No Small Talk on a Long Walk: Looking Into The "Why."
From where I'm standing, people around my age are resisting becoming adults. Perhaps it's just the company I keep due to the activities I pursue, but seemingly no one wants to grow up. We spent eighteen years of our lives desperate to attain that elusive status, and now that it's ours, we have decided that it's not to our liking and you can have it back, thanks very much. And I'm actually not too upset with this. I personally enjoy being an independent and productive member of society, but as do others I surround myself with, I still cling to childlike traits such as play, colour, spontaneity, and inquisition.
The latter is particularly important. As adults we still ask questions of one another, but they're dull and don't endeavour to elicit any form of meaning or learning. For instance, small talk, and the dreaded yet inevitable query: "So what do you do?"
This question is lazy. It's a flashcard: one asks, the other responds. There's a definite answer that doesn't require a challenge or rebuttal or discussion. And if the small talkers are particularly disinterested in the process, invariably they'll invert roles. And then they'll probably move onto weather or news or something fact-based.
Never mind the fact that we're so obsessed with work and career that it's, sadly enough, our opening line when we meet new people. But that's a rant topic for another day.
Inevitably, though, I end up in situations surrounded by other adults I don't know, and they ask me that awful, banal question. And it's funny, because when I do respond accordingly, the follow-up questions are always equally fact-based: what kind of hikes do you do? Where do you go? How far is your longest hike? Do you get cold at night? What do you take with you?
There's a question that perhaps we are afraid to ask, because it implies that we are trying to go deeper, to learn more, and that the answer we seek may be longer and more convoluted than we have time for in this social gathering. That question is not "What," but "Why." Why do you do what you do, new friend?
"Why" is the most important question we can ask, and it's one that we all asked incessantly as children. Often, the answer is multi-faceted, but reveals a lot more about a subject than "What" or "When" or "How." Those are all definite - they relate to a fact or a process or a timeframe. "Why" is often subjective, and can yield infinite information to he or she that is curious enough to dare to ask a question with "Why" as its interrogative basis.
As it happens, when I've been out on school programs with teenagers (who may find themselves particularly reticent to be hiking up mountains with a full pack on their backs), it's one of the questions they ask the most; even if it does come from a place of incredulity that someone would actually choose to hike in the hills for fun, let alone employment!
And it's a good and very important question, as often young people are wont to ask. Why do I choose to go out hiking in the mountains?
Because I decided one day that I belonged outside with a pack on my back.
Because fluorescent light and grey office walls and 9-to-5 fill me with a deep, cold gloom.
Because I learnt that I am not defined by my education, by my employment status, by fancy clothes, or by the expectations and aspirations of younger versions of me.
Because I have no desire to wear a suit and heels to work.
Because I tried existing in the corporate world in many different manifestations, and it wasn't for me. At. All.
Because being out in those hills provides not just an escape from that world, but the ultimate, humbling reminder that we are just small organisms in an enormous, vast, expansive, delicate, beautiful wilderness, and that all the things in the developed human world might be important to us, but they are not the pinnacle of our existence.
Because I want to recognise and share that our place in the natural world is as a symbiotic partner; not as a visitor, not as a conqueror, but as a creature who is as dependent on nature's actions as nature is on ours.
Because I thrive on the sensory experience provided by the different natural elements: I love to feel the brisk cold of a frosty morning; to bask in the golden glow of a long, warm summer's evening; to be overwhelmed by the sweet fragrance of rain-soaked eucalyptus; to hear kookaburras cackling in the trees, mocking me as I struggle up a steep spur; to taste the sweet, unadulterated water from a mountain spring or creek; to stand on a peak and look out over so much nothing, so much everything, so much untouched country, so much rich wisdom, so much peace and chaos, so much foreboding and so much welcome.
Because I am a learner, and there is no better school than our mountains.
Because I enjoy the physical test offered by these mountains - the breathtaking ups and the knee-aching downs.
Because I like to take pretty pictures and share them on social media.
Because snow gums are my favourite thing, and they only start growing at 1200 metres above sea level.
Because I can roll up everything I need for multiple days and squish it into a backpack and it all weighs around 12 kilos.
Because I like to listen as my internal monologue shifts from home mode to hike mode, and to heed what it has to say.
Because I am fascinated by the volatility of alpine climates.
Because I love visiting each of my mountain friends and checking in with them, to see what they will offer me on any given day. Chances are, it's always something different, but never too far from their fundamental character.
Because this is something that I've only discovered as an adult, and it has shown me that there is still so very much we can all learn about ourselves from nature, in nature, with nature, irrespective of how sure of our identity we think we are.
Because being out there reminds me of all the good there is in the world, and invigorates me, and refreshes me, and makes me feel happy and whole.
Because our alpine environment is the great leveller. There is no room for machismo or ego or superiority or self-importance out in those hills. We are all equally minuscule, all equally significant, all equally human.
Because I don't want to keep all of these sensations to myself, and I feel that I have the right fundamental knowledge and skills and equipment and personality, and most importantly humility, to introduce others to these wonderful places.
Because I conceived an idea and gave birth to a business that aims to introduce women to alpine hiking who, like me, thought it was something that they'd never do.
Because I am not willing to work for or with people who were only invested in their own interests and egos.
Because I like to take opportunities as they present themselves.
Because I think I can do it, so I'll try it and see how I go.
Because if I didn't, I would go forward with the eternal question of why not.
Finally, because I want to be in a position to extend the invitation to you to give something uncomfortable a shot, and to facilitate the actioning of this. To take a risk. To climb a mountain. And if you find yourself hesitating, don't ask, "What am I afraid of?" Instead, ask: "Why am I afraid? Why am I holding back?" The answer will be a lot more reflective, and help elicit a greater understanding of yourself.
So take the challenge, and think about the question as it applies to your setting: why do you do what you do? Another one could be: why don't you do what you might like to do? Maybe the key to unlocking these answers is hiding in the mountains...