The Fountain of Youth: Learning


My friend Nancy sent me a note this morning that she was treating herself to a guitar today. She’s always wanted to learn and is now in a place where she can take time to learn to play. She’s also met a potential teacher. You know what they say – When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

The best thing I’ve done for myself in the last 10 years was take that backpacking class. Over the course of six weeks I learned to backpack for sure, but there is so much more to it than that. Backpacking requires a lot of unique skills. It’s not just throwing some stuff in a pack and walking. You have to learn to organize and plan like a demon. Just in case, I had to learn to navigate by compass, hang food where local animals can’t reach it and how to protect my body from hypothermia. Planning a trip requires map reading, analysis of trail conditions and weather, an astute understanding of the questions you should ask park rangers and even appropriate selection of backpacking partners. I’m still learning to plan. And I’m sure as my adventures involve more difficult terrain and unpredictable weather, I will learn more skills – some the hard way.

One thing I didn’t anticipate was the social boost backpacking would bring. I assumed – and hoped – I’d meet a backpacking buddy or two in the class, but I got so much more than that. Right now, I’m working with the hiking club president to complete a post-mortem on Campfest and to create a robust project plan for next year. I’m getting to use my event planning skills and even my instructional design skills to help the club grow. I’ve met many people who are very interesting, and I’m enjoying talking to them about what they’ve learned over the many years they’ve been involved in the outdoors. It seems that being active in the outdoors opens up so many avenues that it’s almost limitless what you can learn.

Some outdoor enthusiasts decide that they want to know more about the outdoors scientifically. Katherine, my backpacking teacher, is taking a class right now on birdwatching and is astounded at how much bird activity has been going on just under her nose. She’s still learning, and she’s been at this for many, many years. My first husband is an avid birdwatcher, and he and his wife travel all over the country adding to his life bird list. My friend Chuck is a nature photographer and says that his “focus” in photography is always changing forcing him to learn new techniques in shooting. In addition, he’s also learning new technology that enhances today’s digital photography. Others are starting to teach what they know, and, in the process of researching their topics, they learn more than they ever knew.


They say that as we age it’s as important to exercise our brain as much as we exercise our body. Learning something knew is much more powerful if it’s combined with social stimulation as well. Momma learned to quilt after she retired, and it opened up a whole new world to her. She met other quilters, traveled to quilt shows all over the country and has even quilted with some quilting groups. A hobby that would seem to be solitary is actually very social. Best of all, she is leaving a legacy by all of the family quilts she has made over the years. When asked what she would have missed if she hadn’t learned to quilt, “OMG,” she said. “It’s a past-time. It keeps my mind going. It’s creative and rewarding when you finish one. There can be a lot of dead time when you retire, and quilting keeps me busy.”


The interesting thing is that the more I learn with my new hobby, the more I want to learn. Curiosity seems to feed on itself. I haven’t had the opportunity to backpack in the rain yet – not wishing for it, but I know it will come! I’ll have to learn to dress and figure out how to keep dry or get dry before hypothermia is an issue. And what will I do if it’s pouring rain, and I can’t hike? Well, Katherine told me to bring a deck of cards so we could hang out in the tent and have something to do. I don’t know how to play cards, so I asked my parents to teach me. Today, I learned to play Rummy.

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I drove to Pierre Part today listening to the “Sounds from the Trail” hiking podcast. I found myself vicariously hiking the Pacific Crest Trail southbound with several thru-hikers. I learned why I might choose to hike in the opposite direction of the crowd and the pros and cons of doing so. I’ll probably listen to another one on the way home. I absolutely love being immersed in new information and new adventures. It makes me feel alive and engaged with the world. Isn’t that the point of living anyway? Curiosity may have killed the cat but it makes this gal feel like I’m 35 again.


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