It’s easy to think you live on your own turf, especially if you live in a major population center. In the hotter cities like Miami, you can walk from the AC in your home to the AC in your car, to the AC at work. The same could be said with heat in a place like Toronto. If you work in an office, the outside world seems a very foreign inconvenience that you just skirt around throughout your day. If not, you gather tools to help you operate out in colder or hotter environments.
In these places, where people tend to thrive, temperature is our biggest concern. Sure, the heat can kill you if you get lost in the wilderness without water. The cold can easily kill you overnight — at the very least it’ll take a couple of fingers, toes, or even feet or hands. However, it’s usually just a matter of discomfort.
But every once in a while, we are reminded that we little more than just passengers on this earth, barreling through space. We are certainly at the top of the food chain overall, but traipse out naked into bear country and you might feel differently. More recently, we have been reminded that, even in our cities, we are tourists here… with the destructive fires out west or the volcanoes out east.
And there are personal times we all go through — humbling moments that remind us just how fragile we are, even compared to many animals.
I remember feeling this way in Ranger School, out in the mountains of Dahlonega, struggling up incline after incline with back-breaking weight threatening to take me down a nearby cliff. I prayed that nature would treat me kindly.
I remember feeling this way in the mountains of Afghanistan, pushing through waist-deep snow in negative degree weather. If anyone was going down out there, we would have to carry them out.
I remember exfilling up several tiers of farmland toward the helicopter that would take us home. The thought passed through my head: “I’m feeling like I’m about to go down… what if I don’t make it? Then I realized, well, then I’ll probably just die. Better keep going then.” And so I did.
I remember, days deep into the Burmese jungle, how now I didn’t even have the U.S. military at my back. It was just me and a few guys, albeit capable ones. I looked around at the vast jungle and realized that I was really in the heart of it, and if I didn’t stick with the Karen guides I would absolutely, 100 percent wind up dead. No question.
Or in Karen State, Burma, when I would go on a run through the mountains after we had reached camp — if I fell down a hill and broke my neck, it would be very, very likely that no one would ever find my body.
I would just be gone. Eaten by the ants and enveloped into nature. The great and indifferent beast.
I think it’s healthy to feel that — to be reminded of it, every once in a while. That sheer power can be terrifying, awe-inspiring, and profoundly beautiful, all at the same time.
This article was originally published in January 2018.