It was John Muir who once said “Going to the woods is going home”.
There’s a sense of calm in the midst of thousands of acres of trees that grow up around you, swallowing you whole, quieting not only your voice, but the voices of stress, society, and everything that seems to creep into our lives commanding our presence and attention.
We know these things are a veritable existence but they seem to happen around us without an entirely conscious presence on our parts, as to what is happening.
In the woods, one can breathe. In the woods, there is awareness, a fully conscious idea of what it means to be alive.
To be a lone soul in the wilderness speaks to a greater calling, the journey, the quest for finding quiet and for finding oneself.
Blame it on a mountain upbringing or the copious pot smoked in high school and college, or the varied acid and mushroom trips that found you at harmony in some of the forests above your home town but you’ve always felt more comfortable in the immensity of a wilderness among thousands of trees than in the confining streets of a city among thousands of people.
That life has always seemed nicer to you.
Here are some pointers for those who long for the openness of their nature and for the freeing of their soul.
1. Get ready
Pack your backpack full of several pairs of socks, a hoodie, a flannel, some peanut butter sandwiches, a water bottle, some duct tape, a lighter and a pocket knife. These things are the essentials and should pretty much cover your first few days to weeks in the wilderness. Don’t bring your computer or your phone or anything that requires power that you won’t have. Don’t be afraid to disconnect from society for a month or year. Also, you may want to make a stop by a wilderness store like REI or Cabellas and pick up a nice pair of hiking boots and a field guide to edible plants.
2. Leave your apartment, get in your car and drive
Drive until the city fades into the rearview and then drive some more, drive for several hours or days if you have to. For those who are more enterprising or who don’t have a car, stand by the side of the road and stick out your thumb. Someone will pick you up. Then drive. At some point, get off the highway. Drive until trees start to pop up around the road, and drive until those very same trees envelope the road. Drive until you haven’t seen even a house in the last hour and then pull over and get out of the car.
Put on those hiking boots and step into the forest. It may seem a bit disconcerting at first, but don’t be afraid to absorb it. As you walk, listen to the leaves crunch below your feet and listen to the birds chirping high up in the trees. Feel the breeze on your arms and face and feel the warmth of the sun as it peers through the towering tree branches. Walk until your legs hurt, walk until there are blisters on your feet. Walk until you know, in your soul that you are the only person who has ever been to where you are now. Walk until the only thing you can hear are the birds and the woosh of the breeze through the leaves.
4. Build Shelter, find water and do what needs to be done to set up camp.
Shelter, food and water are the essentials for life so it’s imperative that you establish these three things in order to live out your days as a Wildman. Find a river or stream or spring and piece of flat ground. Find some stray branches and limbs and bring them back to camp and build a lean-to. Cover it with ground cover so you’ll have refuge from the rain and then lay out a bed of leaves and pine needles to give you somewhere soft to sleep. When you’ve done all that, set out a series of snares for small game like rabbits, squirrels and anything else that would make a couple good high protein meals. Finally, once it starts to get dark, build that fire you’ve been wanting to sit in front of for your entire life. Sit quietly and stare into the fire as you sip on that bottle of whiskey you snuck into your backpack and think. Think about life, society, that girl you left behind, and what needs to be done tomorrow.
The ground will be uncomfortable your first night out but you’ll get used to it. Just lay their listening to the woods. Use your hoodie or your flannel as a pillow and try to find sleep. You will have probably left your antipsychotic meds at home so you will be restless and your mind will wander to some strange places. The sounds of wilderness are the scary part. You will wake up after a very light doze at least five times and think you hear growling or some ominous bush rustling, you will have to get out and pee at least twice and you will wake up at first light tired, hungry and smelling of the woods but embrace it, this is your life now.
6. Forget about everyone back home
By the third morning you are out here, you will officially be rid of everyone who loves you and who was suffocating you back home. They will have filed a missing person’s case on you with the local police and you will be out of contact with anyone but yourself. This may wear on you eventually so it’s best to just forget about them entirely and be your own man. After all, this little adventure should prove to them that you are worthy of being called a man.
7. Forage and hunt
This may take some time to figure out but if you spend enough time in the woods it will become second nature, before long you will be able to kill small game with your bare hands and catch fish in the stream without a net. Wilderness will come to suit you like your own skin and you will soon be more at home here than you ever were back in the city. You will find the peace you have been searching for your whole life out here and it will feel amazing. You are now a Wildman.
8. Repeat steps 4-7 endlessly and live as free as the day is long
You’ve been out here for several months and it felt good at first, but it’s getting a bit boring. Strange things have been happening and you aren’t sure if you’re hearing things for real or if it’s just in your mind. It can be scary in the woods at times. And there are times when you just want to sleep in your own bed. What are you doing out here anyway?
9. Become frustrated
No restrictions, no obligations, complete freedom. This is what you came out here for and you have it. You can feel the sun and the breeze on your face and arms, you can hear the birds chirping and you have successfully rejected the outside world. So why don’t you feel any better? You’re beginning to think the meds you were taking for your anxiety may have actually been working. You start to get worried. You talk to John, that ephemeral naked dude who seems to only pop up and say demonic things when you’re worried, every other time it’s just you. You miss that girl, you miss your brothers and you miss your mom and dad. There are times when you think if only I had a gun or a cell phone. Either of those things set against your temple might do the trick. Eventually, these things become too strong to ignore and you decide to try to find your way home.
10. Follow the stream
Since you really have no idea where you are, decide to follow Bear Gryll’s advice for getting out of the wilderness and follow the stream downhill, eventually the stream will become a river and you will find a road. Here you use the tried and true method of sticking out your thumb. Someone will pick you up. Ask to use their phone and call home. Cry because it’s been a year and half since your parents have heard from you and they had already assumed you were dead. Eventually find your way back home, hitchhike and panhandle or get your parents to buy you a train ticket back home and when you finally get there regale them with tales of your adventures and John, the naked dude who only spoke demonic voices.
11. Sleep in a bed
Granted it will be a bed in the psych ward of you local hospital but a bed is a bed. Marvel at how much more comfortable it is then sleeping on the ground and start to feel uneasy about that. Spend a couple weeks there and when you finally get out, make the ultimately wise decision that taking your meds is something that has to be done. Resign yourself to a quiet life that’s as close to normal as possible and eventually find the strength within yourself to write and start telling your story. When you become a famous author, regale the guests at parties with stories of spending a year and a half alone in the woods going crazy and become the talk of the town. It’s fun at first, but like anything it starts to get old.