Avon has always been a very hyper dog, but recently she’s gotten a little calmer — and that’s because she suddenly realized that her mom is pregnant.
“I think she first noticed I was pregnant when I was around 14 [to] 15 weeks because she would normally jump around so much, but she started being more gentle,” Shea Haugen, Avon’s mom, told The Dodo.
Now, Avon loves to rest her head on her Mom’s belly — because she loves listening to her baby brother moving around inside.
“She definitely lays her head down to listen to him and she gets really excited when he kicks,” Haugen said. “Typically that’s when her tail starts wagging uncontrollably.”
The dog who used to be so hyper and moving around all the time could now lay with her head on mom’s belly and listen to her baby brother forever, and that’s what true love looks like. Avon can’t wait to meet the newest member of her family, and her mom has a feeling he can’t wait to meet her, too.
“Funny enough, my baby boy seems to like [giving] her a good kick whenever she lays her head on my tummy,” Haugen said.
Very soon, Avon is going to be a big sister. In the meantime, she’ll keep following Mom around and laying her head on her belly, proving to everyone what an incredible big sister she’s going to be.
There’s no question at all that the bond between dogs and humans is so, so special.
Jean and I belong to a local group of Freethinkers and Atheists and at our Zoom session held last Saturday someone mentioned how he was a follower of Sangah’s music. We hadn’t previously heard of the South Korean musician but these days it didn’t take much effort to find out a lot more.
Sangah has her own website from which the following is noted:
Sangah Noona was born in Seoul, South Korea. Shortly after beginning her piano lessons at the age of five, her piano teacher was able to hone her talents for music, and suggested that she seriously consider pursing music for her future. She grew up with her piano as her best friend. She loved to practice, usually spending five to seven hours a day. At the age of nine, she had all but decided to focus her attention on becoming a musician. Before moving to the United States in 2010, she was able to have many great experiences and fond memories as her musical career flourished in South Korea. After moving to the US with a fresh start, she was able to live at a more manageable performing pace, but as she can’t live without music in her life, she will never stop performing! Sangah’s overall objective for music, including her teaching, is being able to share her gift of music with others.
I have only recently made the acquaintance of Sarah’s blog The Two Of Us but it already has been a delight. So much so that I reached out to Sarah and asked if she would like to be a guest author. I am delighted to report that Sarah was pleased to do so.
First, let me add a little more about her blog. The Two Of Us has a sub-title of A college student and a Border Collie stumbling through life.
Next, Sarah explained in an email to me that:
I’m Sarah and my dog is Brèagha. She’s a Border Collie and I’m a college student hoping to become an animal behaviorist of some sort. Brèagha and I have been together for 3 years, and they have been the best three years of my life so far.
So with no further ado, here is Sarah’s guest post.
Every breath you take
By Sarah, November 6th, 2020
One of the things you get used to when you have a herdy type of dog (especially a Border Collie) is the staring. They stare. And they stare intensely. Your own personal stalker.
One of those things that might be rated “annoying” for some but definitely falls under “endearing” for me.
I love every last weird thing about her.
Now that last picture reminds me of a recent post on Learning from Dogs, namely The dog world!where I republished the scientific work by Ellen Furlong, Associate Professor of Psychology, Illinois Wesleyan University.
In her report Ellen said, and I quote an extract from that post:
I probably wanted to say “This is very beautiful in a profound and spiritual way.“
One of the many things that make this funny world of blogging so delightful is the connections that are made.
Recently Learning from Dogs got a follow from a person who herself was a blogger. This is what she wrote on her About page.
Endurance athlete, artist, and fourth generation Oregonian. I grew up on the central Oregon coast and lived in the Willamette Valley most of my adult life. My endurance work is an intersection of spiritual, personal and creative practices. I fall in love with places, like people, and dream of them often. I am not a travel writer, bucket lister, photographer, peak bagger or a competitive athlete. I seek only passage.
I was intrigued. No, more than that, I was curious about her. I wanted to know more.
When I left a message of thanks over on her blog this is what I said:
Oh my goodness. I came here ostensibly to leave a fairly standard thank you for your decision to follow Learning from Dogs. But then I saw what you had written and, also, the beautiful photographs you have taken. I was just bowled over!
Do you have a dog or two? Because if you do I would love you to write a guest post over at my place. Or give me permission to republish one of your posts? But I would prefer the former.
My dear wife, Jean, and me are both British. We met in Mexico in 2007 and I moved out permanently in late 2008 with my GSD Pharaoh. We came up to the USA in 2010 and were married and then came to Southern Oregon in 2012. We live close to Merlin, Josephine County and just love it to pieces. Originally we had 16 dogs but are now down to 6!
Regrettably she is allergic to dogs but she quickly gave me permission to republish a post of hers.
This is it. It is remarkable!
Into the fold: Basin and Range
May 26th, 2020
I guess I should have expected the snow, above 6000’ in the springtime. Flurries swirled around my car as I removed my leggings in the backseat and began cleaning my wounds. I was bleeding in four places, the largest of which was a grapefruit sized ooze of blood on my knee. What was supposed to be a quick, 3 mile warm up hike turned into an assorted practice of skills I’ve acquired over the last ten years in the woods.
How to navigate trailless canyons full of thorny brush.
How to step when gaining upon steep fields of melting snow.
How to traverses loose, snow covered boulder fields.
How to field dress a wound.
How to know when to turn around.
How to navigate by sight and evaluate terrain.
How to avoid getting your ankle crushed by a dislodged boulder.
How to stay calm when things get intense.
How to get your head back in the game.
How to self evacuate.
How to accept failure.
How to relish in it.
Later, with my knee buzzing slightly from the pain, I make my way into a canyon on the western flank of the mountain. I know this canyon well. There is a safe place to hide from the rain, to collect drinking water, and I don’t have to worry about the roads turning to mud if the storms linger through the night. While my water filter drips, I follow the creek upstream. Wind swirls, aspens chatter, clouds are ripping across the sky. House sized, red violet boulders protrude from the hillside, they look like ships caught in the crest of a giant wave.
The sun is setting, the pain in my leg forgotten. I take my full water jugs and find a place to camp along the rocky beach of an alkaline lake. These lakes are the remnants of massive, Pleistocene era inland seas. Their waves are black. In the coldest parts of winter they freeze into a slurry of ice and the motion of the waves seems to slow. Like watching an inky black slurpee ocean crash against the rocky shore.
I eat instant noodles, drink tea, and think about the “real” ocean, where I was born.
To me, the desert and the ocean are like two sides of the same coin. I can watch the light change over the hills for hours, just like I can watch the waves break along the coast. Both are fascinating. The ocean always seems impassable, uncrossable, infinite, unforgiving. The desert is too, if you know the dangers well enough. I think about my close call on the mountain earlier. It’s like an old timer told me once, “…but only a fool tries to cross the desert”.
“Okay”, I said.
When the sun rises, I am already awake, shoving things around, getting ready to ride out to the canyons on the furthest side of the mountain. The dawn strikes a distant rim and is bright pink across the craggy face. I haven’t climbed that peak yet, either. I smile to myself as I toss my pack into the passenger seat, turn up the radio, and turn the ignition. I’m thankful for the warmth in my car this morning. Thankful for a shelter from the wind before my work in the canyon begins.
I found the place, but it took me a while.
After nearly 50 miles on gravel and dirt, weaving around the backsides of sprawling, ethereal lakes, several wrong turns, and a quite sporting, rugged road granting passage across the valley floor, I had finally reached the gates of this remote, unsociable place. Rimrock lined the canyon walls, massive boulders littered the valley floor, scattered throughout the mostly dry river channel. Each possessed its own creepy, brackish pond at its base, resplendent with robust algae colonies.
Some terrain cannot be run, and this was one of those places. I settled in to a comfortable, brisk hiking pace and made my way up the canyon; sometimes following the riverbed channel, other times taking the game trails through winding thickets of sagebrush and thorns. I never saw the animals, but I could feel myself being watched a few times. I do not mind; I always remember that I am their guest.
The otherworldly feeling of the canyon persisted, even as the landscape changed, flattened, rounded itself out. I took the old farm road out of the depths and up onto the flats again. The road leveled out as it wound it’s way around the mouth of the canyon, now obscured by the sagebrush sea spread out before me. You can see everything that is far away and nothing up close. The terrain is flat and easy here. I break into a run.
I love running downhill.
It’s all gravy until the weather blows in. I watch it coming across the valley. The first raindrops are warm and fat. A rainbow spreads across the horizon, snow clouds form on the rim of the mountain, and the wind really starts to rip. I resist the urge to increase my pace. My body is already sore; I’ve been out here nearly a week now. As the rain turns to sleet and then hail, it’s time to practice the things you’ve learned once more.
How to layer for various types of rain.
How to guard your face from the wind.
How to bundle your hands in your sleeves so they don’t go numb.
How to take your backpack off, open it and retrieve a snack without stopping.
How to run.
How to run when your feet hurt and you want to quit.
How to run when the rain turns to hail and catches you out on the flats with not even a rock to hide behind.
How to run when you are crying and you don’t know why.
Where do you go inside yourself when fatigue and boredom set it?
How do you stay present in all of it?
Everything is practice.
When I finally return to my car, the storm has passed, for now. The mountains beyond the valley are fully obscured by clouds. If I stay here, the road maybe be impassable by morning. I want to stay, but I decide the best course of action is to return the way I came. Also, the hot springs are over there, and my tired legs say, YES PLEASE. I hang my wet clothes up to dry along the windows of my car, crank the heat to 85, and hope my puffy dries out by morning. I rally back across the bumpy valley, behind the lakes, across the basin, up the face of the mountain all over again.
The hot springs are mercifully empty. I take off my clothes and stand naked in the cold air for a while, staring at the mountain. When I slip into the water, I feel like home. I feel like I belong. I am right where I want to be. Everything is just right.
But I don’t stay long.
I subsequently asked where she had gone:
These photos are all from the SE corner of Oregon, reaching down into Northern Nevada. Hart Mountain, the Northern Warner Mountains, Abert Rim, Rabbit Hills, Summer Lake, and the formidable Catlow Valley.
Now you know!
But that doesn’t change my opinion that this is one unusual person who has the spirit of adventure truly in her bones!
At the end of May this year there was an article on The Dodo blog that just had to be shared with you. It was about the remarkable trait of Zelda, a foster dog that was being cared for. It is about coming home.
Read it for yourself:
Dog Travels 40 Miles To Find Her Way Back To The Woman She Loves
When Seneca Krueger first picked up her foster dog Zelda last year, she could never have predicted the remarkable journey the dog would one day make to be with her again.
Krueger, who works as a psychotherapist, is a dog foster mom who specializes in helping rescued dogs learn to trust people again. She’s fostered 30 dogs so far, but Zelda was an especially difficult case.
“She came with anti-anxiety medications,” Krueger told The Dodo. “Zelda paced. All day long she was either pacing or hiding.”
Krueger noticed that Zelda seemed calmest when on a leash, so she began tether training her — and slowly the skittish dog began to open up. “When I was home, she was attached to me,” Krueger said. “Over the course of two weeks of tether training, I had also weaned her off of her anti-anxiety medications, and the pacing had decreased. She was even willing to come out of hiding on her own for brief periods of time.”
After two months of living with Krueger and her two family dogs, Zelda finally wagged her tail. At four months, she began to bark and play — though she still struggled with unexpected noises and when visitors dropped by.
Still, Krueger knew that she had helped Zelda as much as she possibly could, and it was time to let her go. “As Zelda began to gain a little more confidence, I decided it was time for her to find her forever home,” Krueger said. “This is what you are supposed to do as a dog foster; help them adjust and then happily say goodbye as they go and live their best lives.”
Krueger drove Zelda 40 miles to her new home, but parting with her was more difficult than she anticipated. “I had to pull over to the side of the road because I couldn’t see through my tears,” Krueger said. “For the first time in my 12 years of dog fostering, I felt like I had given away my dog.”
Ten days after saying goodbye, Krueger received the call that every dog owner dreads — Zelda had gone missing after slipping her leash. Krueger immediately jumped in the car to begin searching for her.
An all-volunteer dog search team called START (Search, Track and Retrieval Team) had also gotten word of Zelda’s disappearance. The team set up feeding stations and trail cams around the area, and sightings of Zelda began to pour in.
As temperatures dropped below zero, Krueger refused to give up on her search. “The coldest days were the days I spent the most time searching because I was desperate to get Zelda warm and safe,” Krueger said. “[I] spent hours out in the freezing cold, following dog tracks through ravines, frozen swamps and fields.”
Over two months later, Krueger got word that Zelda had been spotted in Minneapolis, halfway between the dog’s new home and her foster home.
Only then did Krueger realize that Zelda was trying to make her way back to her.
The adopters surrendered Zelda back to Wags and Whiskers Animal Rescue, the organization that set up the adoption, and Krueger was thrilled to have her dog back — if only on paper. “She was mine again, and I was more determined than ever to find her,” Krueger said.
Two weeks later, Krueger received news that Zelda had been spotted near her home. She put out feeding stations around her house and began dumping dirty laundry on the front lawn in hopes that the smell would coax Zelda back to safety.
A couple reached out to Krueger to let her know that they had been feeding a very skittish dog who looked like Zelda. But after so long, Krueger didn’t want to get her hopes up. “Although I really wanted this dog to be my Zelda, I knew that if there was a lost, scared dog out there on the streets, we had to help it,” Krueger said. “Even if it wasn’t the dog that I knew and loved, and missed so much.”
Finally, the couple was able to trap the emaciated dog and called Krueger in the early hours of the morning to let her know. Inside the cage, Krueger saw a small, nervous dog, who barely resembled the Zelda she once knew. But when the manager of START arrived, a quick scan of the dog’s chip confirmed the impossible.
After over three months on the run, Zelda had found her way home.
“It was a miracle, and what else do you do in the face of a miracle? I sobbed,” Krueger said. “I apologized to Zelda for not recognizing her. I touched her for the first time in 97 days. I assured her that she was going home forever and that I never stopped looking for her.”
Zelda has been adjusting well to being at home, and couldn’t be happier to be with her mom again.
“She has become my Velcro dog, and is never more than a few feet away from me at all times,” Krueger said. “My other dogs are happy to have her back as well and groom her a lot.”
For Zelda, this family is forever. “I never could have imagined that the whole time I was searching for Zelda, she was searching for me, too,” Krueger added. “Zelda is officially my dog. But let’s be honest, it’s not like I had a choice. She is very persistent.”
Seneca Krueger is one hell of a lucky person and so, too, is Zelda!
Zelda was on her own for 97 days and Seneca for the same amount of time was also on her own.
This is a story that warms the cockles of your heart.
The point at which the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator is the Summer Solstice, well it is for the Northern Hemisphere. This occurs annually on June 20 or June 21, depending on your time zone.
Here in Southern Oregon, the moment of the Summer Solstice will be at 2:43 PM or 14:43 PDT on Saturday, i.e. today! For the United Kingdom it will be at 22:43 BST on the same day or 21:43 GMT/UTC.
A quick web ‘look-up’ finds that the word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time, albeit momentarily.
At the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge in Southern England, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect, for many years the Druids have celebrated the Solstice and, undoubtedly, will be doing so again.
There’s a good article over at EarthSky on this year’s Solstice. I would like to quote a little from it:
At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that our world’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23 1/2 degrees north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer – named after the constellation Cancer the Crab. This is as far north as the sun ever gets.
All locations north of the equator have days longer than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have days shorter than 12 hours.
Where should I look to see signs of the solstice in nature? Everywhere. For all of Earth’s creatures, nothing is so fundamental as the length of the day. After all, the sun is the ultimate source of almost all light and warmth on Earth’s surface.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you might notice the early dawns and late sunsets, and the high arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might see how high the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the solstice, it’s your shortest noontime shadow of the year.
If you’re a person who’s tuned in to the out-of-doors, you know the peaceful, comforting feeling that accompanies these signs and signals of the year’s longest day.
Is the solstice the first day of summer? No world body has designated an official day to start each new season, and different schools of thought or traditions define the seasons in different ways.
In meteorology, for example, summer begins on June 1. And every schoolchild knows that summer starts when the last school bell of the year rings.
Yet June 21 is perhaps the most widely recognized day upon which summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere and upon which winter begins on the southern half of Earth’s globe. There’s nothing official about it, but it’s such a long-held tradition that we all recognize it to be so.
It has been universal among humans to treasure this time of warmth and light.
For us in the modern world, the solstice is a time to recall the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Some 5,000 years ago, people placed huge stones in a circle on a broad plain in what’s now England and aligned them with the June solstice sunrise.
We may never comprehend the full significance of Stonehenge. But we do know that knowledge of this sort wasn’t limited to just one part of the world. Around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. If you stood at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazed toward the two pyramids, you’d see the sun set exactly between them.
How does it end up hotter later in the summer, if June has the longest day? People often ask:
If the June solstice brings the longest day, why do we experience the hottest weather in late July and August?
This effect is called the lag of the seasons. It’s the same reason it’s hotter in mid-afternoon than at noontime. Earth just takes a while to warm up after a long winter. Even in June, ice and snow still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat.
Ice and snow have been melting since spring began. Meltwater and rainwater have been percolating down through snow on tops of glaciers.
But the runoff from glaciers isn’t as great now as it’ll be in another month, even though sunlight is striking the northern hemisphere most directly around now.
Well it is to me and Jean and, I suspect, it will be to many other people.
I am an atheist. So is Jean. We have been all our lives. I think that many of you who follow this blog know that. The love that we have for our dogs, and all our animals, plus the beauty that is all around us in nature is enough. (Now I am not naive enough to realise that there are many, literally millions, that don’t have the same fortune in their lives.)
The Conversation recently republished an essay by David Weintraub that was first published in 2014. It is at the core of our existence and I am delighted to have the permission to republish it for you.
How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.
Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.
And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.
Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.
If we aren’t alone, who are we?
With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.
An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.
In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.
Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.
Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.
Bahá’í without bias
Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.
Light years from Mecca
The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?
Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers
At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.
Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.
No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.
Now I don’t really want to open up the subject of religion but I will say that WikiPedia have a great entry about the subject. My own view is that a few hundred years ago, when life was a lot more mysterious and uncertain, believing in life after death made some sense.
But we know a lot better now despite death still being a certainty.
We were truly alone when we went to Utah. (September, 2019.)
But then again, one of the privileges of being on 13 acres, 13 very rural acres, here in Southern Oregon is that being alone is not that far away!
I don’t want to underplay the importance of this posting, republished from The Conversation website (with permission), because we live in so busy times.
Written by three professors, it’s a very wise and profound article.
Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental and emotional health
June 4th, 2018
By Brad Daniel, Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College Andrew Bobilya, Associate Professor and Program Director of Parks and Recreation Management, Western Carolina University
Ken Kalisch, Associate Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.
As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.
We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.
Reflection and challenge
We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.
Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.
Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural and inspirational settings.
Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.
Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.
Putting it together: The outdoor solo
Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24-72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.
Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.
Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.
For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling and reflection time.
Retreating to lead
As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.
In order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.
I would modify that advice from Thomas Carlyle and that is to include a dog.
For in my experience when one is in the mood for a bit of solitary reflection your dog seems to sense it as well.
Last month, on a chilly winter day in Nova Scotia, Canada, Bryan Thompson had a chance encounter he won’t soon forget.
While walking through a local park, Thompson saw this: a stranger making his way through the snow, pulling a cart containing the most precious cargo.
Inside, bundled up against the cold, was a cozy white pup.
Speaking to the stranger, Thompson came to learn that the dog has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a spinal cord disorder which can lead to paralysis in dogs. Because of that, she’s unable to get around on her own — but that hasn’t stopped the pair from still taking walks.
The dedicated dog owner crafted the cart to ensure it never does.
In a post online, Thompson described his reaction to that scene.
“I told him he was a great person for doing that, because I know there are many who wouldn’t. He just said that she would do the same for him,” Thompson wrote. “It’s hard to type this without tearing up.”
Afterward, the stranger and his happy dog continued on their way — slipping out of sight, but not out of mind.
Thompson’s account of that touching encounter has since gone viral, inspiring countless others with an example of true love at its finest.
This stranger, who is not named, is just a miraculous person. Plus a caring and loving man. It’s no surprise that the encounter, as described above, has gone viral.