On the far side of my backyard growing up, there was a shallow creek bed just past the brush and pine trees that lined our property... always there, waiting to be explored. It couldn’t have been more than a dozen feet from one root laden wall to the other... but in the eyes of a young boy, it was a never-ending expanse. The meandering stream that carved its way through its lowest point flowed out of sight in either direction. In the dry months, its was almost non-existent. Water gave way to a barren muddy floor, exposing the rocks and sticks that lay beneath... seemingly endless treasures to be claimed. But after a heavy rain, that creek bed would become nothing short of a raging river, carrying along anything that dared to stand in its path. The flood waters would eventually recede, unearthing new treasures and redefining the features of its dirt packed walls. No matter the season, it was a place that always seemed to draw me back. Sometimes with others, often on my own. A gateway from the everyday and into the unfamiliar.
That creek bed was my wilderness. I may not have known to give it this name at the time... but it was there that I found solitude.
As an early teenager, I found it on the seat of a mountain bike. I would explore the trails that were only a short ride from my doorstep, where suburban sprawl gave way to pockets of undeveloped land. It felt like a little neighborhood secret... kept only for those who knew where to find it. Intentionally preserved woodlands navigable only by narrow single-track coursing through the trees like veins. It wasn’t much, but it was always there. Those woods came became my secluded escape, much the same way the creek was as a child.
Older still, my travels revealed these moments in places all around the world. Places I often revisit in memories to this day. The cliffside high above Raglan’s famous point break in New Zealand. The unassuming path to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna along Peru’s Inca Trail. The black sand beaches of Iceland’s Southern Peninsula. Each offered their own unique perspective on a previously undiscovered place in my eyes, yet somehow, each felt familiar. Vastly grander, yet oddly similar to the natural places I had explored so close to home as a child.
So close to home.
Our sense of familiarity and unfamiliarity have taken on all new meanings in recent days. Adjusting to a new normal has uprooted our routines and ways of life. As we distance from the world around us, exploration feels out of reach. In busy homes that have become offices and classrooms, solitude can feel hard to find... but it awaits us in those little moments and nearby places. It’s in the short afternoon walk around the block, or in the pages of that book on the shelf. Maybe it’s along that little trail you’ve driven past but never ventured down, or in an art project that captures your imagination.
For me, it’s come full circle. In the woods near where I now live, there’s a small clearing the opens up to a creek. As I stand alongside its banks, I can see how the spring rains have shifted its path and unearthed new features along the way. I may be older, but its allure hasn’t aged a day. Only steps from the familiar, I find myself exploring the unfamiliar once again.
Find your moments of solitude. Explore the wilderness outside your front door. Find your creek.