Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 24, 2009

No Cure for Wildophilia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:11 am

I have been home from Utah for 13 days, and discover that I am stricken with an incurable disease.  I’ve named it Wildophilia, although doubtless its victims throughout history have given it other names.  It is relentless and progressive.  It starts out harmlessly enough with a liking for the outdoors, and a deep appreciation for natural beauty.  Sneakily, it triggers the release of a goodly amount of endorphins when some outdoor activity is particularly enjoyable:  the beginning of the addiction. (Rather like the tobacco companies lacing cigarettes with nicotine.) 

Signs and symptoms are subtle at first.  Mowing the lawn is more pleasant than washing the floor.  You may acquire a dog just so you can walk her. When you read a book (about adventure or the outdoors, often), you sit in the lawn chair or hammock instead of indoors.  You choose a house in the woods rather than in a treeless development.  You fix up your old bike and use it for exercise, rather than the treadmill in your basement. You are drawn to bird-watching, and love a good hiking trail. You find yourself requiring more natural light than your companions need.  Your camera’s photographs are of nature instead of people.

As the insidious disease takes hold, you may find yourself taking up running, a sport you’ve never tried before, just to get you outside.  Any invitation to a river or lake beats out the nicest golf course, tennis court, or bowling alley.  You drive with your car windows open rather than sealing yourself into an A/C-controlled environment.  A two-mile hike may take an hour or more, since you stop to investigate every new mushroom, spider web, fern frond, cool cloud formation, tree root, rivulet with water striders and minnows and crayfish.  If you paint, you find yourself with your brushes and canvas en plein air, in the open air.  You turn off your beloved classical music in order to hear the April spring peepers singing their hearts out.  Patients may find themselves sympathizing with archetypal animals of the wilderness, such as wolves.

In later stages, you realize that you are different from your friends.  You find yourself sleeping outside at every reasonable opportunity; your sleeping bag on the cot on the porch becomes home each night.  On a moment’s notice, you find yourself throwing gear into your vehicle willy-nilly so you can get away to a new place to explore, a place without creature comforts, but with nature in its best and most beautiful forms.  Maybe you become a trained weather spotter, since you are thrilled by storms and marvel at their power.  You buy a star chart and start seeing the night sky in a new way.

The physical signs include breathlessness and heart palpitations, either when outdoors in a special place, or when prevented from experiencing wildness. Sighing is frequent.  Perceptual irregularities include hallucinatory tendencies in which the sufferer perceives indoor environments in black and white, and outdoors in technicolor.

There is no cure.  Wildness has worked its way into the colloidal network that holds every cell to every other cell.  Once the disease takes hold, it is permanently in the patient’s body/soul/spirit.  Treatments are aimed at ameliorating the unpleasant symptoms of Wilderness Withdrawal, and include regular doses of nature and exploration, in a variety of forms and places, sometimes solo and other times with other sufferers.  The disease can be contagious, spread through close contact and shared activities.

I’ve got it bad.


  1. K,
    Good description and good self-diagnosis. More importantly, I would agree that in your particular case, it is both acute and chronic and, I’m afraid, incurable.
    It would make sense to wonder how one is to live with this (affliction) for the rest of one’s days. Will one abandon oneself to the condition or learn too self-administer palliative doses whilst attempting some degree of conventionality.
    In the end, you will harvest the deepest satisfaction from having been true to your own self. Conventional ‘successes’, however lauded, cannot touch these depths but may be needed, at least in part, for survival in our chaotic, out-of-touch culture.

    Comment by Dad — August 24, 2009 @ 7:50 am | Reply

    • Whoa, Dad, that was deep. And thought-provoking. Thank you.

      Comment by kath56ryn — August 24, 2009 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  2. K,
    I neglected to mention one small ‘catch’ . . .
    To be true to one’s self one must know one’s self.
    This is a lifelong task, but I think you are well along this particular trail.
    Other than that, it’s a piece of cake! ;-?

    Comment by Dad — August 24, 2009 @ 8:17 am | Reply

  3. Oh, Kathryn! Again, you put it so well…with brilliant imagery and precise vocabulary. I think you should be a Ranger/writer!! I could read your blogs forever! Love ya!!

    Comment by Kathy L. — August 27, 2009 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  4. methinks you should consider joining the passport club. there are only 71 state parks to visit

    Comment by john — September 8, 2009 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  5. I laughed when I got to part that read… “you realize that you are different from your friends.” My friends still seem to appreciate me even though they don’t always understand me. 🙂

    Comment by Ron Carroll — March 4, 2012 @ 11:21 am | Reply

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