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home : columnists and contributors : columnists and contributors August 20, 2014

1/1/2014 12:01:00 AM
Essay:Adventure Is Everywhere
Molly Ames Baker

Up from the basement comes the full-lung holler of my six-year old, "MOM, I can't find 'em!" I enter into a veritable snowstorm of hats, gloves and hand-me-down snow pants flying in every direction. "Hurry, mom, HURRY!" he says with urgency. Grabbing the clothes out of my hands, he's up the stairs and out the door before I can reach the farthest flung hat. It's the first "real" snowfall of the year, a benchmark defined by my kids as just enough to make a snow fort, leaves, grass and all. Heading up to join them, I get sidetracked instead rummaging through our winter gear. Pulling a pair of rusty crampons and musty mountaineering boots from the tub marked "Denali," I think to myself, "Woah! Has it been that long?"

As the first (ahem) errant snowball smacks the window, my mind wanders back fifteen years to our Alaskan climb. By all accounts, it was the "adventure of a lifetime." But I began to question that description, when, years later, we happily cut up our climbing ropes and tied them to the swing set. What is adventure, anyway?

Certainly, not a backyard snowball fight. It doesn't fit with the image of adventure our society has held for thousands of years. Since the start of civilization, adventure has been defined by three essentials: 1) heading off to far-away places, 2) undertaking risky situations with uncertain outcomes, 3) claiming something whether it be status, knowledge or treasure. And upon return, always, always a bold story must be told. Everyday we are reminded - by magazine ads, reality TV and social media - of this shared definition: adventure is extreme, necessitates awesome gear, and must be posted. Immediately. Preferably while it's happening.

Age-old definitions and pop culture aside, I resist the notion that adventure need be tied to peak bagging, bucket lists, or the "sketch factor." Is it not possible to find adventure right outside our door on a sort-of-snowy day in November? A few days later I asked my three kids point blank: "What is adventure?" My eight-year old answered: "Adventure is when you get up and go out the door. And it's awesomeness. And it's something to remember." I was surprised by her reply, and even more so realizing she had touched on all three of the adventure "essentials", just a bit less extreme.

So how then do we cultivate a sense of adventure that is less extreme? Perhaps we need to have a few hair raising experiences to make a shift in how we define adventure. Is it because I was able to spend nineteen days on the highest peak in North America - the supposed "Adventure of a Lifetime" - that I now believe seeking "everyday adventure" is more worthwhile? It's easy to venture off in search of the higher summit, faster rapid, or next race. The real challenge lies in embracing that which is seemingly mundane - the everyday landscape of our everyday lives.

Imagine a sliding scale of adventure: at one end is epic and at the other is ho-hum. So the key lies in seeking the same three essentials, but discovering how to find them further down the scale. That is to say, developing your "everyday-sense-of-adventure" is really about letting go of preconceived notions and opening our minds and senses. It's like any other skill; the more you do it, the easier it gets. In fact, the better skilled you become at discovering small-scale adventures, the more rewarding they become because these are, after all, the simple pleasures in life.

Watching out the window, I realize this sliding scale of adventure plays out naturally for kids as I witness it unfold: what started as an elaborate plan for building humongous snow forts with two teams and strategic snowball attacks, quickly becomes pushing snow into piles for "bases", which turns to stomping them down repeatedly, and then it all ends with eating snow while lying spread eagle on their backs, in a moment of silent bliss (at least for me).

The same adage that Roderick Nash applied to the concept of wilderness in Wilderness and the American Mind can be applied to adventure: Adventure is a feeling, a state of mind, that varies from person to person. There can be many kinds or intensities of adventure. In fact, the Latin root of adventure means "to arrive." Perhaps the key lies in arriving at our own definition of adventure and then, more importantly, discovering a way to seek it.

By giving up our cultural fascination with big-scale extremes, we can instead seek out small-scale wonder. Instead of looking elsewhere, we soon realize that adventure is everywhere.

Perhaps all we need is our backyard and just enough snow...

(Molly Ames Baker is a mom of three, and along with her husband Josh, owns The Outfitter in downtown Harbor Springs. She co-directed Colgate University's Outdoor Education program for 12 years.)

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