Nature has a benefit to a person that is very difficult to quantify. I believe that most all people have a need to get close to nature, and to test ourselves against that great teacher. Nature can give wisdom to the wisest man, and most of the wisest men in history believed in returning to nature at times to recuperate. Rest and ease are not nature's tools of education, however. Nature can feel harsh, and unforgiving. Nature feels no obligation to you, and you are entitled to nothing in its eyes. It is challenge that makes you a better person, and nature is always willing to challenge you, if you let it. On this trip, it is solitude which is the greatest challenge. Men are not made to be alone, and for all people to be alone in the wilderness is a test of fortitude and resilience.
To be alone does have its advantages though; there is no one out here to disappoint, no one to accidentally offend, no one to impress, so forth. In a way, this is my comfort zone, this fearful, lonely wild. I feel the fear, but nature is an adversary which is predictable and basic. I am comfortable in my discomfort here. What I truly fear is back in the confines of civilization. I, like most people, wish desperately to leave the world better than I found it. If I could have my way, every person I meet would feel better about themselves after meeting me. Unfortunately, the world cares little for my wants, and I rarely feel like I have accomplished this goal. So in some ways, to retreat to the forest is taking the easy path, for me.
I went out to Sweetwater Lake, which is in the Talladega National Forest. The weather was perfect, and it was very peaceful. This lake is bustling with wildlife, including eagles, turtles, snakes, deer, fish, and assorted waterfowl. I recently received a new camera, which is much nicer than the ones I have been using, but my limited skill at photography prevented me from getting pictures of all of these animals. I was able to get a passable picture of these Plover (ornithology enthusiasts should feel free to correct me if these aren't Plover).
I also saw and photographed this snake which I assume is a Cottonmouth.
I took those two pictures when I was making my way upriver from my campsite. I paddled some distance up Shoal Creek, which feeds into the lake, until I came upon impassible rapids. (Not pictured)
My campsite was on the opposing side of the lake from the boat ramp, in a grove of low trees. Recent floods have removed most of the underbrush making a very clean campsite.
This goose stayed near my campsite most of the day.
I took a walk around the edge of the lake before dinner. I found a few other fire rings for future camps.
I cooked dinner as the sun was setting. The mosquitoes were not out in their normal numbers, I assume due to the still cold nights.
Being in the canoe I was able to bring more and better food than when backpacking. Night soon fell, and the sounds of night's denizens began to fill the air.
The bullfrogs were particuarly loud, but Whippoorwills and owls made their presence known as well. I went to bed early and fell asleep while listening to this chorus.
The following morning it had cooled off noticeably. The lake was shrouded in thick mist.
I made some bacon on a fire for breakfast, and then packed everything back into the boat.
The sun broke over the trees, dispelling the mist and warming my back.
It was a very fun trip, though it was not particuarly challenging physically. I feel as though I have succeeded in not wasting my time. I have felt cognitive dissonance of late with the way I had been spending my free time, as I was mostly wasting it. I believe I, like most people, was doing "rest" wrong. Being a college student most of my non-free time is spent being sedentary, whether in class or studying. This being true I believe that while I may feel like sleeping late and playing video games all day is a fun and restful way to spend free time, it is in fact a waste of that time.
My mind and body are not made for 24 hour sitting, and the last couple of months I have made a concentrated effort to fill my free time with constructive activity. I have been purposefully doing difficult things, and things that make me uncomfortable, as I am convinced that his is how one grows as a person. This has ranged from hiking after class during the week, which builds both the mind and the body, to planting vegetables in the back yard and other physical household things, to attempting to have conversations with people I don't know well (which I have found to be the most difficult, as I am not very personable or charismatic).
This commitment to challenging myself has improved my life greatly. I am much more satisfied with my life now than I was just a few months back, even though much of what I attempt to do is unsuccessful or marginally successful. Perhaps it is actually the lack of success that is the greatest benefit. At any rate I agree with Theodore Roosevelt, who has of late become one of my primary role models in life, that living a life of action and vigor is much more satisfactory than any alternative.