Episode 1: Taking Congress Camping feat. Stacy Bare, Director of Sierra Club Outdoors
Taking Congress Camping, Featuring Stacy Bare, Director of Sierra Club Outdoors.
Episode 01: Show Notes
In this week’s episode, we welcome Stacy Bare. Stacy is the Director of the Sierra Outdoor Club, a mountaineer, a climber and a skier and one of the most insightful, genuine people, I’ve had the privilege of talking with. Climbing helped Stacy recover from PTS and the re-adjustment issues he faced after a year in Baghdad as a civil affairs team leader in the army. Through the outdoors, he got the support he needed and founded Veterans Expeditions. Later he was recruited by the Sierra Club to lead their military family and veteran efforts, before being promoted to Director of all of the Sierra Club’s outdoor programming. Stacy has won numerous awards, written many articles, has been named a National Geographic Adventurer Of The Year and has also been featured in Climbing Magazine.
Join in as Stacy and I talk about diversity in the outdoors, hippies with rifles, why it’s never too late to start something, and the idea of measuring our lives in sunrises and sunsets. He shares his fascinating perspective on the fishing and hunting industries and may even change some views of the most die-hard vegans. An enlightening and necessary conversation about merging “environmentalism” with recreational outdoor activities, inclusivity and why taking congress camping, could potentially change the world.
Key Points From This Episode:
• The challenge veterans have coming home.
• How time outdoors brought Stacy back to the present.
• Addressing issues of equity and inclusivity in the outdoors.
• How Moses and the burning bush connects to awe.
• Dacher Keltner and the scientific data to back-up the benefits of time outdoors.
• Why congress should go camping and eat s’mores.
• Recognizing nature as part of our everyday experience.
• Addressing diversity and exclusivity in the outdoors.
• Moving past terminology to truly connect.
• Divides between the environmental movement and the outdoor recreation movement.
• Are backcountry hunters just hippies with rifles?
• Sunsets, hog hunts and connecting communities.
• What Stacy would say to vegans about hunting and fishing.
• And much more!
“A lot of people don’t understand the responsibilities that we have to continue to maintain this society.” — @mssnotdrs [0:07:55.0]
“Time outside brings you into the moment; you’re not fearful of the past and you’re not guilty about the future.” — @mssnotdrs [0:10:20.0]
“There’s something for everybody in the outdoors and everybody can benefit from time outside.” — @mssnotdrs [0:24:33.0]
“It’s never too late, or too early in life, to start getting out and looking at the wide world around us.” — @mssnotdrs [0:29:11.0]
“One way to measure a good life is how many sunrises or sunsets have you seen?” — @mssnotdrs [0:46:36.0]
“It looks like the vegans have some new friends, and they’re wearing camouflage!” — @tonicpublishing [0:53:48.0]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Awe in the Raw – https://www.katherinelockhart.com/podcast/
Kate Lockhart Website – https://www.katherinelockhart.com/
Kate Lockhart on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/tonicpublishing/
Stacy Bare on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacy-bare-9b354a24/
Sierra Outdoor Club – http://www.sierraclub.org
Greater Good Science Center – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/
Dacher Keltner – http://psychology.berkeley.edu/people/dacher-keltner
‘Hanging Out: Diversity in the Outdoors’ by Stacy Bare – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-bare/hanging-out-diversity-in-_b_2806095.html
Climbing Magazine – https://www.climbing.com/
Outdoor Afro – http://outdoorafro.com/
GirlTrek – http://www.girltrek.org/
Latino Outdoors – http://latinooutdoors.org/
EPISODE 01: TRANSCRIPT
[0:00:11.4] KL: You’re listening to Awe in the Raw, I’m your host, non-fiction author, Kate Lockhart. This show lists the curtain on natures quiet dance with the human mind as I take you through the process of researching and planning my next book and what I reveal is pretty risqué. That is, if you’re a nerd like me, who gets off on interviews with scientists, authors, artists and trailblazers, all asking the burning question: ‘How can we live more happily connected to nature, ourselves and each other?’ Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty corny actually but it may just be the most revolutionary idea of our times.
Stick around and you’ll overhear wildly diverse conversations, positive psychology, neuroscience, integral ecology, animal rights, non-violence, addiction, thrill-seeking, enlightenment, oppression and futurism in abundance. Every season will explore a different angle for a new book with an episode released every Friday for you weekend pleasure. This season we tease out the power and promise of awe. I recommend you start at episode 01. And now, away we go.
[0:01:20.4] KL: This show happens for you and because of you, so my warm thanks goes out to everyone who supports it through subscribes, views, shares and donations. If you also enjoy the content, consider hitting the subscribe button on Pod Catcher, It’s a free and easy way to say “Hey, keep up the good work.” And if you want to play a larger part in running the show, head to patriot.com/katelockhart. Where your pledge of a dollar an episode buys quality editing for the show and exclusive monthly Q&A’s for you. Win win, is good good.
[0:01:56.4] SB: “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘If there’s one thing you could do to like help make the world a better place right now, what would it be?’ And my response was ‘Take congress camping.’ Getting everybody out, in the dirt and seeing a sunset together. If it’s appropriate engaging in a bonfire, engaging and making some s’mores, then I think we’d have a very different congress.”
[0:02:23.4] KL: Today we talk to Stacy Bare, Director of Sierra Outdoor Club. Stacy is a mountaineer, a climber and a skier and one of the most insightful, genuine people, I’ve had the privilege of talking with. Climbing helps Stacy recover from PTS and re-adjustment issues from a year in Baghdad as a civil affairs team leader in the army. Through the outdoors, he got the support he needed and founded the Veterans Expeditions, so that other veterans could benefit from the time spent outside. He was recruited by the Sierra Club to lead their military family and veteran efforts before being promoted to Director of all of the Sierra Club’s outdoor programming.
He received his commission as a second Lieutenant from the University of Mississippi in 2000 and was stationed in Germany with one six month deployment in Sarajevo Bosnia before leaving the military in 2004. He worked with the British non-profit, the HALO Trust, as a landmines clearance officer in Angola and the former Soviet state of Georgia. Prior to being recalled from the individual ready reserve in 2006. He left the military a second time after a failed attempt to extend his tour in 2007. Named a National Geographic Adventurer Of The Year, along with former army ranger, Nick Watson for their work with veterans. He is also the recipient of the bronze star – For merit and combat action in Baghdad, The Outdoor Industry Association and Spire Award for best non-profit and the James Wilcox award for best climbing. He has also been featured in Climbing Magazine.
I had just spent several weeks digesting an enormous serving of awe research. Full of fascinating but tedious empirical reports that connect awe with nature. The Social Science Library needed to close for a holiday, or at least I needed it to. I needed to shake free from the books and talk to somebody out there in real life and the real outdoors. I especially wanted to talk to Stacy because he has been on the front lines. Not just in combat but in the places were people, nature and politics converge. Quite literally. I wanted to hear how the awe of nature helped him overcome PTS and addiction, and I did. But I’ve never met anyone who can wax poetic about a community strengthening sunset during a hog hunt, or blame the complexity of insurance logistics for the sometimes heated divisiveness between environmentalists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. To know his story is to love him.
[0:04:54.4] SB: “I came home from Iraq in 2007 and didn’t think that I was going to be a veteran. I knew that that was a technical term as well as anything else, and that I knew technically I was a veteran but I didn’t think that I would ever be going to like my grandfather. Host two of the American Legions on Sundays for the roast beef supper and marching in parades and wearing funny hats. By and large, my generation of veterans hasn’t engaged in that. Nothing against the American Legion and BFW. It’s just a different way that our generation has engaged.
I think part of it is this generation and the generation that’s behind me, that’s in their early 20s and mid-20s. We’re not the type of group that’s necessarily wanted to go into a closed off building. Lives are much more open and much more engaged, but we do want to spend time, I think, at different places where we are in a majority environment of veterans and we don’t have to do as much explaining. Because most of your time, you’re not — In life, you’re not doing that.
A friend of mine explained it the other day, as we’re talking about the challenge that a lot of veterans have coming home. When you leave the military you’re very much leaving your community and it’s almost like its own country, with its own norms and its own set of values and its own way of doing things. Then you go back home and it’s like moving from the United States to Japan in a way. Everybody looks like a person and there’re places to eat and there’s places to sleep, but it’s a different culture. You don’t walk around Japan telling people how you do things in Utah and that they need to change, right? You’ve got to figure out how to adapt to that culture.
I think too often we’ve talked about integration and reintegrating service members into their community, and I don’t think that’s the way to phrase it, because a lot of us maybe felt like we are outcast when we left and now we feel more outcast. I begin to think of it as moving from active duty to active citizenship, an engagement versus necessarily integration, because there are a lot of things that are kind of screwed up in our society right now and we don’t want people just to become those things. We want people to engage in their communities in a way that is comfortable for them to figure out how they can build up their own joy and build up their own lives and support their community.
10 years ago I wouldn’t have told you that. 10 years ago I was very angry about coming home. I didn’t understand that it was a new culture. I didn’t want to understand it was a new culture, and at some level we shouldn’t have to understand there’s a new culture because we live in a democratic society that has an all-volunteer military and people elect the congress and the president that send us to war. People also need to play a significant role in welcoming us home. I don’t think people recognize that that is a responsibility that they have. I think a lot of people don’t understand the responsibilities that we have to continue to maintain this society that we live. In terms of exercising our rights, in terms of exercising the privileges that we have, in terms of trying to help other people and have the same advantages that maybe we’ve had in our lives.”
[0:08:10.0] KL: The themes of community and isolation come into start relief as Stacy paints this landscape of his experience. Belonging and support versus feeling disconnected, angry and judgmental. It’s a subtle but integral play of emotions that seems to be universally felt but frequently overlooked. That’s why his self-reflection stands out as so unique.
[0:08:33.8] SB: “When you come home and you listen to somebody, think about the frustrations they have with the price of cereal, you wonder, “My God! Where have you been? Don’t you know that there’re far more important things in the world?” For them, that day, at that moment, I have no idea why the price of cereal is so important to them. Maybe they want to get — I’ve talked about this metaphor before and other chats with folks, but it’s like, “Who knows? Maybe that box of Golden Grahams is an expense — It’s a big expense for them that week, but their kids had a rough week and that box of Golden Grahams is going to make that kid super happy or it’s their birthday and they’re just trying to provide a happy birthday.” We don’t know those things, and I think we’re really quick to judge. I think when you’ve been through trauma you’re even quicker to judge, and trauma being military, being sexual trauma, being fired, being yelled at, but that’s also taken me a long time to recognize.
10 years ago when I came home, 10 plus years ago. I thought my trauma was so unique. Nobody could understand me except for other veterans. Even then, I wasn’t sure that a lot of veterans could understand what I was going through. It was somewhat easier to engage in destructive behavior. But I think any point during that timeframe, if somebody would have asked, “Hey, man. You’re going a little too far here. It seems like maybe you have an issue with substance or alcohol.” I would have been like, “Fuck you! I don’t have any problems.” You just don’t know how to cut loose, you’re just not relaxed.
Ultimately, that led to isolation. That led to feelings of suicide. That led to feelings of wanting to just kind of disappear, or rejoin the military which in a very real sense would have been doing home. To take the country metaphor to other step. Ultimately, it was a friend who got me out rock climbing, and I think the reason that rock climbing and time outside has had such an impact on my life and other people’s lives is it often times brings you into the moment, so you’re not fearful of the past. You’re not guilty about the future. It gives you a sense of mission. It gives you maybe a new identity. It gives you a sense of new camaraderie, and I think, ultimately, it gives you a sense that the best things in your life can be in front of you versus behind you. I think not just for veterans, but for so many other people, whether they’re dealing with cancer or other traumas that has time outside has a very similar impact.”
[0:10:53.8] KL: Completely. Like you were saying, a trauma comes in so many forms. The violence strikes in so many forms. Some are really obvious. Others are very subtle and people are hurting in different ways. It seems to be a pretty common universal experience that when we’re able to step out of our heads, and that’s something that nature allows us to do. All of a sudden that seems less triggering, less charged, those experiences.
[0:11:24.5] SB: Right, and then figuring out how do we ensure that we have a culture of that that takes care of each other and takes care of outdoor places so that more people are going to be doing that. In Japan, the concept is forest bathing. In Norway, the concept I think Friluftsliv, which is roughly translated to “free air life.” There are histories of that around the world. One of the greatest outdoors stories ever told is Odysseus and The Odyssey, coming home and what he does. The Spartans walked home from war. You look at George Mallory and the climbers from Mt. Everest. They were all World War I veterans. I always bristle when I hear somebody talk about climbing and throw around the concept, “Why did you climb Mt. Everest, or why are you going to climb that?” and they all quote Mallory, the apocryphal story of Mallory, saying “Because it’s there.”
What people don’t think about is that — I never knew Mallory and I haven’t read through his journals and letters, but I assume what he’s saying in that moment is, “It’s there and nothing else is. I came home from World War I and what is left? What is left of the way I lived my life? What is left of the society that was there in 1914? There’s nothing, but this mountain is there. Why am I going to climb it? Because it is there, and nothing else seems to be here for me but this mountain.”
[0:12:45.0] KL: Since linking the great outdoors with hope and healing, things have changed drastically. In the past 10 years Stacy has dedicated his life to getting others outside in forward thinking programs rooted in research, outreach and community. I asked him how he juggles so many projects? I mean, aren’t you working full-time at the Sierra Club?
[0:13:09.6] SB: Yup. Sierra Club Outdoors is my full-time job and I oversee what I like to think of as the original heart and soul of the Sierra Club, which is connecting people to the outdoors so that people will explore and enjoy and protect the planet. That’s been a real delight to do that job as the director for the last five years, and I’ve been at the Sierra Club for just over six years now. I started as the military families and veterans coordinator back in 2011 and then got promoted about a year later. That’s been a real joy, and I think one of the things we’ve been able to do, and it’s a transition there as well, is we’ve grown the program.
What it takes to grow the program from five staff to 19 staff, to different level of outcomes and to engaging around a lot of issues that are pretty critical to the environmental movement right now. Specifically around equity and inclusivity. There’s a significant history in the environmental movement of racism and sexism and even classism. Really beginning to address those issues takes a lot of time while we’re still trying to connect people to the outdoors and share with people the benefit and the power time outside. It was through the Sierra Club Outdoors program that I was able to — And partner with Dacher Keltner and launch the Great Outdoors Lab. I should say, that’s has far less to do with me and far more to do with really committed volunteers and really great team members who make that work.
[0:14:35.3] KL: Tell me more about that. That is kind of finding that link between well-being and the great outdoors and just being involved with nature in the real way.
[0:14:45.1] SB: Yeah. The Great Outdoors Lab was created from this idea that we needed to put scientifically driven data behind the notion that time outside is good for you. We wanted to do that because we wanted to get to a point where there are new funding mechanisms for how to help people get outdoors. Historically, time outdoors and the value of time outdoors has been described to us or the data has come from sacred texts, literature and poetry. Going back to the sacred text. There are some statistics that over 50%, for example, of Christ’s sermons all happened outside. It was the Sermon on the Mount.
If you look back in the Old Testament, Moses receives the 10 Commandments on top of a mountain. He’s sees a burning bush. None of those things happened inside, and they certainly could have. There were settlements. There were buildings. There were those things, but we see this as preference for time outdoors. You can even see that, and Theologians might disagree with me here, but even if going back to the first pages of the Old Testament in Genesis, we see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Then we see after they’ve been cast out of the garden, we see the relationship of Cain and Abel and they go off and God finds favor in Abel who’s been herding, basically, out in the wilderness and moving around the mountains and God doesn’t take favor to Cain who has been plowing the fields.
I think what’s really interesting when I think about that story is how at this point in history, it seems as if Cain has won in terms of the domestication of our everyday life. How that’s gone from small plot farming to kind of industrial farming and the ravages that that has created. At the same time, also, the ability to feed more people than we’ve ever been able to feed. There’s balance within that.
Looking at that stuff and realizing, “Man, we don’t have the right policies in place in this country to connect all people to the outdoors and we don’t have the right policies and the right attitudes in the outdoors for all people to feel comfortable coming at outdoors.”
[0:16:58.4] KL: These comments struck me as uncanny. This was actually the second time I had heard someone referencing Moses and the burning bush in a conversation about nature and awe, that same day. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about the burning bush in my life and here I was with this insight echoing in my headphones. It seems spirituality, nature and awe come in for a group hug on the regular. We’ll get back to this idea later on. But the other point that struck me here is the distinction between living with the land as do hunter gatherers and living on the land as do livestock farmers. This foreshadows a hot button issue of hunting and environmental protection and whether they can live together. Perhaps the activity truly at odds with environmental health isn’t hunting but rather industrial farming. Another topic to which we will return.
[0:17:50.4] SB: Kind of coming from my own veteran experience, coming home and struggling with a lot of challenges around post-traumatic stress and depression and adjustment. I knew the outdoors had played a critical foundational role in helping me to regain health and we wanted to make sure that the outdoors could be a first line option for other people to regain health or stay healthy. At this point we felt we needed scientific driven data because this sacred text and a thousand pages of literature and the thousands of pages of poetry had not yet impacted policy the way it probably should have.
[0:18:27.4] KL: Yeah. That’s something that’s — It’s really interesting that we’re in this age where we do need scientific data to back up to what I think a lot of people have known intuitively or experientially for a very long time. But people do get behind that when there’s some sense of proof or evidence-based empirical studies to say, “Yeah, this is something that we should do. This is something that doctors can feel comfortable writing nature prescriptions at this point.” It sounds like for you you’re really thinking about that. Kind of taking that leap into making it more palatable, more manageable.
[0:19:05.4] SB: Yeah, and it’s really interesting when in this society people want data and when they don’t, right? Because there are plenty of things that people want to make decisions on, significant decisions about. The health and success of their own livelihoods that people make without data and they make on a hunch or they make off of an ideology when people want data.
In the medical world, a lot of times — I think for very good reasons, people want data. That’s what we’ve been trying to build in partnership with Dacher, in partnership Nooshin Razani at University of Children’s — University of California San Francisco Children’s Hospital Benioff Oakland. I’m getting that — That’s a mouthful, and some other folks around the country.
The interesting thing is, is that there’s also opportunities in medicine where people will just decide to use a treatment that may not have gone through clinical trials and that becomes accepted practice, right? I remember when my wife gave birth and leading up to that process, they said, “Hey, here’s a medication that we often times use to induce labor.” I looked up that medication and come to find out it had never been intended to be used for labor induction, but that had become a common practice.
I think there’s a funny story about Viagra being used to decrease blood pressure, and then they found out that it could also be used for erectile dysfunction. It’s trying to find that balance, but just trying to do everything that we can according to the current status quo system so that ultimately insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid would pay for, or at least offer co-pays for time outside.
[0:20:57.0] KL: Right. You even went so far as to say hiking boots should be subsidized.
[0:20:59.7] SB: I do. I think hiking boots and guide services should absolutely be subsidized in certain situations. When we’re looking at a diabetes prevention or a treatment program. When we’re looking at treatment programs around post-traumatic stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia. There’s a whole host of conditions that I think time outside can and should be used to help move those treatments forward. That’s not to say that there isn’t a room for pharmaceuticals. I think pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical treatment can play a powerful role. I think what we’re seeing in this country, however, is we’re too quick to prescribe and we’re too quick to prescribe both medications and even sometimes standard talk therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy or prolonged exposure therapy.
That’s not to say that those things don’t necessarily work. We can talk about some of my issues with both of those treatments that I’ve had. It’s just to say that we need to know fully the range of treatments available and I think time outdoors should be seen as a potential clinical treatment as well as preventative therapy.
[0:22:01.4] KL: I recently spoke with a woman who seemed upset when I told her that nature might help people. She pointed out that bears are scary and that there’s little access to nature for denizens in Manhattan. It’s one of the biggest arguments I hear in the practice of nature connection. And there’s the problem of willingness. Why would anyone take the opportunity to open themselves up to an experience with nature? Something that can make them feel very vulnerable or out of control even. When they could just take a pill from the safety of their home? It’s like my trusty interviewee had read my mind. I guess he had heard the same arguments.
[0:22:37.4] SB: It’s a challenge too though because I think people want that silver bullet, and I don’t think that time outside is going to cure everybody. I do think that there is a time — The cover of Outside Magazine is Cory Richards talking about his post-traumatic stress that he received through a horrific mountain climbing accident and the challenges he’s had in the mountains.
Just like anything, I think what I’m thinking about is time outdoors certainly could be a negative and there are negatives that can be had from time outside. I’m also really interested in what gives us the greatest opportunity to reach the greatest amount of people, to do the greatest good, and I think that’s time outside. When I talk about time outside and then people look at my own history in the outdoors, I’m not asking people to go back and do ski mountaineering in Iraq or rock climbing in Angola. That’s what I love to do, but since having a daughter and having a child, I’ve also really learned to value the walk around the park. The walk around the block and stopping and playing in the native planning that somebody has done in their front yard. Learning about the flora and fauna that are here in Salt Lake. In a way that I may be never would have before, because I was going for the most difficult climb or a more technical climb or what’s a higher climb or what’s the Sufferfest I want to go on next. I really enjoy that stuff, but not everybody is going to nor does everybody need to at all.
I think what I’m talking about is we want to get people outdoors, and that could be everything from community gardening, to birding, to raising vegetables in their backyard, to skateboarding, to surfing, to — There is something for everybody in the outdoors, and that’s one of the few absolutes I’m willing to make a statement of. That there’s something for everybody in the outdoors and everybody can benefit from time outside.
Then it’s up to us and others to figure out how can we ensure that everybody has access to that and education on how to use that responsibly. I don’t see any reason why the medical community shouldn’t be involved in that, when we know that time outdoors can be such a powerful remedy in proactively dealing with or responding to things like post-traumatic stress, dementia, depression, helping to combat obesity and diabetes and those things. Because the beautiful thing about time outside is that we’re not asking people to exercise right away. We’re asking to begin looking outside.
An anecdotal story about that is a friend that I met several years ago had injured his back pretty severely in Iraq. Come home and had really just kind of sat for years. As he sat and gained weight and his scenery didn’t change around him. He got depressed and he wasn’t able to be a participant in his children’s lives. His wife had become a full-time caretaker and she had a career and ideas and a vision for her life and she wasn’t able to pursue that and so there’s anger and there is resentment. He was able to get out on a fly fishing program that I happened to be on as well.
He wasn’t in good enough shape to get into the stream, but he was in good enough shape to walk from the car, a couple of hundred meters, to stand on the side of the stream and cast in. After a couple of days he said, “This has been amazing.” He said, “I want to get myself to the point where I can — But it looks like it’d be better fishing if I could get into the stream, and that’s my goal.”
[0:26:24.4] KL: Year after year they check in with each other and each time his friend has reached and created new fishing goals. He gets down on the bank, moves around the rocks, gets around the bend and aspires to stories of lakes in high altitudes. Led by a desire to reach places further than his car or where other fishers don’t frequent. Places of solitude, special places to take his kids.
[0:26:48.4] SB: Three, four, five years later after this, he finds himself physically fit feeling with pain in a different way. Medication is reduced. He’s got a new relationship with his kids. He’s moving around. He’s getting outside. He’s trying new things.
I think if we would have gone to him in the beginning and said, “You’re overweight. You’re out of shape. You need to start exercising to get healthier.” It just would have been more shame. It would have created more of that pain for him, but instead it was, “Hey, man. This is the country you’ve fought for. Take a look at it and let’s see how we can get you involved and you can stand here and pretty safely throw a fly and enjoy it,” and that’s been his lifeline.
I really enjoy fly fishing, but that’s not how I get my typical good vibes in the outdoors, but that’s the great thing. Not everybody has to fly fish.
[0:27:32.4] KL: It’s endless. There’s infinite ways that you can engage and interact. Like you were saying, you got to meet people where they’re at. People can only go as far as they’re ready, and there are opportunities at every stage to engage. Then it’s almost like human nature takes over and says, “Well, what’s next? What’s more that I can do?” It’s a slow process, isn’t it? It’s not something that happens overnight.
[0:28:03.6] SB: No. For most people it isn’t. I started climbing at 31 and I started skiing at 35, and one of my colleague’s dad started climbing after he retired at age 66 and now does international rock climbing trips. There’s no point when somebody can’t start getting outdoors.
I was just in South Central Minnesota and I had a great aunt who’s 99 years old. She travelled all over the world. She’s in the Women’s ARMY Choir. She was in Tokyo. Helping to rebuild Tokyo after World War II, and she’s the inspiration for a lot of the way that I’ve lived my life. Every day, she gets out, when the weather supports it and rides this little golf card around her farm and out to the wetlands so that she can just get out and be outside, and she sits and she stares out into the fields. We send pictures, and when I was in Europe and she was in her 80s when I was stationed in Germany, she came over to visit and did things like, “Let’s go look at the Eiger. Let’s go look at Mt. Blanc. Let’s go look at these things,” because that’s what she could do at the time.
It’s never too late in life, or too early in life, to start getting out and taking a look at the wide world around us. I think the goal is, right, that people recognize that it is a shared responsibility to make sure that these places of joy and beauty and ultimately awe, are available for all people. The science tells us, as Dacher will tell you…
[0:29:37.4] KL: That’s Dacher Keltner, who he referred to earlier. Dacher is a psychology professor of UC Berkely and The Founding Director of the Greater Good Science Center. Which focuses on positive psychology and research application. Fun fact: he was also my favorite professor when I was in undergrad at Cal. His name comes up a lot in discussions about awe and nature because he’s been leading the charge in awe research since establishing the first scientific literature on the emotion with colleague John Hait in 2003.
[0:30:05.4] SB: You spend time outside, you experience the emotion of awe and there’s all sorts of things happen physiologically around the way your body produces proteins and stress hormones and how the body doesn’t inflame as much, or actually counters inflammation. I think that’s all great, but I think what’s even better is what that outcome is, which increased pro-social behavior and openness to learning new things and curiosity. I think that’s the fear more than anything around people spending more and more of their time inside and staring at screens is that we get caught up in this response, like, “Are you responding strongly enough for this and are you feeling the outrage that you need to be feeling at this?” That’s not to say that outrageous things aren’t happening, but —
[0:30:59.3] KL: But it’s engaging a fight or flight kind of response where your alert system is on and you’re completely engaged and gearing up, right?
[0:31:04.0] SB: Right.
[0:31:15.4] KL: Yeah, as apposed to the experience when you’re in nature, which is very opposite to that where you’re open. Like you were saying, wonder and questioning and your consciousness kind of goes out into a wide-angle sort of view of things.
[0:31:19.2] SB: Right. Yeah. I think — Somebody asked me the other, “If there was one thing you could do to help make the world a better place right now, what would it be?” My response was take congress camping. Get everybody out and in the dirt and seeing a sunset together. If it’s appropriate engaging in a bonfire, engaging and making some s’mores, then I think we’d have a very different congress.
[0:31:46.2] KL: It’s a good point. What if congressmen took lessons from 99 year old, grey aunties? The truth is we won’t protect what we love and we won’t love what we don’t know. This makes true access to nature and nature connection most definitely a political issue.
[0:32:07.2] SB: Yeah, how do we help others feel that and get to that and show other people the beauty of the world, wherever they’re at? I think we’ve done too good of a job at times over selling the emotion of awe and outdoor experiences so that people think it’s got to be a big rocky mountain or a deep forest or jungle or crazy river boiling with rapids. As opposed to saying, “Look, this beauty is just everywhere.” Just sometimes, you’ve got to be a little more patient maybe and look for it in different ways, and then how do we cultivate that wherever people are.
I grew up in my hometown, the highest point as a covered landfill, and that was the place where I launched so many of my adventures and my dreams as a kid and return often to the top of Larson’s Hill in moments of stress. Now, I live in the Wasatch in Salt Lake City. It’s a beautiful mountain range, and I’m close to the Tetons and I’m close to the desert and I have the [inaudible 0:32:22.2] outside my backdoor in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon. I have all these things, and they are wonderful and easy to see but some of those places where I had my first outdoor experiences, might be places that wouldn’t be often found in a nature calendar but are just as beautiful as the mountains that I live in now.
[0:33:36.8] KL: That’s the heart of the matter. If we keep thinking of nature and big awe experiences as something beyond our everyday experience, we won’t recognize it as something right in front of us and it is. In Stacy’s case, it was an overfilled landfill. Access isn’t just about getting somewhere. In fact, access in denied the minute we think wondrous experiences can only happen in extreme wilderness. Or when we don’t even think free and wonderful experiences exist for that matter. Which they do.
[0:34:13.8] KL: That makes me think about nature as an identity. Growing up, you have these nature experiences that you’re talking about. It’s as if it formed a part of your identity. I think about people that don’t really associate themselves with nature in terms of saying, “Oh, well. I’m not really a nature person or that kind of thing.” A lot of people feel disconnected from nature obviously that they don’t necessarily have ingrained a sense of nature identity like, “Nature is my thing.” I’m wondering. What are the steps? What kinds of things have you been trying to do, doing with people in order to shift that more?
[0:34:55.4] SB: Yeah. Sierra Club Outdoors works because of volunteers. Passionate members of communities who want to connect other people to the outdoors. Over time, what we’ve realized is that we’ve done a pretty good job at that for a certain segment of the population. Across different programs or Military Outdoors program, Inspiring Connections Outdoors, which works primarily with youth and about 50 communities and our local outdoors program, which is a membership and membership outreach program. I’m told we get out about 300,000 people a year, which is great and fantastic. That’s through an incredibly dedicated network of volunteers who invite other people out with them. That’s what we need to be doing, is empowering people and giving them the tools to be able to go outside on their own as well as with their community.
What we haven’t always done a good job of is engaging a broad segment of society that look a lot different than you and me. If you look at the history of the National Parks, because of the lack of funding, there is a distinct push towards philanthropic funding at the time, which came primarily from wealthy white folks. You have things like the Ahwahnee Lodge, which is basically a luxury hotel in Yosemite.
For middle lower working class community, that maybe doesn’t feel very welcoming. Certainly, for communities of color, that doesn’t always feel very welcoming. Because a lot of our national parks used to be the homelands of our Native American brothers and sisters. There were people living in Yosemite before we made it a national park. Teddy Roosevelt’s comments about the Havasupai community in the Grand Canyon are racist.
[0:36:50.8] KL: He’s referring to 1903 when President Theodor Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon and told the Havasupai residents to vacate the land, their land, in order to make way for American tourists, who were sure to visit the soon to be national park. This has been echoed many time, when Roosevelt, as well as many other presidents, undercut native rights to their homeland. Betrayal justified by his revealing statement. Quote: “The truth is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil.” Stacy Bare is well versed in the history of America’s national parks and their history of oppression. Not just native people, but of Chinese immigrants and African Americans as well.
[0:37:32.8] SB: As we’re struggling with that at the start of the 21st century, what we’ve been able to do is say, “Look, we realized that we’ve been a part of the problem. We want to be part of the solution. How can we support you?” Positive expedition behavior. What can I do to support you? That’s allowed us to have great partnerships and really open conversations with groups like Outdoor Afro, GirlTrek, and Latino Outdoors, and others so that we can provide maybe our technical expertise and we can learn how to do a better job as a community partner in driving that grassroots engagement, which I think is so critical.
From a CR Magazine standpoint and from a broad outdoor industry standpoint, beginning to highlight and share those stories, so that regardless of what a person looks like from a weight, color, gender, sexual identity, religious perspective. That they can feel welcome and that they see representations of themselves in the outdoors and that they want to go outside.
That’s not something we’re leading on. That is something that we’re asking to be a part of and that the kindness and generosity of a lot of our partners are saying, “We see you trying to do the right thing and trying to make it better. And there are things that you have that we don’t have that we need. Let’s engage in a relationship that, yes, there’s a transaction there, but hopefully, that can transform the larger movement.”
[0:39:04.8] KL: Again, this comes down to community. Who’s in it? Who’s not? And what happens when it expands by becoming more interconnected. In the case of nature connection, it seems like everyone wins when everyone is included. Communities previously excluded from outdoor immersion, benefit from nature’s healthy effects. And communities that enjoy nature in isolation benefit from learning other’s philosophies, experiences and histories. Diversity makes for thriving human communities, just like bio-diversity makes for thriving ecosystems.
Imagine if the human and non-human communities became deeply connected too. Imagine how our planet would thrive then. But does everyone win, when everyone is included in nature connection? Surely there are people who are making a living harvesting natural resources. Like loggers and fishers. Or people who are trying to raise families on housing tracks on the edge of the wildness and fear wild predators and nuisance critters. Are they living nature connected lives? Are they “winning” too? The minute I use the word “environmentalist” the conversation turns to what may be the greatest divide in nature connection.
[0:40:19.2] KL: Most people see environmentalists in a certain way, and you don’t see when people talk about granola hippies, that kind of thing, environmentalists right? That’s not necessarily something that really resonates with certain people. They don’t want to be a part of that. There’s a very small group of people that want to join that.
[0:40:45.2] SB: There’s actually a big group of people that want to join that. It depends, I guess, on how you’re defining size. There’s I think three million members and supporters of the Sierra Club, which I wouldn’t argue as small. But the NRA has a larger membership and it’d be interesting to see where the crossover is with those folks. I think certain terms get really loaded. And “environmentalist” is one of those terms, which is really a loaded term.
My brother and I both spend a ton of time outside. My brother certainly spends most of his time outside hunting and fishing. I spend most of my time climbing and skiing and river rafting. We come together though and we try to come together around moments in sharing each other’s outdoor experience.
What I’ve learned though the hunting and fishing community is that those folks are some of the most passionate conservationists that are out there. We know that fishing, for example, if you fish as a kid, you’re more likely to be engaged in the outdoors. The number one indicator of life-long outdoor activities is fishing.
A lot of it comes around terminology. I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t want clean air and clean water. It’s about what do we do with that and what’s the approach to that and how do we make that happen. I think that’s where we oftentimes struggle. I do think it’s really interesting, too, that there is a big divide still between the environmental movement on one side and the outdoor recreation movement on the other and there’s a lot of pass over, but some of that I think comes down to insurance.
In 1983, there is a big lawsuit around mountain climbing in the Sierra Club and who’s accountable. The Sierra Club said, “You know what? We’re just not really going to engage in high-risk activity but we’re going to continue to get people outdoors but really only in this way. Anything outside of that is not going to be our purview.”
[0:42:45.2] KL: Okay, hold the presses. Would the hunting and fishing community have become one with environmental activists if it weren’t for that pesky insurance issue? I can see how the hunting and fishing community, as part of the larger outdoor and recreation community, could be environmental activist adjacent. But isn’t there a deep ideological drift here? Is it really about insurance?
[0:43:00.2] SB: It’s an insurance issue in some way. The environmental movement in the Sierra Club, which had those things really combined, begins to separate. Those same types of lawsuits split Patagonia and Black Diamond. Even within the outdoor recreation movement, you start to see this splitting and bifurcation. Then you see a rise of user groups, American Whitewater, International Mountain Biking Association and the Access Fund because the existing environmental and sports groups weren’t doing their job from one reason or another to really engage those user groups and so it’s kind of gone down this split path.
It’s a complicated issue but I think you’re starting to see, thanks to groups like SHIFT and Jackson Hole and Patagonia’s work. Hopefully, our work at Sierra Club is seen as part of it, so really trying to say, anybody can be an outdoor activist and anybody can be an environmentalist. You don’t have to look at certain way. You don’t have to dress a certain way.
If you look, for example, at one of the largest growing demographics in hunting and fishing, it’s around those who are engaged in backcountry hunting and fishing and those who are being drawn to hunting as a way to know where their meat comes from. Those might have been seen as the hippies in the past, but those hippies are now purchasing ammunition and rifles and camouflage and starting companies so that they can have the technical gear that they have for skiing and rock climbing that they can have that same technical gear for hunting.
There’s a whole host of people, if you want to talk after this, that the current president of the NRA is an avid, avid outdoors man and hunter and climber and just a really, really interesting guy to talk about the power of the outdoors and what he’s seen in his own life and why it matters to him to conserve land and create more access for people.
[0:45:00.7] KL: I need to just stop and repeat this: hippies with rifles. Oh my god. This cracks open an alarming question for the polar die-hards of both groups. Is coming together an act of diversity building? Have environmentalists been close minded for not accepting backcountry hunters and fishers into their communities and conservation efforts? If that’s the case, who benefits when these groups are at odds. Is the natural world benefiting from the divisiveness of these far-flung nature lovers? As a vegan and animal right advocate, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this. But wrap, I must. My beliefs aren’t going to stop hunters and fishers ding their favorite thing, in their favorite places with their favorite people. Doesn’t nature deserve the unified protection from all of its admirers? Doesn’t it need it now more than ever?
[0:45:54.9] SB: I think we’ve really got to – in the outdoors. We’ve really, really got to focus on those things that unite us versus those things that are ultimately relatively small, that separate us. Those small things, depending on your perspective, can be huge impacts, so I can understand a lot of that anger. But I think, at the end of the day, if we can focus on the power of the outdoors.
[0:46:22.7] KL: Yeah. I love that. I really do. I feel like you’ve really hit the nail on the head, because it’s such a splintered thing. It becomes such a splintered thing. Then at that point, it’s in fighting. Like you said, everybody wants clean air. Everybody enjoys being a part of nature in some way.
[0:46:36.9] SB: Right. One of the things — Sunsets. One way to measure, I think, a good life or a good period of your life is how many sunrises or sunsets have you seen? When my brother turned 40 two years ago, I had this great opportunity earlier that year to do some climbing where it was safe to kind of climb at the end of the day. I remember seeing and watching some amazing sunsets from peaks here in the Wasatch Mountain Range. The stillness and the quiet that came over the land and watching that sun go down and listening to the sound of night come out. Just really feeling full and wonderful and calm and kind of that beautiful type of small that so often happens on these beautiful sunsets.
For my brother’s 40th, we all met up in Oklahoma to go hog hunting. I thought, “Well, it’s invasive species. I like to hunt. I eat meat. I’ll buy one license and get a hog and experience some time in the outdoors with my brother and it’s important for me to show up.” That’s what I thought it was going to be. I was excited to see and spend time with my brother and his group of friends who at this point in my life were also good friends of mine.
I remember walking up into the stand as night was falling in Oklahoma and looking out over the trees. As the sun was setting it was that same experience. I was dressed completely differently. How I got to a place where I was watching that sunset was completely different than how I got to the sunsets earlier just a week prior in the Wasatch. But it was the same beauty of sunset. It was the same radiant colors. Moments later I got my hog and all the excitement that explodes with that.
That evening, we’re all sitting around talking and everyone’s like, “Did you see that sunset? How awesome of a sunset was that?” Those are the same conversations I’ve had with my ski buddies and my climbing buddies and sunsets out fishing with my dad, that I just was lucky enough to replicate in Minnesota with my family earlier this year. That’s pretty powerful stuff, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on, and responsible use of that land and responsible use of how we spend our time before the sunset.
I think if we can find more ways to talk about those things and what that looks like. You can experience that beautiful sunset often times just on your front porch.
[0:49:17.9] KL: Completely, if you’re lucky enough.
[0:49:19.4] SB: Yeah, if you’re lucky enough. I think I do realize how lucky I am to live the life I am. Again, and that’s why I think we need to advocate for better access to parks and transportation to parks and green space and healthy green space that people can recreate in.
[0:49:36.9] KL: These are the moments that make me love what I do. Walking into a conversation about a topic I know a good deal about and then walking out the other side of that conversation with my head screwed at a completely different angle. It’s a deeply intriguing question: can animal rights activists welcome the hippies with rifles into their full? Can hunters in camouflage welcome vegans into theirs?
[0:49:58.2] KL: I know we’re out of time and I have a million other questions. I would love to go down this path of talking about just hunting, versus animal welfare, versus the outdoors and nature connection and all of that. I think that’s going to have to be for another time. I would like to ask, what would you say to, say, a vegan who feels like there’s no room for hunting or fishing in an environmentally minded community?
[0:50:28.2] SB: Yeah. I think what I would ask is — First of all, I guess the question would be, “How would you like me to get my meat?” I’m sure a vegan would respond, “I don’t want you to eat meat.”
I think hogs are a great example. They’re an invasive species. They’re creating massive environmental damage in large parts of our country, from California to Texas, and Oklahoma and Missouri. We have to look at ways to regulate that population. I think animals have, without a doubt, a right to live and exist. But I think hunting is a very responsible way to manage populations. I’m not a fan of and I would argue against hunting predators, for example. I don’t think there’s any need to hunt predators, but deer can become a nuisance and if we don’t harvest deer in a responsible way we can create more problems within a deer population. There are other times where we need to at and say, “Is this overfishing? Is this overhunting? What’s the carrying load for these species and where do we need to be for that?”
Generally, I think as a country we can eat a lot less meat. I think across the country, across the globe we can probably eat a lot less meat. I would also say to that vegan that I think eating meat is the reason that we are who we are as a developed species and we have that intake of protein. I would invite them out to spend some time with myself or the community of folks that I know that hunt and have a deep and profound respect for the welfare of the animals that they hunt. I would introduce them to some Gwith’in people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet who rely so deeply on the Caribou population. I would introduce them to friends of mine that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, who have maintained the stories of the Plains Native Americans and what the bison has meant to those communities. And say, “There’s a lot of different ways to live in this world and let’s find a way that is the best for the carrying capacity of the planet and that maximizes these beautiful spaces and opportunities for people to connect so deeply to the universe and earth and let’s look to minimize harm in other ways.”
I know a lot of people who have very spiritual experiences hunting. I know a lot of people who have been hunters for years and years and years and then have made the decision that they’re done. That their relationship they have with the animals maybe isn’t what it used to be or that the violence between themselves and the animals creates a certain barrier that they feel like they can no longer overcome. But the experience I have in my own family and the way my brother talks about hunting and fishing is very poetic and I think he approaches it — He might disagree with the way I phrase this, but I think he approaches it in a way that is a very spiritual and it’s awe inspiring to me and it’s a very beautiful way to approach it. I think he’s working to teach his children how to live in harmony with the land in a way that maybe he wouldn’t be able to do so deeply if it wasn’t through teaching about the cycles of life and death.
I’d also say to a vegan, I’m glad that this is a lifestyle that you feel is doing less harm. If you’re happy with it and it’s getting you joy and it’s helping you to bring greater joy in the world, then let’s go for it.
[0:53:47.2] KL: Well it looks like the vegans have some new friends, and they’re wearing camouflage. Talking with Stacy stirred so many questions. Not only do I plan to take him up on his offer to meet with his hunting buddies but I also realized that I need to talk with someone who knows more about the effects of nature on addiction and depression. How much of our collective traumas, violence and disconnection can be attributed to a widening rift between communities? And what about that community of one? The internal relationship we have with ourselves. Which of these comes first and how do we even start in toward a solution?
Several people come to mind who may be able to shed some light on these questions. But I’m still wondering how awe fits into all of this. Or does it even? Stacy discussed its powers to pull people outdoors. Could it be the special sauce of nature that allows these life affirming connections to form? Or is it a Red Herring in my quest to mastermind a nature-based revolution? To figure that out, I’ve got to lay the groundwork for what we know and what we don’t know about this emotion. And for that I’m going to talk to one of the world’s preeminent scientists studying awe today. I mean, she studies awe. How could she not have something mind blowing to add right?
[0:55:05.2] KL: I hope you got something from the show. For transcripts, click on the links in the show notes. That will take you to aweintheraw.com. There you can start a conversation or learn more about show guests, my books and upcoming events. Don’t forget, you can share the love by subscribing the show or leaving a review. Have an awesome week!