“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” -Khalil Gibran

The intrinsic value of nature is hard to explain, let alone to quantify. It’s much easier to feel, to learn it by experiencing it. This has been my experience traveling through the Colorado Plateau with WRFI over the past 9 weeks.

I’ve always enjoyed being outside, or else I’d be crazy to sign up for this course. In fact, I thought that doing this semester in a tent would help me to satisfy some of my desire for adventure and being outdoors. And I thought it would help connect my love for the outdoors with an academic foundation, to better understand how nature, a thing of great interest to me, ties into the workings of the world.

I thought it would help me to understand some contemporary topics of resource management, of where the issues are and whose fighting over what. I thought it would help me to understand more about land uses, and which direction human development is moving in.

It has done all of those things. I understand a lot about the human-land relationships on the Colorado Plateau, about resource usage, about the natural and cultural history of the area, and a bit about how each of those things ties into economics.

I understand why dams were built, why resources like water and coal are of great economic value, why borders are drawn where they are, and which laws seek to protect while others enable development. These are the instrumental uses of land.

But academics aside, this course has taught me a lesson I will value forever. It has taught me to validate everything else that there is to value in nature beyond its instrumental use. Beyond its monetary value or it energy development potentials or even the number of life forms it may hold. After spending the bulk of the past 9 weeks outside I have become aware of the intrinsic value in nature, the nourishing qualities that it possesses.

I feel so healthy, well fed, as if all of my senses have been being nourished by the sights, textures, sounds, and smells of my surroundings. The colors of the Colorado Plateau are vibrant, astounding- deep red canyons against the green of cottonwood trees and soft blue skies. The Green River is silky and graceful as it meanders through tough rock terrain. Away from the sounds of car motors or door slams or cell phones, there is room even for the sound of little lizard footsteps to carry through the air. There is a smell that comes with each wind gust, often the familiar old scent of dry dust being stirred.

I’ve truly felt the benefits of spending so much time in nature. As an individual my experiences became more vivid, I became more in tune with my thoughts and aware of my senses. And as a group, traveling with my dear classmates and instructors, I feel that our interactions too resonated more deeply. Though our conversations were usually light hearted, they were more real to us than is usually possible between people who had met just weeks before. All of the lessons we learned had more weight to them because they were learned through experience, propelling ourselves through each of the places that we learned about.

We spend a lot of time talking about the instrumental values in nature- water, minerals, plants and animals all playing a major role in the well-being of mankind. But at least as valuable as any of those resources is our ability to experience the world which has evoked all of those valuable things into existence. There can’t be many things as precious to us as our abilities of sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. And why waste those gifts staring at white walls and computer screens or walking on hard cement, when the world outside is full of color and texture far more interesting than those. To forget those things would be like forgetting to eat, it would leave you malnourished and tired.

Sleep is more satisfying after a long day of hiking. Meals taste better when they’re carried for miles on our backs, cooked in the open air, and spiced by hunger by the time you’re eating. It is nice to drink the water that you yourself scoop from a spring or a pothole that you’ve learned to look for as you walk. And to bring it full circle, the great “throne room,” “oval office,” “water closet,” the lavatory of the outdoors provides far more gratification and inspiration than the potpourri and cushy toilet seats of all the luxury bathrooms in the world could offer.

I’ve decided that quality time spent being in nature is foundational to being a human being, at least for me it is. I feel that each moment spent experiencing the natural world is rich and precious. The natural world is intricate and beautiful. It’s the only place perfection might exist. It would be plain out silly for anyone to exclude it from their life. The man-made world cannot compare.