When I was a little kid, an adventure consisted of investigating every nook and cranny of my family's suburban Long Island backyard. Within the confines of one fenced acre, I'd wade through my mother's ferns and cattails pretending to be on safari as I searched for birds, squirrels, snails and praying mantises. When I found an animal I thought was cool, I'd carefully sketch in it a spiral notebook. When exhausted from crawling around in the dirt and grass, I'd retreat inside to a glass of lemonade and review my drawings, trying to assign names to the creatures I saw.
That was my wilderness.
When I grew older and had more freedom, I moved on to biking, running and walking around nearby State and County parks and beaches. Suddenly my world became filled with much more wildness. I could get up close to deer, snapping turtles, fish, raccoons, opossums, foxes. The vegetation was lusher, more green. When I got a car I began driving to parks further from home. Each park was different, each was its own wilderness, its own adventure.
Today, as a freelance science writer and artist, I go on adventures as a living. I pack up at least once a month and head off somewhere different to cover a different story. Some friends and family members have urged me to "settle down" like they have, to get a "steady" job with benefits like dental and health insurance and a 401K plan. "Want adventure?" they ask. "That's what vacation days are for. Go to a resort in Cancún or Miami or the Bahamas. You'll love it."
I'm skeptical. I believe we were all meant to really, truly adventure, to put ourselves in situations that may not be comfortable, or enjoyable even, but that are different than our everyday lives. That is where we can find the courage within ourselves to grow. That's where we learn things about the world, the life on it and ourselves.
Last week I explored a region of the U.S. I had never before seen: The West and Pacific Northwest. What did I find there? Breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife (orcas, auks, magpies, deer and more). Old friends and new friends. Steep city streets and gently sloping mountaintops. More confidence in my ability to navigate places I've never been and more appreciation for the many places I have been and excitement to explore those I haven't.
Going on an adventure is like unwrapping a surprise gift. You don't know exactly what you'll get out of it until you've finished unwrapping the whole thing. But as you unwrap it, bit by bit, you can see hints of the ultimate gift peeking through. But unlike a physical gift, at the end of an adventure you're left with things no one can take away: experience, emotion and memories.
That's my defense of adventure, why I've vowed to never stop exploring. If you're skeptical, give it a try. Spend a day off the grid hiking in a local park you've never before visited. Or even in a part of your city or town you've never spent time in. Bring a friend, or go alone. Get lost a little and don't worry about time, just focus on the adventure and the gifts you'll uncover at the end.