In 1996 I wrote a book called Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild, about a compassionate wilderness program for troubled 14 - 17 year-olds. Some struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. Others were brittle with anger. Still others wore on their faces what seemed a nearly fatal sadness. Several weeks into the therapy each teen went on "solo," spending two days and nights alone (discreetly watched over by staff), keeping a journal about the experience. I lost track of how many came back looking astonished, bewildered. "That's the first time I've ever known what I think," they often told me.
Knowing what you think seems harder now than ever. As I've noted on this site before, a group of researchers recently set out to estimate the number of years today's 14 year-old will, during her lifetime, be "plugged in" to some electronic device - computer, cell phone, television, etc. Their best guess was a staggering 28 years.
Concurrent with that trend we need doses of nature. Not just for entertainment. Not even solely for beauty. We need such medicine because quiet moments in the woods can also reveal nature as overwhelmingly complex. Utterly impossible to comprehend. And on the other side of that small confusion, that slight discomfort, is a powerful sense of the imagination being set free. A sense of the world no longer fully fixed, no longer already framed. Suddenly there's not just the woods, but the potential of the woods. Minds quiet down in such wordless places. And in that calm we come to know what we think. What we need. What we might do.