The worldwide Augustana College experience

The Magic of the Wilderness

Aug. 3

There are four types of moving experiences people have in the wilderness — fascination, spirituality, communitas and flow.
— Lara Fenton, PhD candidate and river guide


Our lead river guide is working on her dissertation about the various types of moving experiences people have in the wilderness. She has a detailed database from surveys that inform her research, and have led her to believe that there are four categories of moving experiences people have in the wilderness. As I listened to Lara, I realized that I have experienced each one:

Spiritual: Wilderness experiences help people become closer to their creator. We certainly experienced this on our trip down the Nahanni. The half-mile-high canyon walls make the canyon feel sacred, like a grand cathedral.

Flow: Lara explained that this means total absorption in the physical experience, a kinetic sense of unified, flowing movement. When Jane and I took our turn with the canoe on this swift river (and 20 years ago when I kayaked down the Middle Fork of Salmon River) I felt one with the river. It is a transcendent experience.

Communitas: By Lara’s definition, this involves a deep personal connection with others, triggered by sharing the wilderness experience. We see this every time we take an expedition raft trip. Our fellow travelers, usually numbering from six to twelve, become like family during the trip. Though the relationships don’t necessarily remain after we go our separate ways, for that time we share a connection.

Fascination: Lara explained that this means being mesmerized and deeply drawn to what you see. We experienced this the first night on the river. We walked, with our First Nations guide, to an overview of thundering Virginia Falls, nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls and so incredibly powerful. There we saw a double rainbow, shining in the mist of the falls, dissipating and then forming again. It was beyond words. Our “Nahanni Family” sat at the falls, speechless, for almost an hour.

I hope all of our students, at some point in their lives, have the opportunity to experience the wilderness in these ways. And I both hope and trust it will be unforgettable.

(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

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