After many years of wishing to explore the neighbor to my homestate, I finally made it to Oregon. Sent to Portland for business, I ate my way across this bustling city filled with amazing restaurants, and was endlessly impressed by the art abundantly adorning the sidewalks and buildings. Conferences, however, do not impart much tranquility, and after being surrounded by nearly five thousand people for five days straight, I was ready for an escape.
My coworker and I slung our belongings into the trunk of our rental Prius (of course) and bee-lined for the Columbia River Gorge. We made it in good time, arriving midday, yet to our dismay, our destination parking lot was already crowded. Luckily we managed to snag a parking spot that others were too impatient to wait for, and we began our hike.
Or, slow walk, rather. The trail to the stunning Multnomah Falls was packed! At first, my tendencies from my days in outdoor education kicked in, with thoughts like, “Put your phone down! Look with your eyes, not through your screen. Connect with the nature you’re in.” Coincidentally, a presentation in the conference had touched on this conflict of wanting people to put down their technology to make deeper connections with the outdoors while also wanting to reach out to them — via technology. Where is the balance? With this fresh in my mind, I brushed away my initial thoughts, and engaged in a way I haven’t usually in the past.
I let myself use my phone on the trail, far more than I usual like to use it. I clicked away on my DSLR and on my phone’s camera, so that I too could instantly share them with my loved ones far away. There was a different feeling than sharing photos later when I returned home. Instead it felt in a way like they were there with me. I talked to people — a lot. There’s always some interaction with fellow hikers on a trail, “Hello, how’s it going?” but this was on a much bigger scale, and it seemed, although we were strangers, we were in this together. I offered fellow hikers to take their photo, and they happily returned the favor. As our knees ached on the way up we asked “How much further?” and on the way down, we encouraged those we met still ascending.
Maybe I didn’t find the secluded forest getaway that I intended. Of course I will always seek out opportunities to unplug and really immerse in nature. But I concede (well, at least a little) that the rapid speed technology world builds connections between us, and between us and nature, just in a different way. Maybe I still don’t have the answer to “Where is the balance?” but that day gave me better hope of finding it.