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I’ve been to a few places in my day — from the the Grand Canyon to the Eiffel Tower, Delicate Arch to Mount Whitney. They’re all quite different obviously, but they have all captivated me in one way or another. Is it because they’re beautiful? Perhaps that’s part of it, but I think there’s more to it than that. After all, why should we even find things beautiful?
There doesn’t seem to be a direct evolutionary benefit when it comes to non-human beauty. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t help us survive in any particular way. It’s a more complex emotion, attached more to living than it is to surviving.
To find a locale beautiful — to feel the goosebumps on your skin as you surmount a ridge, to shout in joyous exaltation upon reaching a summit, or to get tears in your eyes as you gaze across the horizon — is to connect with the spirit of a place.
What is the spirit of a place?
You may wonder what I mean when I say “spirit” in this context. Do I believe that places have some kind of spiritual essence, the natural world’s equivalent to the human soul? I suppose in a quite animistic way, I do.
But I’m not trying to launch a discussion on the nature of the soul in relation to the natural world. Instead, I want us to connect with the world around us in a positive way. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, it isn’t difficult to look at your environment and see that it isn’t static and unchanging. Every locale — whether urban, rural, or entirely wild — is host to life in some fashion. Every place is a biome.
Even if a boulder has nothing akin to a soul, no spark of life of its own, it still exists within that biome. Within that sphere of living things. It’s a part of that. And every time we enter an environment, we interact with that sphere of life as well. We should do so thoughtfully. That’s the whole point of Leave No Trace.
Why we should connect to this spirit
When you start thinking of the environment you’re in, how you affect it, the effects it has on you, and the role you play within it, then you begin to experience these places on a deeper level. The truth is that adventure should be a spiritual experience. Whether you travel far or just around the bend, you will do well to seek meaning on your journey.
Do places truly have something akin to a soul? I can’t tell you that, because I don’t know. I believe that they do, and that’s enough for me. But even if you don’t, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t try to connect with the spirit of a place. After all, if all places house life — and they do — then there’s something there worth trying to understand and connect with.
As I often say — don’t do it for the story, do it for the experience. A bold statement for a storyteller like myself. Sharing tales is what I do… And yet there’s more to my adventures than crafting a story. By connecting to the spirit of a place, I create a deeply personal experience that no article, photograph, or video can do justice. Sure, the story gives a hint at the nature of the experience, but it can never fully encapsulate it. I tell the stories — or commit them to writing — in hopes that they’ll inspire you to go out and have experiences of you own. Experiences in which you connect to the spirit of the places you explore.
Connecting to the spirit of a place ensures that every adventure is a meaningful experience. Why would I want anything less?