Living in the Tahoe Basin, the wilderness begins in many of our backyards. While many people find comfort and ease being in a city surrounded by people, there are a few who find the natural mystery of the wild to feel like home. In Tahoe, nature can be explored on a daily basis whether it’s an epic backcountry tour or a walk through the trees. For certain people, nature resonates deep in the soul intertwining beauty, history and knowledge.
One Tahoe local who has discovered her connection to the wilderness is Carolyn Highland. Highland is an author and 4th grade teacher at the outdoor school, Tahoe Expedition Academy in Truckee.
She just published her book, Out Here: Wisdom of the Wilderness, which is a collection of essays about the physical and metaphorical lessons learned and experiences taught by Mother Nature herself.
Highland has published over 50 essays in print and online over the last 20 years, most have a direct correlation to her experiences in the wilderness.
While Highland grew up in Maine, she has spent her life slowly moving west. Before moving to the area, she received her BA in creative nonfiction writing from Northwestern University in 2012. While she has been writing for years, Out Here: Wisdom of the Wilderness, takes readers on a journey through the human experience where greater truths are revealed by outdoors.
One of Highland’s first experiences that inspired her admiration for the outdoors was when she was a young girl living in Massachusetts. The snow was falling outside in the middle of the night. Spontaneously, her father broke out the snowgear, snowshoes and they took to the outdoors. Highland says that she remembers how magical that moment felt and she was truly in awe. “The memory still sticks with me so many years later,” said Highland. She uses this experience as a focal point in her teachings.
The book delves into the importance and intrinsic connection we as humans have to the earth and wilderness. “So much of the problems we are seeing in society is from the disconnect,” she said.
Highland says that abusing resources and destruction of important places comes from not getting to know nature. “You protect what you love and you can’t protect something that you don’t know,” she said. Highland says that not only is nature therapeutic and calming, but can put people in better touch with themselves.
In Wisdom of the Wilderness, Highland shares metaphors that help make sense of different challenges we face in life exposing expectations and reality. She explains how an experience that may not be the most comfortable or easy could turn out being more rewarding.
In one part of the book, Highland is trying to decide if she should sleep in her tent or under the stars. While she might be more comfortable in her tent, she won’t get to experience sleeping next to her friends under a big starry night sky. The book explores pushing yourself incrementally, but Highland says to find your limit in the process.
“The more we spend outside, the more we understand ourselves,” she said.
Through her adventures, she explains what may seem as going wrong, may actually be creating opportunity for growth or something even more enjoyable. “Be aware in those situations when things go wrong or unexpected because it can be a learning experience,” said Highland. Highland’s book shows how nature is truly humbling and in the backcountry; humans are not in charge. In those moments the book inspires people to think about the situation, choices, acceptance and reaction.
The messages Highland shares in her book are universal, timeless lessons that are relevant not just for the outdoor community, but to all humanity. “As a writer, my purpose is to have readers connect to my writing,” she said.
One of the most important points she wants people to take away from her book is to get inspired to connect with the outdoors. “Ideally I want people to be inspired to form a relationship with the outdoors, whatever it looks like,” she said. Highland says that living in Tahoe is an incredible basecamp to exploring the outdoors. “What I love about Tahoe is being able to explore my immediate surroundings. It feels like a dream,” she said. “I am stunned by the diversity of landscape in California.”
Highland’s writing has also been featured in course readers through the National Outdoor Leadership School, NatureBridge, the Prescott College Outdoor Program, and Second Nature Wilderness Program. When Carolyn isn’t writing away she can be found in nature ski touring, trail running, mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, camping or swimming.
For more information on Carolyn Highland visit, www.carolynhighland.com.
Out Here: Wisdom of the Wilderness is currently available at Word after Word Book in Truckee, AlpenGlow Sports and available for order at any independent bookstore.