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Living and Writing in the Natural World

Nurturing the Connection

Getting back from my two-week annual “retreat” to Hawaii has been, as always, an adjustment. Suddenly I have a wife (and until this year, kids) to interact with all day, rather than being essentially a hermit in Hawaii. That’s the easy part of the adjustment, since I’m blessed to enjoy the company of my family. More challenging is coming back to continental autumn or winter weather. Instead of it being 72 degrees Fahrenheit when I get up in the morning, now it’s 52 degrees. And the daily high now doesn’t even get close to Hawaii’s 85 degree high—heck, my daily high now doesn’t even get close to my former 72 degree low in Hawaii! Plus it’s raining here now in that 50 or 60 degree temperature.

So do I sit around and whine and avoid the cold and rain? Not on your life. Part of being serious about nurturing our connection to the natural world—all year long—is being willing and prepared to be outside in the winter. “Willing” is easy enough if you’re cognizant of the potent benefits to maintaining your connection to the natural world: enhanced health and vitality. What about “prepared”?

Part of my basic duties as a dad is being sure myself and my wife and kids all have good rain gear for outside jaunts in the rainy winters here in Northern California. For our money, that means we all have Marmot rain jackets. In the past, we’ve had the Marmot Precip lightweight model. That is, until one afternoon thunderstorm several years ago as I was exploring up the Lyell branch of the Tuolumne River from our campsite at Tuolumne Meadows. Of course I was wearing my Marmot Precip, but by the time I had sauntered back to the camp, the jacket had failed and I was wet and cold through and through. Not acceptable. John Muir could regularly get wet in the Sierras (and on Alaskan glaciers to boot!) without any problem. Not me. I need to be dry if it’s below 70 degrees outside. So as of that experience I upgraded to the next heavier Marmot rainjacket, the Oracle, which has been satisfactory for me.

Feel like a brisk bicycle jaunt on a rainy, cold day in the winter? No problem. On goes the Marmot Oracle, and since my mountain bike doesn’t have fenders, I also always have a pair of rain pants handy. My helmet sheds rain, so I’m off and can ride up or through a storm and have a ball. For the longest time, I pretty much regarded winter rainstorms as something to be prepared for and endured while outside. Then about fifteen or twenty years ago my daughter number two, Holly, told me that winter rains were her favorite times to be outdoors. I reconsidered, and now enjoy the smells and the fresh, cool air of these storms. And I promptly sent Holly rain pants for her bicycle rides in the rain while she was in college.

My newfound appreciation of storms reminds me of John Muir in Yosemite Valley when the great Inyo earthquake struck in 1872 (an estimated 8.5 Richter). Whilst others were diving under tables and quaking in fear, Muir was rushing about outside shouting “A noble earthquake! A noble earthquake!” and enjoying the site of 2,000 foot cliffs collapsing and trees bent to the ground. While the rockslides were still warm from the friction of their massive falling, he was on the new talus slopes, dancing down their inclines.

My newest gear for outside adventures is a Tilley broad-brimmed hat. The hat proved invaluable this summer in the High Sierra as well as in Hawaii recently, for the reason that it is equally effective at shading you from solar radiation and from rain. In places where both can bear down on you with intensity within the span of a single day, the hat is all-purpose—it even has a chin strap to keep it in place in breezy Hawaii.

So there’s nothing like having the gear to permit you to enjoy being out in the natural world regardless of the temperature or precipitation. It’s all part of being serious about this all-important aspect of our life on the planet. Enjoy!

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