morning open the glory of that one dead storm. In vain did I search for some special separate mass of beauty on which to rest my gaze. No island appeared throughout the whole gulf of the beauty. The glorious crystal sediment was everywhere. From wall to wall of our beautiful temple, from meadow to sky was one finished unit of beauty, one star of equal ray, one glowing sun, weighed in the celestial balances and found perfect." 

John Muir Yosemite, California. 1872

Florence Williams: 'This is Your Brain on Nature'

Yesterday, I had the chance to join friends from North Cascades Institute to listen to a discussion between Florence Williams, author of This is Your Brain On Nature - and REI's Bob Discher, at Seattle Town Hall.  

Florence Williams' book focuses on humanity's increasing disconnect from nature and the question of how good nature actually is for us. This review describes the themes discussed in her book and in yesterday's discussion.  

"For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods: Beethoven drew inspiration from rocks and trees; Wordsworth composed while tromping over the heath; and Nikola Tesla conceived the electric motor while visiting a park. Intrigued by our storied renewal in the natural world, Florence Williams set out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain.
Williams investigates cutting-edge research as she travels to fragrant cypress forests in Korea to meet the rangers who administer “forest healing programs,” to the green hills of Scotland and its “ecotherapeutic” approach to caring for the mentally ill, to a river trip in Idaho with Iraqi vets suffering from PTSD, to the West Virginia mountains where she discovers how being outside helps children with ADHD. The Nature Fix demonstrates that our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think and that even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood. In prose that is incisive, witty, and urgent, Williams shows how time in nature is not a luxury but is in fact essential to our humanity." 

As an audience member, what struck me, was the depth and emotion of people attending the event and some the questions asked:

  • "How much nature is enough?"
  • "What surprised you in your research?" 
  • "What about diversity in the outdoors?"
  • "What about gender? Is the nature experience the same for all genders"
  • "What are other countries doing to explore nature as a place for healing?" (hint - a lot, especially Japan and South Korea).

'This Is Your Brain On Nature', is an important book and a great read. Perhaps this was evidenced most, in listening to people speak into a microphone to ask questions. These were questions which were deeply heartfelt, questions that indicated -without hesitation -the depth to which we feel awe when we even think about nature. They were questions about what going to nature really means for us. 

Hearing intimations about love for nature, listening to sentences broken by emotion and expressions of awe - this left me wondering about how many times I've either taken my nature experiences for granted, or that I've put off going to where I know I need to be - to feel that sense of completeness - which is so important in our lives, and that we know can be found in nature.

"All good things are wild and free".  Henry David Thoreau.
 
 

Ryan Hudson: Peace. Power. Presence. Perseverance. Positivity.

Last night I had the chance to meet Ryan Hudson and to listen to his presentation at The Mountaineers 'Be Wild' Series in Seattle. 

Ryan is a North Face Ambassador, a youth leader in the program Outdoor Outreach in San Diego and a professional snowboarder based in Alta, Utah. On his first mountain expedition, he rode down Denali after climbing on an expedition with Conrad Anker and Jon Krakauer.  

He had a powerful message about one day in the mountains - ONE DAY - when he saw snow for the first time. In his words, he fell in love with the mountains, with snowboarding and he decided he was going to find a way to make a living from it - and he succeeded! Plus, when he's not training and competing, he's also out there leading others.

Ryan was born into extreme poverty and grew up homeless on the streets of San Diego. He met Chris Rutgers at Outdoor Outreach, a program which takes young people on outdoor adventures. It was one visit from the program leader to his school - and an invite to go snowboarding at Big Bear Resort - which changed everything.  

In Ryan's words "I just did it, it felt natural, I saw the snow and the mountains, I fell in love with it all and it was a moment that changed my life forever"

There were many take-aways from his talk last night, not least the Five P's - a motivational reminder which he created while on his Denali expedition.  

  • Peace
  • Power
  • Presence
  • Perseverance
  • Positivity 

I'm looking forward to learning more from Hudson and Rutgers, but something that stood out in his talk last night was the importance of being patient with youth - not pushing ideas, but creating a welcoming environment where someone can develop their own love of nature, whether it be the beach, or surfing or mountain sports. He spoke of the important of just taking one person outdoors, something we can all do. 

Thanks Ryan for an great talk and an amazing story. Thanks to Mountaineers for putting on the Be Wild series. 

Outdoor Outreach are in San Diego. I get to visit them the day before I start the "In the Footsteps of a Saint" expedition. If you'd like to support their program - they'll welcome it. www.outdooroutreach.org 

Ryan Hudson - athlete, North Face ambassador, mountaineer, musician, writer, youth-leader and professional snowboarder. Insta - @rhudsonsb
#streets2peaks

In The Footsteps of a Saint

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

It’s a spring-like afternoon in Seattle and from my desk I can see across Puget Sound to the spectacular Olympic Mountains. I'm sitting here pondering, that four months ago, I recieved an enquiry about a book - A book which I immediately knew I wanted to try and write. Now, all of a sudden - I'm leaving in two weeks on the longest expedition I’ve ever done. I won't lie, I'm a wee bit flustered - but I'm really excited as well.  

Expedition and Book:

For once, the adventure is not about a particular mountain or place or trail - it’s about a dream I’ve had for most of my life, an opportunity to immerse myself in nature writing, to create something that will make a difference to my community. I want to write a story to advocate for the gifts of access to nature, gifts that I've received so freely and that go deep into my passion for wild places and the benefits they offer. It's my belief that these places are important for everyone.

To paraphrase the Father of our National Parks, I’m going out - and I’m going in. I’m taking a pilgrimage and writing a story about how important nature was for John Muir - and how important it is in our lives. I’m determined to learn about a person who gave his life to forging a vision which resulted in the creation of a movement, a movement which has provided millions of people, the gift of our most treasured and beautiful places for everyone to use.  

I want to explore more deeply, my own relationship to nature, the forests, mountains, deserts and universe which Muir wrote so eloquently about. I want to test my resilience in digging deep into the heart of the story of Muir and of the nature movement. To this end, I want to immerse myself in nature, live simply, with a few basic comforts - and to walk across a country that I’ve called home for twenty years.

If I am successful with this first phase, I will then travel to Scotland - where I grew up - and where the story of John Muir began. The last days of the expedition will be along the same beaches where my brother and I grew up, where my grandparents did the same - and where John Muir discovered his love of nature.  

John Muir

Moving from Scotland to Wisconsin, Muir trained as an engineer and worked in that field until he was injured in a workplace accident which almost cost him his eyesight. Referring to this close-call he wrote, “Sometimes God has to almost kill us - to make us learn lessons”. After his recovery, he set off from Indianapolis and walked to the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately to California. He never looked back - and from that point forward, he devoted his life to exploring nature and protecting public lands for future generations.

In The Footsteps of a Saint

‘In The Footsteps of a Saint’, is the name I’ve given to my expedition and the story. The plan is simple. To begin walking from the southern border of the United States and head north using the US National Trail System. I intend to do a continuous hike of just over 3000 miles - and climb some of the iconic peaks that Muir climbed in his lifetime. I'll be hiking with his journals as well as journals of Thoreau and Emmerson, who Muir considered role-models for his work.

While Muir is known as a naturalist, botanist, hiker and writer, he was also a highly accomplished Mountaineer, with first ascents including Mount Whitney (Mountaineers Route) and Cathedral Peak (first recorded technical climb in USA) among others. He climbed Mount Shasta twice, attempted Mount Hood but never saw it’s summit. His climb on Mount Rainier, at age 50, paved the way for the creation of the National Parks Act.

As closely as possible I’ll attempt to replicate the routes taken by Muir himself including a tribute climb as part of a group of nature advocates - on August 13 - 129 years to the day which Muir and his party took a breakfast of coffee, cheese and bread and departed ‘Camp Muir’ for their historic summit climb.

The expedition will also include other treasures, such as the jewel of the National Trail system; the Pacific Crest Trail, The John Muir Trail ending in Yosemite, The Timberline Trail around Mount Hood, the Wonderland Trail on Mount Rainier and the Mountains To Sound Greenway which connects Central Washington to my home city of Seattle.

The last section in Scotland will complete this expedition, traversing my homeland from coast to coast on the John Muir Way. Twenty-miles from the end of this journey, on the second to last day - the John Muir trail passes within half a mile of where my family live. It's an uncanny coincidence, and I look forward to walking the last stretch with my niece Claire and nephew, Alisdair. If all goes well we’ll all be able to sit on the doorstep of the house where Muir was born, kick off our boots and start planning the next adventure!

I know that in 3000 miles of hiking and climbing… some unexpected thing will happen. Something will present an unexpected challenge and I’ve always considered adventure-challenges on a range going from ‘sporty’ to ‘spicy’ to ‘side-ways’! I can hope the challenges will be limited to 'sporty and spicy' - but I'm ready for anything! I'm sure there'll be some exciting storms, spicy river crossings and some 2 a.m. scratching-on-the-tent by who-knows-what, and in the middle of forest a hundred miles from anywhere! I do love my wilderness, but I also agree with the famous mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, who said, “Everyone is afraid of the dark…!”  

I can’t plan for every eventuality and I know well, that we can’t control risk. However, we can mitigate them. To this end, I will hike and climb conservatively. I’ll mainly be going solo, and will be teaming up with some expert climbers/rangers and guides for some of the peaks.

To be writing a story and book about my countryman and hero, is a remarkable opportunity. I’m going out with eyes and ears open, seeking ways to convey Muir’s passion; his love of nature, his grit, his boldness, his humility and his deep reverence for the country he made his home. I want to discover and convey the essence and inspiration - which called him to do the work he did. I will write about his sheer-resilience and the relentless-dedication which inspired him to devote his life to protecting the some of the most magnificent parts of his new country. As well as founding the Sierra Club, Muir worked with three US Presidents and eventually became a naturalised US citizen, age 65 in 1903.

Staying in touch

Muir used every tool he could - to be an advocate for nature. He didn’t have Facebook and Instagram or a website - but I do and I intend to use them to tell stories and advocate for nature causes as I hike, climb and write.

It would mean a lot to me if you would share my media posts and check in when you can. I’ll be posting photographs, writing and conversations with people I meet along the way. I’ll do my best to make it inspiring and entertaining!

Thank you

Before I leave, I’m working non-stop on partner relations, funding and sponsorships. I’m excited to become involved in a major initiative to preserve 1.5 million acres of pristine forest and trails in Washington State and will share more about this shortly. I’m also involved in outreach efforts to create opportunities for people and groups to be able to get closer to nature - even when economic and other barriers exist. A special thank you to friends at US National Park System, US Forest Service. Mountaineers Club, Sierra Club, Pacific Crest Trail Association, North Cascades Institute, REI and Mountains To Sound. I’m looking forward to showcasing your work over the upcoming weeks and months.

Please join me on the  “Footsteps of a Saint” expedition and story. I'll appreciate the connection and encouragement - and please let me know if this project and I can be of value to your group or organisation in the form of talks or partnerships. Please also contact me if you would like to be involved as a sponsor and/or if you would enjoy to join me en-route.

I’ll be in contact in the following ways:

Which Way Is North

Dear Friends, 

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you are making other plans". 

In 2016, I spent a good portion of the year, working to gain traction on a not-for-profit project to arrange hiking and coaching services for groups wanting use nature experiences to improve health. It was challenging and many times, I found myself like a fish out of water, with too much time in the city and not so much on the trail. 

I decided to 'take some of my own medicine' and spent a month hiking by myself in the Washington and Oregon Cascades. I wanted to gain perspective on my projects, to recharge and to try to figure out some next steps.

My approach to this hike was to not have a plan, but to wander down which ever trails seemed to appeal. I went simply, just a tent, sleeping bag, clothes and food.

During the last week of hiking, I was strolling through a forest of old growth douglas firs near Eagle Creek, just south of the Columbia Gorge. The sun was warming my body after a cold night and in the space of half an hour, I felt a sense of peace that I had not noticed in some months. I had not seen any one for three days and was completely alone, with no map or compass, just following a northerly direction and knowing that I'd run into the Columbia River at some point. At around mid morning, I stopped to rest and just sat down, right in the middle of the trail. I wrote a poem - and then another - and I realized that I was just moving my pencil, but that the words were coming from the forest. Then it dawned on me, that for most of my short writing career - most of the time, nature is the muse. If I listen and don't try too hard, the words come effortlessly and hour can pass and seem like minutes. Right in that moment, I said to myself, "I write about nature. I am a nature writer". It was the loveliest realization. I made some coffee, stripped down and got under a waterfall to get clean, before wrapping up my writing and then strolling again, towards the Columbia. 

I shared this realization with my writing coach and teacher, Christi. She didn't seem the least bit surprised. Then a few days later, I received a call from an agent, with the question, "Would you be interested to write a book about John Muir and the nature movement?"

I've been a disiple of Muir's for years, I grew up twenty miles from where he did, in Scotland. I've read and studied his work extensively and some ideas came to me about how this project might unfold. I made a decision, that if I was going to write about The Patron Saint of Nature and the Father of the National Parks... that I wanted to go all-in and immerse myself in the life of John Muir, in the places he climbed and hiked, and to try to imagine what his life might have been like? I felt compelled, as well, to be a scholar and disciple of his work. Muir tirelessly championed the cause of nature and wild places for everyone, he worked with clubs, politicians and presidents to advance the causes he lived his life for.

I reached out to other writers, advisors, mentors and people I've been lucky enough to know - who have devoted their lives to nature and recreation. It quickly became clear that many people were willing to back this project and support me to begin. I recognised that we could use awareness from this project to support organisations representing underserved and diverse groups who, can benefit from nature experiences.

I also realized that in the current and crazy political climate, with all of it's divisiveness and angst - that we can all do our part to promote the healing power of nature. We can all make a difference. Personally, I feel that for all the gifts, I've been given as a person, coach, guide on outdoor adventures, I feel such gratitude that I'm compelled to do my part to continue the work that Muir began over 150 years ago. I may be just one voice, but I've devoted my life to getting people closer to nature and It feels like a civic duty - to create opportunities for others - in the same way that many opportunities have been created for me.

So I decided to put together an expedition using the US National Trails system and wilderness areas in which Muir spent his life. I decided to climb the peaks that were important to him and his to walk between these mountains on foot on a journey from one end of the country to the other, North To South on the Pacific Crest. Once done, I'm going to take a trip to my homeland and walk the John Muir Way across the country from West to East, ending up at the house in Dunbar, East Scotland where Muir was born and where he fell in love with nature as a young boy - on exactly the same beaches and hills where I discovered my passion for being outdoors in wild places.

Muir was a minimalist. He would stuff bread and cheese in his pockets and go solo or days or weeks. He wandered and gained material for his writing. I asked myself, what the fundemental question was, to be able to undertake this expedition and book? I realized that ever so simply - if everyday for six months - I asked teh question, "Which way is north?", then I'd find my way, figuratively and literally. I'll learn about what John Muir's life might have looked like and I'll learn about myself as well. I'm pretty sure I'll also find what needs to go in that book.

I've spent three months researching Muir, running logistics for the trip, working with sponsors, politicians, land management officials, parks staff, nature writers and leaders as well as a core group of people who I expect to meet along the way as well as on the peaks I wish to climb up and down the West Coast.

I leave March 10 and will be posting articles, updates and plans on this site; as well as on social media. Like any expedition, I feel the essence of adventure; I feel hope and doubt, I feel bold but humble - and I feel honored to do my best to tell Muir's story and to continue his advocacy. Mainly I feel joy at the oppportunity to wake up in the forest and mountains every day for six months. I think this will be an adventure that is unlike anything I've ever done. It combines my greatest passions and I'm looking forward to getting my feet on the trail.