Many people long to be challenged in worthy and meaningful ways, and Erik and I experienced this a little over a week ago on a two-night, three day backpacking trip in the wilds of Yellowstone. It had been several summers since we had undertaken a longer outdoor adventure, with one-night backpacking journeys being the norm for a while, usually in places closer to Missoula and devoid of grizzly bears.

Doing difficult and uncomfortable things from time to time is good for the heart, mind, body, soul and spirit, whether we do them alone or with a larger number of people.. When we step into the great unknown with others, though, we inevitably shift gears from individual survival to a path of co-existence and cooperation. We also commit to journeying through a landscape with no guarantees of our safety and security. Alone and together, in the natural and in “the real world”, we can feel vulnerable and exposed. Time in nature continually reminds us of our relative insignificance, yet also shines a light on our capacity for humility, grace and compassion as a species.

On our Yellowstone journey we experienced moments of ease, flow and contentment, when setting up camp,  cooking and enjoying meals together, filtering water from high mountain streams, and putting nearly everything up on a “bear rope” when it was not in use.

Yet there were moments of uncertainty and difficulty, too, including slogging up sun-baked, nearly 8,000 foot high south facing slopes choked with non-native plant species such as Dalmatian toadflax and purple thistle. Or leaving trail in grizzly country to navigate toppled trees that had fallen the night before across the path. On our last morning, en route to explore Cache Lake, we encountered the fresh tracks of a mountain lion heading in the opposite direction. We didn’t see any mountain lions, or bears for that matter, on our journey, and that was certainly alright, as we both prefer seeing animals that might see you as a menu item when on day hikes or from wildlife watching vantage points instead.

Where the wild still rules and reigns, cycles and rhythms of nature and life much older than humanity yield their wisdom and knowledge more readily than they tend to in urban and suburban areas. For a blessed few days, we lived untethered to technology, to-do lists, worries about past and future things, sirens, air and motor vehicle traffic, smoke from wildland fires, and an already ramping up presidential campaign. We gained practice slowing down, being present, and using all of our senses to enjoy what was essentially free to experience, the gift of universal and non-human structured time, time in nature. Time well spent, re-connecting with nature, and with each other.

That was good medicine, and exactly what was needed to get out of our heads, and back into our wild hearts.