Outdoors

What does it means to me, an outdoor enthusiast, to be "green"? A solitary walk in the woods gave me the opportunity to answer.

For millennia, man has pondered the mysteries of the universe by journeying to such places as deserts and mountains, so in that spirit I began the short trek up Mount Pisgah, hoping to come across some insight of my own. After all, our 5,271-foot-high peak may have been named after the Biblical Mount Pisgah from whose crown Moses viewed the Promised Land. But whenever I head into the wilderness, those first moments create a weird space of time for me. As I leave my car and enter the woods, I'm slow to wade into the presence of this so-called "primitive area" and leave the sounds and signs of contemporary living behind.

Man versus nature? Atop our highest local peak — Mount Pisgah — the author found both a natural respite and a reminder of man's impact on the environment. Photo by Jonathan Poston

My skin pricks with heightened awareness in the silence, reminding me that I'm being watched. I'm a visitor treading into the land of the wild, where in the absence of humans, critters and plant life make this wilderness their home.

Of course, my thrill-seeking side spurs me to charge up the mountain with a run, but I'm not far up the steep, rocky path when my lungs burn and my legs ache. I'm soon forced down into a walk on the leaf-strewn path, and even then my labored breathing continues. But that's when I really begin to look around and think of the forest as a system of perfection. The plants will soak up the carbon dioxide from my expired breath. And the leaves below my feet will decompose and feed the coming of the spring. It's one thing to read about this cycle of nature and the beauty it contains, but feeling the strength of its mechanisms right under your toes is another.

At an overlook, I pause to observe the blue-sky vista with renewed awareness. This isn't the first time I've felt this way, but the reminder is enough to inspire awe as I take a deep breath.

When I finally approach the observation deck at the summit, instead of staring out into majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains as everyone else is doing, I look back at the metallic high-rise tower that caps most of Mount Pisgah's peak. I usually try to forget it's there. Why, I ask, would humanity allow the erection of such a hideous monster here, of all places?

Then I overhear one of the people on the deck telling his friend that he hates thinking about going back to work on Monday. That's the reality of human existence in the 20th Century: It takes a lot of towers and metallic junk to keep our cell-phone signals strong and our televisions and PCs connected, yet we feel the need to escape it sometimes.

On my way down, I pass a couple of folks, and I want to tell them that they're almost there. But they're focused on climbing the rock steps and making their journey. In the big picture, I realize, it's a monumental task to "strive to be green" during our life's journey on this planet, and actions speak louder than words.

While researching my Xpress assignments for this column, I've been fortunate to spend a great amount of time with naturalists, hikers, trail runners, cavers, mountain bikers and such. Most of them carry a deep respect for nature. And their love of the outdoors leads them, in their everyday lives, to make time to think about how their actions affect the environment and how to act accordingly. They tell me how powerful nature has been in their lives and the wonders it has done for their souls. I especially recall some of the folks from my "Wild Root Wannabe" article (June 3 Xpress) saying that if you listen, the forest will speak to you.

Even in my short time on Pisgah, I could feel the forest speaking to me too. Nature is, after all, a spirit guide. Some have named her Gaia and others let her go unnamed, but all are spoken to. I think the true path to being green, for me, is learning to listen.

And the rest of the lesson can't be found in writing and thinking. It must be heartfelt. At least, that's what the forest has
told me.

[Jonathan Poston lives and muses in these Southern Appalachian mountains.
I'm a visitor treading into the land of the wild.]

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