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Technology and Nature: Life Through the Lens

  

 Out on a forest trail, I was just closing on a particularly gorgeous specimen of Passiflora Edulis  with my iPhone camera when the phone gave the morose little beep of a dying battery. What?? It was fully charged when I headed out! I glanced down with surprise at the glowering red battery icon… How I could have used up that much battery in the last 2 hours? 

The answer was pretty simple. I was completely immersed in experiencing the world through my viewscreen- a couple hours of continuous use was more than enough to use up the battery. Thinking back, I realized that lately I had been spending far more time behind the lens of my phone’s camera than I had directly experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of the world around me. I recognized then I needed to once again re-evaluate my use of tech in nature- to find a balance that enhances my connection, rather than detracting from it.

Here are some key steps I use to help me find my personal balance between technology and nature: 

1. Realize that Modern Technology is not inherently nature’s enemy– it’s just a tool. 

Used correctly, Tech absolutely can help us connect better with nature: Online nature photography can motivate us to visit a beautiful place. Google Earth can help us plan our expeditions. Hiking forums, web based meetup groups and amazing outdoor photo communities like Yonder can inspire us to join together with others.

At the same time, unaware usage can narrow our experience of nature; shut down our senses, funnel our experiences through the lens of our camera, have us checking our social media or chatting on the phone while out on the trail. 

In order to see if you need to rebalance your personal relationship with tech and nature, ask yourself: which side of this equation do you usually fall? 

2. Test for addiction. The instant gratification of snapping a photo provides your brain with a quick shot of dopamine. If you’re not sure where you stand, try this simple test for addiction: Shut your camera in your pack for the day. If you find yourself automatically reaching for it at every beautiful view, instead of letting your eyes explore and caress the mountains and valleys, then you might just consider a more extreme digital detox for your addiction. 

3. Leave it behind. As a digital detox, choose designated times or trips that you will leave your tech (cameras, music, etc) behind and just experience nature through your own eyes and ears. No matter how useful your tech is, it should not become a replacement for your own senses. Using our own eyes and ears helps us develop and strengthen mental pathways that actively connect us to the patterns of the world around us. 

4. Take time to Interact with Nature without your tech. Sitting down on a rock and drawing what you see, writing or even just deeply listening to the world around you are all far more intimate and revealing interactions with nature than simply snapping a photo. Photos are so quick and convenient, we don’t have to be really there to take them. A more committed form of ‘recording the moment’ may ask more of you, but also can gift you with far more connection with your world. 

In the end, technology is only a tool. It offers the opportunity to get closer to nature- and an equal potential for separation. It is in how we use our tools, our technology- mindfully, that we define our relationship as addicts or independents. 

Kids Activities: Yucca Uses: making soap!

Want to have some fun with your kids making soap out in nature? Here’s how to make cleansing suds from yucca spines. 

Yucca roots and spines both contain the compound saponin, which has detergent properties. It will not only suds up and help to clean your skin and hair, but anything else you decide could be a just a little bit fresher! 

Roots vs Spines? 

The roots contain more saponin, and thus more sudsing potential, but harvesting your soap that way means death for the plant you take it from. I prefer to harvest some of the green spines- it may be more work for me, but means less damage to the plant. 

Soaping up in the field: 

1. Cut spine(s) from the plant, being careful to move slowly and avoid their sharp edges! OUCH! (Careful! Don’t get cut by your soap source!)

2. Pound and scrape the spines between 2 smooth surfaced rocks to break open the surface of the spine and separate the fibers. 

3. Once the fibers are adequately separated and no sharp edges or points remain, the yucca is ready to suds up. 

4. Add water and rub it between your hands. The first suds will be green as the spines give up their chlorophyll, then gradually turn clear/white as you continue rubbing and adding water. 

There you go: all clean!

Soaping up at home:

1. Gather up your spines as before

2. Use a knife or sharp rock to scrape off green waxy skin of the spine and save it to the side. 

3. Put your scrapings into a sealable container with water and shake vigorously for a few minutes to combine the saponins with the water. 

4. Pour the mix through a filter or mesh to separate out the scrapings. 

5. Store in the container of your choice- tip: hand soap pumps can work great! 

6. Enjoy your natural suds for anything from shampoo to dishwashing detergent. 

SAFETY NOTE: always test the first time of any topical plant use with a small patch of non-vital skin to make sure you’re not one of those with the rare but serious reaction!

 

 

5 ways to Keep Your Family Safe on High Country Winter Hikes

As we finally enjoy the snow we so rightly deserve it’s a good time to remember a few practical tips to keep us safe in this all beautiful white stuff!

Hopefully you’ve already figured out that taking a winter hike in the high country takes a bit more planning than a summer day hike, especially if you have little ones in tow. You already know to bring the right gear and check your weather forecasts – so I won’t belabor those points. (Not sure? Check past articles.) 

Here’s a couple tips about the worst winter offenders to help keep you and your little loved ones safe: 

1. Melt/Freeze. Teach your little ones the relationship between snow and ice and how to recognize changes that can signal danger. Just because you crossed that slope in the bright midday sun does not mean that it will be traversable in the late afternoon. The day(sun)/night(shade) melt/freeze cycle can turn friendly white powder into something slick and deadly in a matter of hours. As soon as that snow exits direct sun, watch out!  That also goes for crossing from open to tree covered trail- any area of shade is a potential skating rink in the right conditions!

Pause early in your hike to have your little ones test the tactile difference between shaded snow and sun illuminated slush to help drive the point home.

2. Stay awake and aware. “A little bit of ice” is nothing to scoff at – it becomes especially dangerous on the steep slopes of the high country, where an ice chute can turn you into a human pinball, and not in a good way.

Being alarmist about this (or any) risk can intimidate kids about winter hiking- instead of attempting to scare, I prefer to teach awareness and involve them actively in the process of taking care of our little hiking “tribe”: “This can be dangerous, so I’d like to ask you to help me look out for it as a team”. Involving them in the responsibility of taking care of the group does a lot to develop skills that they can use in later solo adventures.

3. Choose your trails wisely! Don’t assume that lovely summer hikes are going to be just as much of a pleasure in the winter… Some trails are seasonal for a reason! Just because you have hiked it a thousand times (in the summer) does not mean it is a safe trail in the winter! Consider level of exposure to the sun, recent weather conditions and elevation (amongst many other things) in making your choice of trail! 

4. Turn back if you encounter conditions beyond your experience. And keep a close tab on the energy levels, enthusiasm, gear and overall condition of any little ones in tow.

It’s not worth it to push it- most of the time you will probably squeak by, but don’t let that make you get cavalier- when the time comes, the cost can be far too high.  I remember one Ranger Patrol on Ramona Trail- an ‘easy’ hike made deceptively dangerous by a river of ice that had formed on the trail! If you and your “tribe” don’t have the experience or get to safely traverse the whole range of trail conditions, and double your efforts to get back home- get your butt out of there!

5. Navigation Skills. fresh snow leaves a lovely white blanket across the land… Obscuring  every single detail of the trail that once seemed so familiar. Don’t just head out on a wing and a prayer (“I’m a local- I don’t need a map!”). Make sure and bring a Topo map and the navigation skills to appropriately use it. (It never hurts to plan in navigational experiences for your little ones as well.) And don’t just assume that you can always just track your self back – new snowfall can cover up your shoe prints in a matter of minutes!

Now that I’ve been a Scrooge about all your wonderful winter plans, I want to encourage you to get out there and enjoy with your tribe- just do so with forethought and safety! Happy hiking! 

 

Winter Senses Meditation

It’s so easy to let the winter season bottle you up in your house in an odd mix of hibernation mode and cabin fever. But you don’t have to let winter hem you in.

Take some time to go outdoors and re-expand your world. After all, there are only so many board games you can play. Time outdoors has been shown over and over to be vital to our physical and mental health in ways we can’t yet understand and are only beginng to be able to measure.  

Winter is a great time for natural meditation (or just gathering your thoughts). To get back in touch with the rhythm of the seasons, I like to explore the world, focusing individually on each of my senses.

Each season has a unique set of impressions it leaves lingering on your skin, burned behind your eyelids, a faint trace of scent, a taste on your tongue. Each sense you have is a gift, so take the time to truly appreciate each one of them.

Listen

You say you can’t manage a woodland hike in this cold weather? You can barely make it out the door? Then walk just outside your front step tomorrow morning and take 30 seconds to do nothing but listen.

What do you hear? The crunch of your boots on snow. A bird call oddly muffled by the white blanket covering the landscape. The pattering drip of water melting off the trees? Take a deep breath. Take it all in.

Look

Take a walk through the pines. Leave your camera at home so you can see through your own eyes. What do you see?

The dapple of sunlight dancing its way through the branches? Early morning steam rising off the meadow where sun meets frost? Stillness interwoven with movement as birds dart their way between their refuges? Or maybe the clear bright stars of a winter night? Take a deep breath. Take it all in.

Taste

Every season has its own taste. The fresh young pine needles of the summer inevitably give way to winter’s sharp, dry tannins. Autumn’s fruity rose hips dry into tart little berries, just begging to be made into tea.

The world is there to be experienced — and there’s no experience quite like the crisp, clean taste of a new snowflake melting on your tongue.

Smell

My favorite reward of a hike in the mountains is the moment I take a deep breath and become aware of the fresh scent of pine and wet earth. Slowing down to enjoy the scents of the trail, my lungs seem somehow clearer, my mind brighter.

They say scents have the most direct connection to the emotional center of the brain — I guess that means that if you want to brighten your day, you should take the time to open up your nose first.

Feel

Winter definitely has its own feel. Stepping out into the wild, what will you feel?

The feathery brush of a snowflake against your cheek. The slippery lurch of ice underneath your feet. The crisp, pinching bite on the tip of your nose on a bitter cold night. The warmth of the fire embracing your body as you walk through the door.

Take a deep breath … and take it all in with a smile. Time in nature is time spent healing. 

So when winter comes, instead of complaining about the cold, go out and consciously revel in its crispness, its beauty, its sensations.