Trail Talk | Love is in the Plein Air: Exploring the land with the ones you love

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, Guidebook author Craig Romano muses on his love of nature and the joy found in sharing this with the ones we love.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebook Author
April 03, 2021
Trail Talk | Love is in the Plein Air: Exploring the land with the ones you love

Reading the journals of many naturalists, outdoorspeople, and adventurers, you immediately feel their strong love for the land. You can sense how this love touched their souls and tantalized their emotions. But what about romantic, familial, or platonic love? Did they experience that too while out and about in the backcountry?

Thoreau spent an awful lot of lonely nights in his cabin on Walden Pond. He’d get bored and frequently visit his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Thoreau may not have waxed poetic in his nature journals about his fellow transcendentalist, the deep friendship between them was integral to his observations.

And what about Farley Mowat? He never cried wolf, but did he cry out in passion way out there in the Canadian North? Apparently so - he and his wife Claire spent the first five years of their marriage living in an isolated fishing village in Newfoundland. They traveled extensively together, lived on the remote and tiny Magdalen Islands, and collaborated on several works.

In John Muir’s Mountains of California, the naturalist fawns over Douglas squirrels, water ouzels, and California’s mountains - but not his California wife. After many miles tromping the mountains as a single man, Muir married at the age of 42. He then spent a decade working the family farm with his wife Louie, but the mountains were calling. He occasionally took his two daughters to the hills with him, however Mrs. Muir preferred to stay home and tend to the farm and orchards. She showed no interest in the backcountry. Muir yearned to go back into the wilds, and Louie understood how important that was for the writer-naturalist. She encouraged and supported his return to the wilderness.

Casual readers of these authors’ works and that of many other outdoor writers may think that they were loners or outcasts who cherished a life of solitude. Many of their writings emphasized a strong personal relationship with nature, and at times appear to celebrate a romanticized individualism. These writings have tugged at my soul, enhanced my experiences on the trail and in the backcountry, and helped instill in me a strong love for all things wild. I have certainly spent many days alone on the trail and in the wilderness, observing, celebrating, and revering the natural world.

041.jpgHeather, Craig, and son Giovanni hiking the Kettle River Range, October 2018.

However, I am no loner. I delight in being in the woods with my loved ones - especially the two people I love the most, my wife and my son. Since my nascent years in the backcountry I have felt an intense love for the natural world, which at times grew selfish. But as my devotion to all things wild grew stronger, so too did the urge to share that feeling with others. Over the years I have found that being in nature with those I am closest to creates a synergy that enhances the love I have for wild places. It strengthens my bond with the people in my life as well.

I spent a good part of my first seven years in the Northwest roaming the region’s wilds in solitude. I cherished the alone time, but also longed for a soul mate who would share the trail and wilderness with me. In 1996 I met the woman that would become my wife while I was attending graduate school at the University of Washington. One early June evening, Heather, an undergrad at the University, came into the restaurant where I worked as a waiter and sat in my section. Our conversation drifted from menu choices to travel, the UW and writing. And by the powers of fate, Heather had just read one of my weekly hiking articles in the UW Daily. She was not a hiker, but that didn’t stop her from asking me to take her on one. After a “get acquainted” date, we went hiking together.

Our first hike together was to Surprise Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: that day led to many surprises. It was pouring rain when we got to the trailhead, but my inexperienced hiking partner was raring to go. The weather didn’t dampen her spirit. And her attitude didn’t dampen mine. We hit the trail, which was one I had hiked before. I was the seasoned outdoorsperson who relished many a mile in solitude, and Heather was an outdoors neophyte with the curiosity of a child. Nearly everything on that trail piqued her interest. I had long ago begun brushing off ubiquitous sights and sounds. Her astute attention quickly made me realize how much of the surroundings I now took for granted. I had grown complacent in many ways, seeking new territory and adventures at the expense of enjoying the moment.

While I started that hike assuming the role of teacher, Heather’s unbridled curiosity had me learning quite a bit too. I did indeed love sharing my knowledge that I had accrued from years of being an outdoorsman, but seeing the sparkle in her eyes and contentment in her heart as she learned to navigate, discover, and appreciate a whole new world was even more satisfying.

Our love for each other grew as we continued to spend more time on the trail and in the backcountry - and no doubt our wild settings and outdoor experiences enhanced our love for each other and strengthened our bond. We were married at Curlew State Park in Northeastern Washington, at the campsite where we had first camped together. The Kettle River Range became “our mountains,” and we go back frequently to celebrate anniversaries and our love. Our son of course is now part of those return trips and celebrations, and seeing his new experiences in the wild continues to enhance our relationship with each other and with the natural world.

I have sat on many a mountaintop and hiked many miles to incredible places. I am absolutely in love with the natural world and all things wild. The only thing that can be better than sitting on a wild deserted beach, atop a commanding hilltop, or by a sparkling alpine lake is to be there in the company of the people I care for most. All of those beautiful natural landscapes are too life enhancing to be loved alone.

Craig Romano is an award winning author who has written more than 25 books including Day Hiking North Cascades 2nd edition, Urban Trails Vancouver WA, and 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books).

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

LEAD IMAGE OF Craig and Heather on their first camping trip at Curlew State Park, July 1996. Photos courtesy of Craig Romano.