For many years, my primary motivation for hiking and backpacking has been to experience a form of meditation practiced by Buddhists called walking meditation. This differs from sitting meditation because the practitioner is moving outdoors with their eyes open, paying close attention to their experience of walking. This level of concentration is remarkably cleansing, especially over the course of a multi-day backpacking trip, because it gives you a break from thinking about the clutter of everyday life and work. I always return from my trips refreshed and calm, even satiated, by the simplicity of my experience.
But this year, things changed. I started to become much more interested in nature on my trips and the interaction of the environment, geology, animals, and plant life with one another. This came to me as a surprise. For years, I’ve backpacked with people who can name every tree or bird they see in the woods, and while I’ve appreciated their enthusiasm, I’d never felt it myself.
So I was surprised when I felt myself beginning to take a keen interest in my surroundings during trips and I and started to spend much more time observing and photographing the plants, trees, animals, and fungi that I saw on my expeditions. When I’d get home, I’d research what I had observed and began to teach myself natural history, biology, geology, and botany. Then, I started to write about it, as much to share it with others, as to cement what I had learned in my mind.
In doing so, I seem to have stumbled into a new hobby, being a naturalist. A naturalist is a person who studies the natural world, often as a generalist, combining interests in botany, geology, animals and the environment. Historically, some of the world’s greatest thinkers started out as naturalists, including Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, John Muir, and Henry Thoreau. But my goals are far more modest. I am content to observe and learn, slowly, and to take great pleasure in doing so, on the trail and when I get home.