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On the nature of networks

By Tessa Grasel

There’s a sense of peace waiting to be discovered in the outdoors that I’ve been spoiled by—that throughout my travels has become this miraculous anywhere-kind-of home. Sometimes that peace is the silence that drifts in right before a rainstorm: easy to miss when plugged into social networks of the 21st century but impossible to avoid when wading with my crew through the prairie while the horizon is gathering purple and green. Other times, when I’m camping in the woods, it’s like waking up with a symphony in my head that crescendos in sunrises and birdsong instead of string orchestras.

These fleeting moments are not easily defined or quantifiable, but they’re enough to make people quit their day jobs and hitchhike to Alaska or thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. We endeavor to bring the scenic background of our lives to the foreground—pulling our own consciousness into the greater natural subconscious in the process. Despite the old trope of disappearing into a mountain wilderness, you don’t need to hike, climb, run or ride a train of camels to experience it. When you’re willing to overturn the familiar, there are a million ways to find it in your own front yard.  

It’s a soul-searched, peace-of-mind knowing of your environment, and part of what I think we preserve in Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa. Those movie-scenic backdrops of lakes, rolling hills and forests are our office and the environment is our work. Only you won’t catch us signing our names in the sand or carving them into trees at the end of the week. Due to the nature of the canvas, our work goes largely unsigned.

For as much as online networks are slanted toward making a name, the networks you find in nature will always be about leaving that name behind. Go deep enough into a forest and even John Muir, father of forests, is no more famous than so many of the rocks I’ve kicked off trails. My job, too, is a process of dirt, tools and an ever-changing flow of people that will never make it into a New York Times best-selling memoir. We plant trees and native grasses. They have their own names and their own purposes, in networks that extend far beyond Facebook and Twitter. That’s the nature of it.