While Nature can provide great solace and solitude, it can also be the source of great bonding with other human beings. I have had some of my loneliest moments walking through bustling European cities where I cannot speak with the locals, cannot ask for directions, and have trouble ordering a simple meal. Sometimes it’s hard to bond with anyone even if you’re moving through a sea of humanity.
Conversely, I have had some of the strongest and most memorable bonding experiences with others in remote locations, out in the wilds of Nature.
A few years ago, my family and I experienced such a moment while visiting the Sierras. We were visiting Kirkwood with the intention of doing some cross-country skiing. It took us a while to get there, so it was already mid-day by the time we got started.
Snowfall had been formidable that year. By the time we hit the trails, storms began to circle and our situation rapidly became quite unstable. We were soon, the five of us—my wife Cristina, and our daughters—completely lost. We turned to look for the parking lot where we’d left our car, and couldn’t find it; everything was buried under a new heavy blanket of snow. We had no cell phone reception. It struck me as nearly criminal that there weren’t signs posted for those who might get lost, should a storm occur in a remote area such as this one.
My wife and I thought our daughters had grabbed some trail maps before we headed out. They hadn’t. Suddenly, there we were: dusk looming, dramatic storms descending, gradually freezing, and confronting a full-tilt state-of-panic.
We eventually came upon a small warming hut where we found a few trail maps. We learned we were two miles from the nearest lodge. We had to make a decision: either backtrack and risk getting lost and freeze to death, or remain huddled in the warming hut where there was no heat or water.
There wasn’t a leader in our group that day. Instead, we helped each other to find a way back, each person participating, drawing on their particular strengths. Nature compelled us to do so. That day, it became our ultimate teacher.
In the midst of a truly harrowing experience, we found ourselves listening to one another. Each person was allowed to have a voice, even as our panic grew and grew. We collectively drew upon every resource available to us to get out of there alive: our intuition, our intellect, our sense of perseverance. We studied the trail maps carefully and decided, collectively, to make our way back to the lodge.
By abandoning our individual egos and bonding as a cohesive group, we kept one another from becoming complacent. We compelled one another to remain vigilant. There wasn’t a leader in our group that day. Instead, we helped each other to find a way back, each person participating, drawing on their particular strengths. Nature compelled us to do so. That day, it became our ultimate teacher.
My daughters drew upon their stamina and inquisitive sensibilities. These virtues eclipsed their fear. My wife provided our group with a sense of stability and calm. I helped with logistics, drawing upon my intuition, processing each person’s insights into a game plan. At one point, we spotted a snow plow and realized we had found our way back to civilization. We returned exhausted and bone-chillingly cold, but perhaps closer than we had ever been before.