By Heather "Zippy" Hoechst
Humans have been writing about wilderness and nature since time immemorial. Its beauty, complexity, and ability to induce awe has inspired us to find words that describe what cannot be captured outside its presence. I have collected some of my favorites—sourced from the internet, books, friends and family, and life experiences to share with you. Some will be familiar and others more obscure. I’ve tried to capture the diversity of human voices that have felt compelled to write about the natural world, as the wild cares not about the color of your skin or from which land you came. Some make me laugh, some make me cry, and some fill me with the urge to put on my hiking shoes and make for the mountains. Enjoy.
Part I: Adventure
“We don't reach the mountaintop from the mountaintop. We start at the bottom and climb up. Blood is involved.” —Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl’s words encompass the spirit of journeying to what we desire, which could be quite literally climbing a mountain or perhaps just getting through a difficult time.
“May your trails be lonesome, crooked, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. Past towers and castles with tinkling bells and down into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl. And down again into a vast chasm of red stone where lightning clangs off the profiled cliffs and deer walk across white sand beaches. Where something more amazing, and more full of wonder than you have ever seen awaits you, beyond the next bend of the canyon wall.” —Ed Abbey
While I don’t always agree with Ed Abbey, this classic quote fills me with excitement at what adventures may lie ahead in my life. It’s this excitement that drives us to go further, just one more ridge, to see what may unfold.
“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was about to happen.” —Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
We all have those people in our lives who make every experience an adventure. For me, it’s often my brother. Whether it was journeys through the woods behind our house as children or canyon exploration, epic bike rides, and climbing mountains as adults—moments with him have always been an adventure.
“The more one does, the more one can do.”---Amelia Earhart
I can’t count the number of times I have been told: “I could never run as far as you run,” or “I could never sleep in the woods alone” or “I could never hike that many miles in one day.” My response is always the same: “You can. You just have to start and believe in yourself.” This quote from Amelia Earhart reminds us that we can.
“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
What are our stories about? Our days spent on computers or cleaning our floors? Let the house get messy, leave that email unread, go for a hike.
Part II: Emotions
I have lived with episodes of depression for much of my life. When I feel that the world is crashing in, I go into nature and feel deep stirrings that I recognize as a knowing that the universe is operating at a higher level that I cannot and do not need to understand. I am filled with warmth and comfort. I’ve cried alone on mountaintops and laughed out loud in the face of the wind. Wilderness has its way of whittling you down to your most raw and exposed parts and then soothing it like a salve.
“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still.”---Gretel Erhrlich
I imagine my emotions flowing like a river, at times swirling and tumultuous, pulling me under as I gulp for precious pockets of air. And then, you get through that Class V rapid of fear or sadness or pain and you find yourself floating and at peace…at least long enough to catch your breath.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.” —Anne Frank
It is hard to watch a sunrise over the ocean or spot a shooting star or see the first daffodil of the spring brightening the brown winter landscape and not feel that all is as it should be.
"My aggression toward myself is the first war. Wilderness is an antidote to the war within ourselves." —-Terry Tempest Williams
There are times that I have gone out to the trails wanting to endure physical discomfort and pain to mute the inner voices screaming obscenities at myself. As my breathing becomes labored, my muscles burning from effort, and my body beginning to feel like it will break, a sense of peace overcomes me and I feel the mountain laugh at my silliness and the voices are silenced.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”---Mary Oliver
Oh Mary. You always say it so well. Thank you.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”―Rachel Carson
I sometimes have moments on the trail when the woods feel dark, cold, and uninviting. I set my tent up feeling unsettled and a little afraid, but knowing that the morning will come with its promise of warmth and a fresh beginning.
Part III: We are a small part of something tremendous. Live lightly and live well.
It can be easy to feel like we are the center of our world, to forget that there are billions of us on a planet that is billions of years old. The time that humans have existed is a microsecond compared to the lifespan of the universe. We must remind ourselves, as my former coach, David Roche would say, “We are just bits of stardust with delusions of grandeur.” In the end, what matters is that we are kind to each other and to our earth.
“A little while and I will be gone from among you, whither I cannot tell. From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is a flash of firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” —-Chief Crowfoot
It can be comforting to know that we live and die the same as the firefly, the buffalo, the deer, and the aspen.
“And forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”---Kahil Gibran
This quote makes me feel that the Earth is my friend, my childhood playmate, and constant companion on my journey here. I imagine the wind is nudging me, gently reminding me I am never really alone.
“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling”—Shanti
How delightful it can be to leave behind the soap, the mirrors, the hairbrush, the world’s conceptualization of beauty and just be.
“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.”—Alice Walker
Neither am I, and so are you.
“Hózhóogo nanínáadó.” Translated as “May you walk in beauty.”---Navajo blessing
In 2016, I moved to the Southwest to practice public interest law on the Navajo Nation. Over the past 6 years, I have been privileged to learn about the relationship the Diné have with the natural world. Once, when feeling sad about an injury that was keeping me out of my beloved San Juan mountains, an elder woman who was a client of mine said to me, “Be patient. Those mountains have been there for all of eternity and they will be there waiting, when you are ready.” May we all remember to walk in beauty.
About the Author
Heather grew up in an outdoor loving family in north Georgia. Some of her earliest memories involve playing at the base of fire towers in Brunswick, Georgia while her grandparents climbed up and down with their backpacks- training for the next section of the Appalachian Trail. She started running in high school and soon found that her favorite training days were on the trail systems around town. Later, while in law school at Penn State, Heather discovered a sport called ultrarunning, and ran her first 50 mile race in 2011. As she began to experience the joys of long days on her feet in the woods, she convinced her mom and aunt to tackle 160 miles of the Appalachian Trail- from the Hundred Mile Wilderness to Katahdin. The trip would be in honor of their mother and Heather’s grandmother, Alice, who lost her life crossing the Kennebec River on the AT in 1985. When they got to Katahdin, Heather wanted to turn around and hike all the way to Georgia- and so began a love affair with backpacking. When Heather moved to the Southwest in 2016, she continued training and racing ultra-marathons while exploring the beauty of the San Juan mountains and red rock deserts.