Gary Ferguson is a writer. His subject over the past 30 years has the natural world and the relationships we have with it as human beings. His setting has most often been Yellowstone National Park, but here, in the first of two guest blogs, Gary tells of his three months with 14-17 year-olds in the desert wilderness of Utah. People living these years are change-on-legs as far as my memory and observation go. And these kids were dealing with even more change given the choices and circumstances of their young lives. Thanks to Gary for this work and his words on change and listening. Make sure to check out his work. mmc
Many years ago I wrote a book called Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild, which focused on a compassionate wilderness program for struggling 14 – 17 year-olds. Some of these young people were struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Others were brittle with anger. Still others wore what seemed a nearly fatal sadness. Several weeks into the program, 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.
These days, knowing what you think can be a difficult proposition. Not long ago a group of researchers 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.
It’s not that technology is bad (never mind the claim by Swiss author Max Frisch, who once described technology as a way of organizing the universe so humans don’t have to experience it.). But in the face of this modern world we do need regular doses of the natural world. Not just for the sake of the beauty it offers. Not even for the quietude. But because, as Einstein liked to point out, for those who care to look, moments in the outdoors tend to reveal nature as overwhelmingly complex – utterly impossible to comprehend. And on the other side of that small confusion, that slight discomfort and disorientation,is a powerful sense of the imagination being set free. Of the world being no longer fully fixed, no longer fully framed. Suddenly there’s not just a slice of woodland or patch of meadow, but the potential of that woodland or meadow. It’s in that state of connectivity that we come to know what we think. What we need. What we can do.