Philosophy of Nature


When I step outside, I’m surrounded by forces I have no effect on. It’s part of what defines each day for every one of us. While these forces are obvious in the exploding rapids or huge waterfalls on a Class V river, in fact, they are always there in other forms just outside our doors. We cannot control, but can only hope to live with the rain and snow, the wind and sun – and I like that.

All the experiences we have in nature, no matter how subtle, lead to some form of inner change. The most dramatic experiences may be through the adventure sports, but every other experience does this as well. Whether hiking, bird-watching, or simply sitting quietly on the side of a river, all are ways we extend ourselves out into her sweep and uncover some part of her being. In return, through those experiences she shapes what we think and feel – and even who we are.

Learning to live in nature gives us the possibility of discovering hidden truths. In the adventure sports we learn how to work with the extremes of natural forces, riding a cascade of whitewater, scaling rock and ice, even flying though the air. As we learn control, deathly threats and dangers can become safe and even fun. In what seems a miracle, we absorb all of these like a child learns to ride a bike. And we use them to enter untold beauty and seemingly impossible environments.

Nature teaches with her own language, over time working our consciousness with the same glacial hands she uses to slowly rend the mountains. Being filled with our usual human concerns, we seldom think of the life of a mountain or river. But the experiences she creates in us show we are capable of amazing transformations: of flesh woven into living stone, of human awareness into flowing water.

Adventure is anything that challenges and changes us. It includes all the usual sports, with their specialized gear and techniques to grapple with the physics of nature unleashed. Equally it includes science and art – because what is a view of a distant galaxy with a dizzying multitude of stars, or the jet of a subatomic particle in a spark chamber, if not the sudden jarring of our imagination? A realization that the world around us is filled with unknown realms? And what is music, a painting, photograph, or sculpture, if not a discovery from the hidden world within us now put in outer form for others to ponder?

Nature above all speaks to both our inner and outer selves when we step outside our door and into her world – a world whose rules and moods we must learn. From her animal citizens, her jungles and forests, her mountains, oceans and jet streams, to her wild rivers and quiet flowing streams, she invites us to take part and be transformed. In that process, we learn our true place and her place within us.

Through the last 40 years, kayaking on difficult rivers across the world has changed my awareness and shown me that my learning has consequences. At some point I began to feel that I had been taught lessons I was not yet aware of by a world which spoke a language I was only beginning to understand. At first I was focused on the physical challenges, over time I began to realize that the river’s course through the earth, and the water’s infinite complexity and power, were demanding something much greater and more subtle, a modern alchemy of sorts: of transforming chaos into order; melding human capabilities with nature’s truth.

My books, writings, movies, and this site are dedicated to learning that language more fully, using it to explore both the inner and the outer world.

Adventure is the philosophy. Insight is the goal.