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Davis, California

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

In Our Nature: ADVENTURE

It’s almost electric, that shiver down my spine when I’m out walking on a dark night. Traversing a starlit marsh or wood, the eerie stillness is breached only faintly by the occasional owl or whip-poor-will. Although some, like my dad, are astronomers and lovers of the quiet night, the dark was always my biggest fear as a kid. Confronting it face to face on those lonely walks, I greet the wild panic lurking under the surface of my consciousness and lock it in a madman’s embrace.

When I stand under the electric blue of the alpine sky, there’s a sense in which the thrill couldn’t be more different. There is no fear hiding in the bright green of an alpine meadow or the incomparable clarity of a mountain lake. My senses are filled only with supreme freshness and brilliant sunlight. Yet the spirit of those mountains charges me with the same current, the same wild passion that’s present when I confront my deepest fears. It’s the spirit of adventure; it’s how it feels to be truly alive.

But what keeps this wild passion out of our daily lives here as students? What keeps every day from being an adventure?

It’s not like Davis is some jungle of concrete and iron. Unlike the archetypal dehumanizing city, there aren’t streets full of gray walls and gray faces under skyscrapers that loom so tall they block out the sun. But what can be hard to see is that this dusty, grayed artificiality isn’t always just something imposed upon us by our surroundings; sometimes it’s what we impose on ourselves.

Now, let me be clear. Tyler Durden, I am not. There’s nothing wrong with a desk job; there’s nothing remotely bad about a life lived simply, righteously and responsibly. The commitments we have to our friends, family and world are worthy and beautiful connections that we must nurture and cherish.

But when day in, day out, all we let ourselves see is the endless monotony of our schoolwork and other immediate concerns, we soon find ourselves stuck between walls harder and stronger than any city’s. Consumed by the listless calculus of the daily grind, we measure each moment by how much it can advance us toward success. All subject to the same dispassionate measuring stick, these moments blend into a faceless progression without an end. Like a line of prisoners in faded stripes, they trudge along with eyes downcast, locked to the train and lost in the system. And gradually, the black and white of these endless stripes fade into a numbing, deafening gray that fills our sky and crushes us under its weight.

Maybe on some level we need to count our moments if we want to achieve any success, but when counting is all we do, we lose what it is to be truly human –  what it is to truly live. And to find this feeling again in our lives, we humans must adventure. We must experience excitement and danger as well as awe and wonder. We must explore ourselves, stretching and reaching to the furthest tips of what we can be. We must find a way to feel the moments of our lives truly, madly and deeply, and in this quest we will rediscover the face of each moment and each day.

Now, adventure can be found any place one chooses to seek out, but there is something about wild places that set them apart from all the rest. Whether encountered on an eerie night or a bright, clear day, these wild places have a spirit untrammeled by the faceless gray behemoth of our artificial world. These are the places of truest freedom, that have never been domesticated or weighed down by superficial controls, and it is only in these places that we can truly connect to what it is to be our deepest, innermost selves. Because there is a wildness in us too and when through nature we unearth it from the depths of our souls, we’ll find a way to live in love with every passing moment – the way we were meant to be.

Through exploring the natural world, we can find this better way of life. While it’s true that we can’t and shouldn’t be free of all our responsibilities and concerns, maybe if we take the time to adventure every once in a while, our burdens won’t feel so heavy; we’ll have the wild, exuberant spirit back inside of us to keep us holding on while standing tall. Through experiences with wild places, we can bring our connection with our true selves back into our daily lives and we can begin to treat every day as an adventure.

Look up, look out, look around – adventure is in our nature.
Nick Jensen can be reached at njensen@ucdavis.edu.

Graphic by Sandra Bae.


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