Looking around at nature sometimes reminds mankind that we are very small, and have a duty to this wonderful place that we call home. The wilds from which mankind emerged are no less important than the cities and towns that we now inhabit, but are even more precious for the memories they hold and the fact that without them, humanity is little more than a rapidly evolving memory with no origin. Standing atop a mountain peak or within the deep valleys, one’s perspective should remain upon the fact that there is beauty in all aspects of nature, and they are to be enjoyed. How a person enjoys nature depends largely on how they interact with it.

My first foray into the outdoors was as a child, when my parents would pack their gear, and mine, and head out into the wide open forests, or mountains, or anywhere they could find for the weekend. Our trips were always very memorable, and each and every time we took care to observe the nature around us and create as little impact as possible. Those that step into nature in an attempt to fully enjoy the splendor and peace that is afforded are often those that will seek to interfere the least. In this manner it becomes possible to fully accept and witness the majesty of an unspoiled landscape, while still appreciating the wonders that are to be seen.

I was taught early on to respect the landscape and do whatever I could to keep my

ecological footprint as small as possible when traversing the outdoors.  My parents taught me

how to minimize my presence in the wild so that I could enjoy as much as possible and take in

the unique sights and sounds that were to be experienced. By doing this they taught me a great

deal of how mankind can co-exist with the nature around them. Since then I have made it a common practice to make my way into the wild whenever possible to find a sense of peace that is not so easily afforded within an urban setting.

I have learned throughout my many hours spent in the wilderness how to minimize my impact on nature, and have attempted to teach this to others that feel the need to make their way into the wilds as well.  For instance, sticking to trails can help to prevent erosion from occurring, as going off of the established trail can displace a great amount soil and even kill off vegetation that animals need to survive. It is also recommended to always police one’s own refuse when out in the wild, largely because wrappers and other items do not tend to degrade I nature and can even harm the wildlife if they try to ingest it.  These are just a couple of the ways in which to help preserve and protect the environment, but they are among some of the most important things to remember when going on a hike.

It is also wise to remain as unobtrusive when in the wilds as possible. I have found that if one really wants to feel as though they are all alone with nature that it is wisest to go during the slow seasons, when most people are too busy to take time for a walk in the woods. One thing to remember though is to try and avoid the rainy seasons for a hike, mostly because you will leave more of a presence during this time, and a good hike means that you are as invisible to the wilderness around you as possible. Also, do not plan your hikes around hunting season without thought to your garb. In fact, it might be wise to not even enter the woods during hunting season, unless you visit a wildlife reserve where hunters are not always allowed.

This brings me to my defining moment as a hiker. I can recall being with my parents one

day as we set out on a hike within a section of woods that was known to be a favorite spot of

hunters. We had taken all precautions and were wearing our orange vests and hats so as not to be

mistaken for deer, and had set off. For nearly two hours we hiked around the wooded areas, taking in the sight and enjoying the various calls of several birds and the sight of several smaller, furry animals as they scurried about. It was only when we heard the first and only gunshot of that day that we figured it might be time to head out.

On our way back to our vehicle we saw the man that had fired the shot.  He had shot and killed a beautiful three-point buck, with fur that was a deep, creamy tan color and horns that were quite large I thought sprouting from its head. I remember seeing the buck’s tongue lolling out of its head, and being curious I asked about this. The hunter was a nice enough man to entertain my questions, and told me that a deer’s tongue is longer and used more frequently than a human’s. When they are shot and killed, the muscles that are used for the tongue, which are considerably stronger than those of a human, will relax, causing the tongue to loll from the head.

Some kids my age might have thought of this as gross, but I found it very interesting. What I found kind of gross but still curious was the sight that my eyes were drawn to next. The hunter had already field-dressed the deer, a term I did not know at that point, and left the insides lying the ground. When I asked him why he chuckled and told me that most hunters did this. When I asked why again he told me that while most hunters did this because these parts weren’t used or consumed, he did it to give back to nature.  His explanation was that he had just taken one of nature’s creatures, but had left this part so that it would feed others and continue the cycle.

I thought to ask him what cycle, but at that point my parents had told me that it was time

to be going.  We then bade the hunter a good day and made our way back to our car.  What the

hunter said stuck with me however all the way through my teenage years and into adulthood. I

always wondered about his answer, especially when I went hiking. The act of giving back to the

land after taking something appealed to me. As a result my hiking experiences from that time on

were greatly affected by the belief that I would need to do my part in protecting and nurturing the same environment that I love so much.

My first contribution came when I volunteered to plant trees within the various areas that I enjoy hiking. Since I was young my efforts to preserve the nature around us has been a driving force in my life. While it seems odd that a hunter field-dressing a deer would inspire me to preserve nature, it still stands out as my defining moment. Something about the way he explained that he was giving back a token of thanks to the land for what he’d taken resonated within me for years after and is still a memorable time in my life to this day. We all take something from nature no matt if we realize it or not, and by giving back we at least begin to pay the debt that we owe.

By planting a tree, taking care to maintain a trail, and even just visiting the great outdoors from time to time we as humans can come to better appreciate and understand the world we live in.  We take from nature continually no matter if this is realized or not. The energy we use to power our many devices and continue our way of life, the materials that are used for our everyday needs, and even the food we eat, all comes from nature in one way or another. In order to be truly grateful it is necessary to understand the source of our civilization and where its roots truly lie.  Only then will we be able to comprehend the true relationship that we as humans have with this world that is our home.

My mind still drifts back to the offering that the hunter gave back, grisly though it was it

was still a means of showing respect to an ecosystem that is at times rather brutal, but still

balanced in its own way. Mankind’s presence within nature is one of the few things that can tip

such a balance. It must be remembered that as part of this world we must be aware of and seek to

keep that established equilibrium in order to preserve and respect the nature that was already set

in place before our kind arrived.  If we are to give back to the world that has nurtured us and

given us so much, then we must remember that as a part of this world we are bound by its laws, and the consequences for breaking those laws.

Taking care of ourselves means taking care of our home. We have one world, and the more ways we find to nurture and give it the proper attention the better off we will be. How we decide to do this can vary, but the important part is that we do in fact seek to pay attention to the world around us so that we can better understand why it is worth caring for.  My own favorite hobby, hiking, allows me to take in the beauty and grandeur of the nature around us and helps me to understand why it should be preserved. If we take care of the earth it will take care of us in turn, as I have heard it said.

Giving back to the earth can take many forms, from the simple act of walking out and enjoying the sunshine while taking a nice leisurely walk, to actively planting trees to prevent deforestation. Anyone can help to conserve and preserve the nature that exists around them and can make an effort to reduce the overall carbon footprint that humanity leaves behind.  From recycling to reusing to reducing every effort is useful, and helps to provide a brighter future for the environment and for those that will come after us. The balance of nature is dependent upon everyone that lives on this world, from the smallest to the greatest.

The greatest act that anyone can perform is simply paying attention to their surroundings. That is where it all begins, with the effort to actually look around and take note of this wonderful world we receive upon our birth. As it nurtures and provides for us it is important for us to reciprocate those acts through random acts of kindness that will help to insure that the world around us can welcome and nurture future generations in all its splendor. Sometimes the best way to say thank you is to simply give a little of your time.  I find that a pleasant hike in the woods is a good start to giving back.

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