Via Basel: Emerging From Isolation

Over the last two decades, on a yearly basis I have attempted to go on a nature outdoor trip. It can be trekking, hiking, canoeing, or rafting and is usually far away from my Chicago home base. Most have been in the continental United States, but others were in Alaska, Europe, South America, and, my most adventurous, Bhutan and northern India. I find nature to be an essential form of nourishment.

In addition to the joy and health benefits of being outdoors, I feel a spiritual connection to nature, as close to primitive as possible. These less disturbed and civilized parts of the planet are diminishing fast. I feel fortunate to have seen glaciers, roaring rivers, wonderful waterfalls, and exquisite deep forests with thousand-year-old trees. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if my two granddaughters will have the same opportunity when they grow up, but I digress. 

Since early 2020, like most of the population, I have been limited in my excursions and mostly utilized my proximity to Lake Michigan and Millennium and Grant Parks to satisfy my yearning for the outdoors, until recently. Having good friends in wonderful places is a gift from above and a most perfect trip finally materialized. Many years ago I was in Vancouver, Canada and loved it, but I have never been to the Pacific Northwest in the US. A good friend who lives there recently invited me for a visit, or did I invite myself?

Prior to leaving, I brushed up on my knowledge of the area’s history and environment, reading a book my friend suggested, The Golden Spruce. A True story of Myth, Madness & Greed, by John Vaillant. I learned about the unforgiving weather in these coastal areas, the fascinating customs of the native Haida Indians, and the devastating effect of the dominant logging industry. My friend and his wife were the ultimate hosts for the entire six days. We explored Seattle, visited the Cascade Range with its snowy wonderland, and spent most of the time on Orcas Island just off the coast, where they live. Touring, hiking in the mountains, or just plain sitting on the deck of their home and watching the sunset were the perfect antidote to a year of relative isolation and controlled frustration. 

As we emerge from our self imposed cocoons, let us be deliberate in what we plan to do next. Let us set our priorities ourselves in light of  lessons learned from the pandemic experience. As varied as these responses are, they should share a common theme: lifting up our own spirits, and each other’s spirits, too.

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

“The Great Unmasking” by David Brooks

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.


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