Ripping down alpine trails on a full-suspension beauty, scaling your newest project, or experiencing the thrill of backcountry skiing is what many outdoor enthusiasts live for and what keeps them coming back for more. And, while outdoor sports do get participants in touch with nature, sometimes a slower, less intense, and perhaps more quiet method can be just as rewarding. Whether you’ve sustained an injury and simply need some R&R or you’re simply looking for a unique way to enjoy the wild places you already know so well, these outdoor hobbies may turn to outdoor obsessions.
The art and practice of foraging has gone by the wayside since modernity blessed (or cursed) us with a constant supply of fresh edible plants, nuts, and berries to be found at our fingertips each time we visit the grocery store. This ancient way of living, practiced by humans for over 200,000 years until the shift to agricultural life some 11,000 years ago, is seeing a resurgence. However, in areas where local restaurants are dedicated to bringing local and seasonal delights to their tables. Those you have a knack for foraging are cashing in on everything from mushrooms, to huckleberries, and even roots such as ginseng.
If you’re interested in learning more about this practice, the first step is to BE SAFE! Try to connect with a forager in your area who can act as your guide. Go to your local library and check out books on the various edible plants and wildlife in your area. Also, do your research and be aware of foraging regulations such as where you can and cannot collect edible plants.
While this practice may seem “old school” or unnecessary, many find that it brings them closer to their natural surroundings and helps them to feel a sense of independence and self-reliance in the wilderness. Not to mention, fresh huckleberries are just about the most delicious things on the planet. Just watch out for the bears if you’re picking from their favorite bush!
Bird Watching and Active Listening in Nature
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the popular survival shows on television, most notably “Alone”, where many naturalists and survivalists will point out or listen intently to the sounds that birds are making. Much can be learned from our feathered friends who will often use specific calls to signal danger or distress when a large animal is approaching and can even alert you to changes in the weather.
“Birders” are people who profess a deep passion for bird watching and are very knowledgeable about a wide variety of birds, their calls, and habits. Connecting with a birder in your area would be a good way to take up this unique hobby. Now, perhaps you’re thinking, I’m not seventy-years old, so birdwatching isn’t exactly on my to-do list. Fair enough. But think of the positives: this interesting hobby encourages you to pay closer attention to the wildlife around you, can alert you to the dangers in your area, and may even help you find water or food (since birds typically congregate in areas where resources can be found). While it doesn’t have to be your life’s greatest passion, proficient knowledge of the birds and their behaviors in your area can enrich your wilderness experience.
Typically, hunters track game in the pre-season so that they can return during hunting season with proficient knowledge of the lay of the land, game trails, and a general idea of where the animals will bed-down and go for water. Even if you have no desire to hunt, game tracking is a useful skill in the wilderness for a variety of reasons. Not only can tracking, or merely being aware of, the game allows you to steer clear of predators like mountain lions and bears, it can also provide you with a rich understanding of how the animals in the area live symbiotically. Following game trails, looking for animal prints and droppings, along with actually spotting and observing animals (at a very safe distance and without your selfie stick) are some of the most exciting and fulfilling moments in the wilderness.
As always, doing a little research before you track is important. Specifically, you should learn what animals are to be found in your region, the safety recommendations for observing them, how to identify their prints and droppings, along with the specific dates for their hunting seasons. Why do you need to know when they’re being hunted even if you aren’t hunting? Because you’ll need to take the necessary precautions to ensure you’re own safety if you are hiking and looking for animals while hunters are attempting to harvest them.