Every year for the last four years my girlfriends and I have gone on a week-long hiking and pie-eating adventure in Glacier National Park. That first year it was smoke from several fires burning in and around Yellowstone that inspired Vicki and I to join Diane and Mel on their Glacier adventure. We had so much fun that we decided right then and there over a slice of huckleberry pie that we’d do it again the following year. Our only goals are to eat pie, hike, and laugh. Lots of laughing.
Glacier is about an eight hour drive from our home in Yellowstone. The drive gives us time to catch up as we pass through Montana’s wheat fields that roll in waves right to the Rocky Mountain Front. Our excitement mounts as glacier-covered peaks come into view at the crown of the continent, well before we arrive at the park’s east entrance in St. Mary. We chatter about the hikes we will do, which kind of pie we will indulge in, and what kind of booze everyone brought. I always come home exhausted but rejuvenated in a way that only arises from spending time with friends.
I used to think that I didn’t need anyone. That I was fully independent. That wild things were all I needed to stay sane. And to a certain extent, this is true. As a self-described introvert I don’t mind, and even require, spending much of my time alone. I relish long afternoons spent reading in my favorite, overstuffed, red chair and I used to love hiking in eastern hardwood forests by myself (something I miss since moving to grizzly country).
But more and more I’ve come to discover that I am not, cannot be, independent. It is impossible since the world is made up of minute connections so intricate that it is useless to try to pull them apart. These connections are like a quilt to which everyone contributes. Like my hiking boots, for instance. Someone made those. Someone stitched the leather together and glued the sole to the boot. Someone threaded the laces through the eyelets, and someone else shipped them to the store where I purchased them from a salesperson who helped me pick them out.
My boots are worn. The leather is cracked from hundreds of miles treading both on and off-trail. The ends of the laces are frayed and their soles don’t grip the earth like they used to. These are signs that my boots have crossed mountains. Many mountains. And never once have they been over a mountain without a friend’s pair of boots by their side. Shared experiences bond us to one another. These connections make us happier and are essential to our health. If we are deprived of social connection we will become depressed or physically ill. It can even drive us insane.
It might seem, then, that we should be happier than we’ve ever been with our iPhones, and iPads, tweets and text messages, and instagrams and Facebook accounts. We are more socially connected than ever. In a recent Scientific American Mind article, I read that 23 billion text messages are sent globally every day. In the U.S., 7,500 tweets are tweeted every second. I personally have a Facebook page, a twitter account, I’m LinkedIn, and I manage two web pages. For such social creatures this should be a good thing.
And yet, I sometimes find that a scroll through the pages of Facebook leaves me feeling more alone than ever. Depressed even. We know we are only being shown the highlights reel, yet Facebook can leave us feeling underwhelmed with our own lives. We “like” someone’s post, we comment on another, we write a short sentence about our own day, and we wait for someone to notice. It is the greatest magic trick of our time – the illusion that social media provides us with an authentic human connection.
Psychologists say that we can only maintain about five truly meaningful relationships at a time. You know who they are. They are the friends who inspire you to hike a mountain and take the time to pick huckleberries while you talk about tossing them into a milkshake, muffins, or pancakes when you get home. They are the friends with whom you laugh out loud with, and the laughter catches the friend by your side and the one beside her, and then you find you are all laughing and you’ve forgotten what was funny in the first place.
Someone once said to me that life is all about relationships. When I heard this, I scoffed. Maybe for you, I thought. But for me life is about adventures in the woods, wild things, and books about wild things. But now I think that if I went to live in a cabin in the woods, I’d want to bring a friend to share the experience with.