In our new corona-climate era, we hardly notice the outdoor beauty around us because of “enclosure” feelings.
I certainly agree with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders and urge all good Santa Barbara folks to refrain from going outside the home — unless it’s deemed “essential,” such as purchasing food, going to work or obtaining medical stuff at a pharmacy.
No scofflaw here, and while out on our trails, I maintain strict social distancing and wear a red bandana as my mask.
Among the essential activities for healthy people in Santa Barbara I include walking, hiking or biking in or near nature. Our needs for deep-time reflection, for a moment of solitude in the hills, are quite as vital as our need for food and family.
We’ve seen a growth in domestic violence, children kept indoors too long, tsunamis of screen time for all, and humans generally feeling wild because of self-prescribed over-enclosure.
There are rising concerns over the mental health costs of a continued lockdown. Call it a form of society-wide “cabin fever”; it even bridges the gap between red and blue states.
As a longtime teacher of children, I’ve been fighting an even older limiting “enclosure” movement called the Anthropocene by hauling my students out to wilderness locations (see 4.1.1.).
Now, in the pandemic regime, many more of us suffer from overmuch “enclosure,” when spiritual suffocation can follow mandated physical and emotional shutdowns. Gasping for metaphorical “breath” in a hot apartment or small house crammed with the kids is one outcome.
While I carefully wrote above to “urge all good Santa Barbara folks to refrain from going outside the home,” I don’t believe we should stop heading into the hills to hike on our beautiful local trails. It’s a healthy contradiction.
Out of doors walking around (maintaining social distance) releases stress caused by penned-in “cabin fever” syndrome.
Here in Santa Barbara County, we are far less densely populated than Los Angeles or San Diego counties (where most trails have been closed), and we’re wonderfully adjacent to captivating public lands.
These include beaches, local parks (e.g., Elings Park) and the east county backcountry. An adult can drive 20 minutes and immediately begin hiking, cycling, swimming or rock climbing.
My own preference to simply walk out into a nearby canyon loaded with wildflowers and surging streams replaced an earlier outdoor obsession with endurance trail jogging.
Frequently, that meant running from Skofield Park into Rattlesnake Canyon up to Gibraltar Road and back. Leading those more ecstatic escapades was my dear friend and former UCSB pitching coach Rolf Scheel.
A former pro ball player and Bishop Diego teacher, Coach Scheel was a poet, a Romantic as well as an extreme workout freak — always outdoors, of course.
In our corona-climate age with its culture-wide cabin fever based on necessary “enclosure” measures, most of us need stimulating outlets that range beyond two-dimensional screens. How much Netflix can one take?
Gov. Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order, since somewhat loosened (he stated it’s “OK to walk your dog”), states, “Californians must have access to such necessities as food, prescriptions and health care.”
Hiking and wandering outside remain primary forms of health care, and are perfectly fine activities when following social distancing strictures.
If you perhaps live near a local canyon, beach or large park, you’re a free American and perhaps have access to a car or bike. Go there now!
Where is your civic courage? Where is your essential “ignition” to go out the door, fire up your chariot for a surge over to Jesusita Trail, to Romero Canyon, to Rattlesnake, to Refugio Beach, to Bill Wallace Trail?
All that prevents you is a lack of planning induced by corona-crisis-inertia.
In “The Plague,” Albert Camus writes about how La Peste has wrecked those living in the epidemic. They were “impatient with the present, hostile to the past, and deprived of a future.”
Such conditions foster self-indulgence (elsewhere Camus laconically notes “lots of drinking”), anomie, fear, anxiety … and loss of that special impetus to rise up from the chair, roar outside and hike free in the realm of nature and our public lands.
While I am decidedly not part of any alt-right “Roam Free or Die!” sect, and am not on Ammon Bundy’s mailing list, it is also clear that some of us are self-enclosing too much.
To the scolds who say we should stay off the local trails in Santa Barbara County, I say let’s go out there energetically and with our families! Let’s walk on responsibly (social distancing and mask-wearing aren’t difficult to practice).
I do agree that the front-country trails have become overly crowded, especially on weekends. My advice to fellow hikers is to head out much earlier in the day (I try to start by 6 a.m.), try going out there during the week, possibly after working hours, or to drive a bit farther — say, out to Gaviota Peak, Nojoqui Falls, Figueroa Mountain, Nira Camp and Paradise Road.
(I’ve written columns about all of those and many more.)
We can agree that humans today need the outdoor beauty like a parched man needs divine nectar. That “nectar” is here right now in the sweet water streaming down our mountain corridors, right into the sea.
The fecund floral displays, the beginning hordes of insects, the rabbits and snakes and birds. All of those glories and more are right out the door, but the first barrier to action is our own self-enclosing mind.
Camus also writes that living in an epidemic was exactly like living in exile but at home.
As I noted earlier, Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön insists we have a skylike mind — we crave the open vault of sky and unlimited cognition. Feeding, enriching and stimulating this heart-mind (buddhi) often requires the student of life to walk out of doors into nature’s vast cornucopia and rest amid overwhelming beauty.
» The outings included seven October backpacking trips with seventh-grade students from the Boy Scout area called Camp Whitsett, nine ventures to Baja California, etc. Albert Camus, “The Plague,” tr. R. Buss (orig. 1947), pg. 57.
— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively about the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He serves as an archaeological site steward for the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.