Western Voices


The first time I did this hike was probably in 1995, with my friend Ron. It was our first time here and we got a real late start. We should’ve known better ... it was painfully sunny. Now I’m 63 years old and I know to get out here early, but these days most of my friends have some kind of joint problem. Sore knees, sore shoulders, you know. I don’t really have any friends left to hike with, but I still like to come back.
What are people who don’t go outside missing out on?
Kids now just want to sit on a couch playing video games. Even going outside to take out the trash is too much. Back when I was a kid, if I got in trouble my mom told me to come inside. I grew up in a time where coming inside was a punishment. I never wanted to watch TV. I always wanted to be outside.
Mesa over the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

By Eric Lombardo

What motivates those of us who love nature? What brings us outside, in good weather or bad, to faraway locations or nearby parks? Why is it special and important to us? As I grappled with a new college hobby-turned-passion in hiking, these questions lingered in my mind. I did not grow up spending time outdoors, in fact, PWild was my first backpacking trip. What parts of that experience had me wanting to hike and explore somewhere new at every opportunity? For this past summer, I wanted to answer these questions, and I began drafting a proposal for a summer research study. I realized while deep in the weeds of study design that what I needed was not random assignment or p-values but something more informal: simply listening to those I come across outdoors and taking a snapshot of them in their surrounding nature.

What emerged is a project that took me across the Western United States for dozens of answers from all kinds of people. For In Our Nature, we selected ten of these answers to highlight once a week this quarter for inspiration as the weather warms toward another summer. In each, there are relevant lessons to our busy everyday lives at Northwestern. I hope you follow along each Wednesday of this quarter as my project, Western Voices, visits a new place and shares a new answer.

The project was funded by the Wolfgang Schlitz Adventure Fund from Dartmouth College, the institution of my project partner, Alex Lochoff. Alex led the interviewing process and I was responsible for the photography and editing. If you have any questions about the project, locations in the photos, or general comments, please contact me! I can be reached at ericlombardo@u.northwestern.edu.

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