One of the most frustrating aspects of living in a metropolis is not so much a disconnect from nature, for surely plenty of nature has been artificially infused into Dallas-Fort Worth and most other major metropolitan areas, but rather a disconnect from the reality that this planet we live in is a dangerous, beautiful, wild place, that the fortresses of metal and glass we live blind us, keep us from seeing the world for how it really is, and by extension, keep us from seeing ourselves, and our places in the world, for what they really are.
It’s easy, in an air-conditioned house, in a comfortable chair with a blanket over my lap and a tame cat in the corner, to forget that not so many thousands of years ago, the land, and the life within it, was an ever-present danger and source of life and prosperity that lived in the minds of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people at all times, breeding healthy fear, gratitude, and respect.
This is a feeling that I often seem to have lost.
The only way to find it again is to go back out into nature, to experience it for what it is, beauty and danger and something more combined into one.
In my latest adventure to Hawaii, I was reminded of how inherently untamed the world is, how it’s something that should be respected and cherished (rather than viewed as a simple curiosity to be visited and then forgotten).
In April of this year, my wife and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, and because time was limited, we immediately set out to visit the big attractions.
We were most excited to see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Now while I’d visited a volcano once before, that was a (thankfully) non-exploding volcano, which made the experience interesting, but not decidedly more or less so than seeing similar gouts of steam from holes in the ground in Yellowstone.
This was different.
This volcano had lava coming out of it.
Or, to be more accurate, it had lava that was bubbling and bursting out of it.
I would share the video I took, but the quality is terrible, so instead, I’ll share the video that someone took a week or two after we visited when the volcano went from some tiny bubbles and bursts to full-on eruption.
Note that this video is over 11 hours long. The eruption has been so large and so sustained that it is literally reshaping the island itself and adding new land.
For someone who has spent the majority of the life in a suburb or city, seeing something like that, the land itself bursting open, the violence of it, the unstoppability of it, the realness of it, was a visceral reminder of what I’d been seeing all over the island — that the planet is alive, that it does what it wants, that underlying its beauty is often terrible danger, and that this is not something I can forget if I want to be a full human being, one that understands they live not in a house, not in a community, but in a living, breathing, violent world that very much demands respect.
I’m used to seeing the world as a truncated, stripped down version of what it actually is. I never actually “see” the world in any case, but rather think about it in very small pieces. I think of small squares of land, usually centered around some population center, and I forget that it’s all one gigantic, thriving mass that’s been here for billions of years and will be here long after I’m gone.
And maybe long after we’re all gone.
It’s strange to think about that, to remember that, after enough millions of years have passed, the Earth will be completely unrecognizable (and so will we), yet it will still be essentially itself — it will still have storms, have oceans and rivers and rain, have volcanoes and mountains and deserts and life, will still be a violent, dangerous place that both sustains and kills the new, strange creatures that inhabit it, creatures that are just as wild and hungry as we once were, not so long ago.
It’s easy to forget how fragile our lives really are, how enormous and complex the world really is. It’s easy to shove the “outdoors” into a box and think of it as a vacation destination, a mostly harmless place to visit, to view, and then to leave to its own devices as we return to our supposedly safe house that, ironically, are built right on top of that same land. We act as though it’s somehow different, tamed, but the truth is, just like my cat, there’s a streak of wildness still in it that can come out at any moment.
Before the latest eruption, I would hazard to guess that many of the people living there did not really think lava insurance was something they needed to worry too much about.
The land showed them otherwise.
Everywhere I went in Hawaii, I was reminded of the dangers of that land. There were resorts that sat in the middle of wasteland deserts, places that would kill you in a day or two if you ventured out unprepared. The place where we viewed the lava lake was closed only a few days after because the gases coming out of the ground (followed closely by molten lava) were enough to kill you just by breathing the air. We went to the ocean, and we were given plenty of warnings about the dangers of riptides and crumbling rocks and hungry sealife.
But for all that, it was also a beautiful place, filled with wildlife that wasn’t nearly as frightened of us as I thought it should be, like this turtle near the place we stayed. It didn’t care that we walked right up to it—it just watched us, equally curious.
It’s easy to think of the world as a flat stereotype, as all danger, as all beauty, as something a little unreal, to think of the houses we stay in, the places we take our families, and the offices we work out of as the true reality.
Going out into the world and seeing it for what it really is — a complex amalgamation of beauty and danger, an ancient, ever-evolving place that will be completely different long after I’m gone, that was here long before I was born, to remember that my place in it is precarious and transient, to remember who and what I really am — just another creature lucky enough to live in this incredible place — that’s my upventur.
To see reality for what it is, so that I don’t forget how lucky I am to live in a safe, protected place in a society that supports my wellbeing and allows me to have a meaningful life — that’s my upventur.
And to go back out there, from time to time, and to feel the truth of it all:
That’s my upventur.