It was bound to come up somewhere in this series of thoughts on manhood, but as I’ve been thinking about the making of a man, I’ve been reflecting on the role that the outdoors has in that process. It is no secret that I enjoy being “out there.” And for me, the more remote, more rugged, and wilder it is, the better.
But even if it weren’t something deeply embedded in my DNA, the subject would have still been unavoidable. Some high school friends and I are reading Wild at Heart, and much of what the author, John Eldredge, writes about are experiences in the outdoors. In fact, this repeated focus on the wilder places has been something of a sticking point for some of the guys in our group. I’m not entirely certain that Eldredge is saying that an experience in the backcountry is absolutely necessary for a boy to become a man. But I’m not sure he isn’t saying that either.
So here’s my take on it. Simply being in the great outdoors doesn’t a man make. But, there are certain encounters one has in the wild places that are to be found with much greater frequency than in the the cul-de-sacs of suburbia. In fact, it is the wild-er-ness of those places that is to be valued. The inherent likelihood of risk, danger, and unpredictability creates the possibility for a boy aspiring to be a man to have a defining moment. And, it is these moments that give a person a chance to find out what they are made of. A chance to dig deep and struggle through obstacles. A chance to discover that they are capable of far more than they dreamed possible. And as I mentioned earlier this month, these challenges aren’t all physical.
Perhaps you think I’m making more of all this than is warranted. And maybe I am. But one thing is certain, these kind of life changing moments of self-discovery rarely if ever happen in a relaxing, climate-controlled, comfortable, sterile living room.
Again, I’m not saying that a boy becoming a man can’t have some of those same “tests” or rites of passage in less rugged places. Neither am I suggesting that every adolescent male needs to kill a grizzly bear with his bear hands in order to prove his worth. But there is something about God’s wild creation that provides the backdrop for many a man’s finest moments.
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”