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.

More in Sports

Competitors in the AlaskAcross 2024 race prepare to depart from Eagle Summit at 10 a.m. on June 8, 2024. From left are Bruno Grunau, Mark Ross, Forest Wagner, Mike Fisher, Sarah Hurkett, Clinton Brown, Tracie Curry and Curtis Henry. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Journey through a sub-Arctic summer night

“You guys are the result of thousands of years of selection,” Fran… Continue reading

Barn swallows firmly attach their nests to walls, so they support the weight of nestlings and visiting adults.  (Photo by Bob Amrstrong)
On the Trails: Spring to summer

Spring temperatures were cool this year, but the lengthening days gave birds… Continue reading

In the spirit of Dolly Parton’s country music roots, race participant Mendenhall River Community School Principal Eric Filardi runs in costume with young Lucy Vogel wearing heart-shaped sunglasses as they enjoy the sunny Saturday weather on the Airport Dike Trail race course. About 85 runners participated, many wearing pearls and pink hats provided at the starting tent. (Laurie Craig / Juneau Empire)
Busting out the pink and pearls at the first Dolly Dash

Dolly Parton-inspired fun run raises funds for free books for kids.

People often use sea ice, as seen here off Alaska’s northern coast outside the town of Utqiagvik, for travelling. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Did sea ice help populate the Americas?

Human footprints preserved in mud at White Sands National Park in New… Continue reading

A cruise ship makes its way through early morning fog last summer. The passengers who have been arriving lately have not been experiencing similar tranquility. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Racing the weather

Daylight is unstoppable this time of year. Not like up in the… Continue reading

Brown-headed cowbirds are professional egg-dumpers, always parasitizing the nests of other species. (CC BY 2.0 public domain photo).
On the Trails: Egg dumping behavior

Egg-dumping refers to the behavior of a female who puts her eggs… Continue reading

Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé’s Landon Simonson is greeted at home after hitting a grand slam on Friday during the Division I Alaska School Activities Association Baseball State Championships in Anchorage. (Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report)
JDHS baseball, TMHS softball teams make it to final day of state tournaments

Crimson Bears play for consolation title after grand slam win Friday; Falcons still in title hunt

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School softball team pose for a shot following their 18-0 victory against North Pole High School on Friday during the Division II Alaska School Activities Association Softball State Championships in Fairbanks. (Thunder Mountain Softball photo)
Final flight of the TMHS Falcons ends with 6-4 loss on final day of state softball tournament

“It’s been a fun ride,” coach says as team wins conference title, goes 29-12 during its final season.

Juneau’s Nate Fick leaps to make a catch while another Eagle River run scores during the opening game Thursday of the Division I Alaska School Activities Association Baseball State Championships. (Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report)
Crimson Bears finish sixth at state baseball tournament, coach calls season promising for young team

JDHS loses to Chugiak in consolation finale; scenarios for next season expand due to TMHS merger.

Thunder Mountain High School’s Ashlyn Gates, seen here pitching against Sitka High School during the Region V softball conference tournament last Saturday in Juneau, was named player of the game in an 8-0 win over Delta Junction High School to open the state softball title tournament on Thursday in Fairbanks. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire file photo)
TMHS wins state softball tournament openers 8-0, 16-1; JDHS falls short in baseball title quest

Falcons face Kodiak High School on Friday, Crimson Bears play consolation game against Colony.

The Fairbanks Experimental Farm on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus opened in 1906. (UAF photo by Todd Paris, taken in September 2014)
Alaska Science Forum: The gardening potential of the Last Frontier

More than 100 years ago, a man traveled north on a mission… Continue reading

Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé’s Ida Meyer (301) and Etta Eller (294) lead the 3,200 at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Track and Field State Championships on Saturday. (Pete Pounds / Alaska Sports Report)
JDHS’ Etta Eller takes gold, Ida Meyer silver in 3,200 at state track and field championships

Eller also wins 1,600; Wilder Dillingham wins 200 during event in Anchorage.