The author guides his skiff in the direction of muskegs free from digital connectivity, but there is no escaping thoughts of contemporary life. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

The author guides his skiff in the direction of muskegs free from digital connectivity, but there is no escaping thoughts of contemporary life. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

I Went to the Woods: Freedom of gratitude

I have fumbled for years attempting to put into words what the outdoor world means to me and succeed only in doing it well enough to recap a particular trip.

The experience is never the same, neither is the context in which I take the trip, so it is an ever-present struggle.

Last weekend I was particularly stirred by the frustration of the overall state of things, yet exceptionally grateful for personal circumstances. I wrote a column in my head Sunday, attempting to be present, but I couldn’t keep worldly things at bay.

It went something like this:

Three months ago this spot was thick with leaves and the green of summer in full bloom, before the decrescendo to fall. Bears used this trail to amble from the beach where a creek held a run of humpies, to the berry patch or even all the way to the clearcut.

There’s no algorithm serving up a distraction from reality or a complete fabrication in place of reality. There’s no posturing, signaling or heroic deeds such as posting hot takes with thumbs. There is no risk of deception due to our inability to stay disciplined and demand a more nuanced truth.

The truth about where I’m standing is that at one time it was logged. The old stumps are covered in green moss and the forest floor is carpeted making my steps silent. Nature bears the scars, but is recovering. The habitat isn’t as ecologically vibrant as it was when it was an old-growth forest so everything has to adapt, but life still flourishes. I continue to the edge of a muskeg and call, hoping for a deer.

Those who choose to talk, write or otherwise create in the outdoor realm are often seen as passive, uninformed or so caught up in chasing egotistical pursuits we can’t be bothered with the ills of the world.

This is fair criticism, but it’s a generality that inevitably lacks depth and understanding.

People are looking for constructive ways to feel connected, confident and build self-esteem and many find it outdoors more than in a realm rank with manipulative influencers inspiring followers with 2+2=5 logic. Intellectual, good-faith conversations about big-world solutions exist, but are regularly shouted down by enraged citizens who act as though free speech is reserved only for their team. Oftentimes these are good, well-meaning people whose purpose has been hijacked to serve the divisive goals of another and who take all the risk for those behind the scenes, pulling the strings.

Yellow cedar. Salal. Blueberry bushes with no leaves. I’m soaked both from the sweat of the hike and from passing through brush wet from yesterday’s rain and the morning dew. It was cold enough last night to form a freezing glaze on everything in the muskeg.

It’s not better or worse to choose a walk, hike, hunt or fishing trip as a means to cope with the brutality of humanity. But it’s not avoidance, or a matter of not paying attention. It’s a difference in reaction.

I feel no guilt when I enjoy my weekends and feel a deep sense of gratitude — and not just this week.

As is the case with everyone else, my choices (and algorithm) are a product of my values, curiosity and individuality. We have the freedom to be influenced by whatever we tempt ourselves with, and how we choose to respond.

As we speed toward a digital world bent on splitting us into groups and subgroups, I’m more grateful than ever to have been provided with the freedom and opportunity to enjoy life, and find purpose on my own terms.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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