When I was 14 and went to Youth Conference for the first time, our stake held a campout. It was right near the border of Illinois and Wisconsin, with lots of trees and greenery. We walked to our tents in the dark and woke up to a breakfast of an orange and nothing else, not unlike the trek experiences I’ve read about. That first afternoon, after “fasting” all day, we were told to take our scriptures and find a place to sit and read them and journal for an hour. And as orchestrated as the experience was, I remember writing in my journal that I did very much feel the Spirit that day.
Years later, studying the Book of Mormon at BYU, my instructor talked about “wilderness experiences” and how when God needs people to learn things, He sends them out into nature to teach them things He couldn’t otherwise. His examples included Lehi’s family, the Jaredites, Moses and the Israelites, Joseph Smith’s first prayer, and Zion’s camp. My mind went back to that campout and I’ve wondered off and on since, do I have “wilderness experiences?”
I’m not the sort of person who does a lot of hiking or climbing or walking in nature. I live in a city, travel in the city, and stay in cities, for the most part. I went to only 3 years of YW camp, though that decision wasn’t solely related to the outdoorsy-ness. When my parents would take us hiking on family vacations, I rolled my eyes and groaned because it seemed to so fake to my teenage self to suddenly have an interest in being out in nature simply because we were on “vacation” now.
I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on a vital way to commune with God because of my lifestyle. Maybe my Book of Mormon teacher was right in that some lessons need isolation in nature to learn and I’ve been denying myself those experiences. Perhaps I should do more travelling and camping or spend some Walden-esque time to myself.
Have you had strong “wilderness experiences?” and how have they affected you? Do you make it a point to go out and be with nature? Or has the wilderness been unexpectedly thrust upon you at times? Feel free to share your abandoned-15-miles-away-from-civilization-while-on-a-road-trip stories. Do you think it’s important to seek those sorts of experiences out? What lessons has the wilderness taught you?