In our first book, OUR LIFE OFF THE GRID, I didn’t wander too far into the spiritual, zen, supernatural aspect of living this way. I concentrated more on the mistakes I made and, if there was any magic in the telling, it was simply that I was still alive and able to write about it when we finished. I did tend to slag urban life (and continue to do so) but I and my readers make allowances for that, I think, much as they make allowances for the proselytizing of vegans, AA members and reformed smokers. We’ve been burnt so we preach. They think we are kind of like ‘zealots’ in some way. Born again. A smidge pathetic.
I understand completely.
I did mention it all (the magic) once. First book. Last chapter. “It’s impossible to ignore the present when you are in the woods. Now is big out here. It embraces you. Living even partly feral requires an intimate and immediate awareness of your environment. The present moment is often so enchanting, so totally occupying, you are ravished by it. It is a momentous love affair with life.”
I got a bit carried away…
…..but, as it turned out, I was onto something. It seems the Scandinavians, more accurately, the Norse (the idea comes from older times), not only knew that there was something magic about being in the woods, they gave it a name. Friluftsliv means, literally, free air life.
But, in the broader context, the meaning is more about feeling alive and part of something natural and magic. It’s about belonging to the natural world. It adds an element of profound awe and appreciation to the mix. Frilftsliv means feeling connected to the earth, to nature and feeling all that at a deep and personal level. They also believe that such deep feelings open the mind and the soul to even greater depths of knowledge. It’s about being. They think we need this. They think we need this all the time. In that sense, they are like Thoreau – or, more accurately, he like them.
But the Scandinavians don’t just talk and write about it, it seems they also do. And they do in a big way. Thus we hear of these guys mushing dogs in the dead of winter, having campfires and such in remote places. Basically, the Scandinavians get out there. A lot. Getting out to the forest – as part of your everyday life – is a large part of their lifestyle.
So, what am I saying? I dunno…..I felt that magic. I still feel that magic. Living out here has a quality, an aspect, a je ne sais quoi that I tried to describe in the book passage above. The reality is, it is one of those things you really have to experience for yourself to fully understand and, more to the point, I do not think it comes right away. Camping for two weeks out of the ol’ Winnebago won’t do it.
I do not know WHAT it takes, actually. But, in my experience, it took me a year to ‘get it’. ‘Course, I was pretty busy during that time and so maybe it took me longer. I find myself telling would-be OTG’ers that it takes living out here for ‘at least six months’ but I am just guessing. I do not know.
My friend and distant neighbour, RW, read that last chapter and exclaimed, “You get it!” He’s been here for over thirty years and spent most of his life mountaineering. He definitely gets it.
So, why write about it? Friluftsliv is something I had never heard of until today. Never even heard of the concept as it is so clearly described in Norse literature. I read Thoreau but, until I felt it for myself, it was just words.
And, worse, we in the modern world have lost the right words. We talk of ‘Supernatural BC’, ‘Mother Nature’, the magic of the forest and so on but we can’t really convey a non-word idea that way. This is one that is 95% experiential. I wish I could describe it adequately for you. I know I cannot.
So, I will leave this blog entry at this: some cultures know it (Friluftsliv) and have incorporated it into their lifestyle and society. I do not think we, in the modern western world, have. Some others may have done so and have managed to even write about it but those lessons are in a foreign language at the very least. I do not read about this in my English readings so far. Thoreau, only touches on it. And those other-culture stories, too, may fall short without the actual experience to accompany it. But it is something. It is a very real something. It is a very real, very necessary and very healing something that we lose or miss at our personal and collective peril.
So go hug a tree or save a whale or something, why don’t you…? Take as long as you can. The life and culture you save…….