I grew up in rural, Northwestern Spain. Naturally, walking in nature was part of the daily routine as soon as I walked out the door. While in college, I walked at least half an hour daily next to the ocean–weaving rocky inlets, the beach and the sidewalks on my way to my bus stop. The open space and the constant meditative stops to just listen to the ocean made the transition from the farm house to the urban apartment a lot easier.
I came to the U.S. back in 1999 to become a high school teacher. It was the first time I heard of hiking as an activity. I did not know any city dwellers who saw nature as leisure while growing up. In college, my roommates and friends would rather stay on pavement that venture out into the sand and the rocks. They even often took the long way to avoid the promenade along the water to shelter themselves from the coastal winds. I did not understand why they avoided the open coastal landscape while I simply naturally gravitated towards its beauty and isolation. Hiking as a leisure activity was far from the reality of anyone I knew growing up. Even farmers considered it a natural way to move through the landscape to complete chores. Fetch the cattle, maintain the property, go to mass, visit a relative… In retrospect, I remember that my paternal grandfather always took a 1 hour plus solitary walk after lunch. Now, decades later and with some teachings of time I realize that he must have used that time alone for self-reflection. Perhaps that is where my meditative, contemplative nature comes from.
So here I was at my first high school teaching job in a foreign country fresh after college and nine months of military service. A colleague recruited me to help him lead the school outdoor club. A NOLS graduate, he would instruct me ahead of teaching the students so that I could assist him with the lessons and excursions. He taught the students and I how to successfully go from hiking, to day long outings, to overnighters and all the necessary knowledge to have a successful outing. Once again, nature became an escape from the daily noise. The main difference between now and my beach walks in college is in the conscientious manner in which I seek and plan such outings rather than simply being part of the environment in which I live.