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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon


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Focus

Jul 22, 2018

Why We Need to Separate Friluftsliv from Adventure

The Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv focuses on enlightenment through spiritual oneness with nature. The contemporary context, however, misleads us into believing that performing adventure sports in nature is a means to achieve friluftsliv. To be honest, it really isn't.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

That summer, I thought I was on a hiking adventure like any other. In the clean air of wilderness, we hiked through rocks and green pastures while passing by streams of water under clear blue skies. Since the point of most hikes is to reach the top to see a panoramic view, I was curious about how this top would look like. I was with my host family and we didn’t speak the same language. With gestures and a few words, they had mentioned going to the mountains on the previous day. I said yes, obviously.

To my surprise, the narrow passage up the rocks covered in shrubbery opened up to a frozen stream. It was larger than my entire world, with no visible horizon. To a 15-year-old, it was a manifestation of “stairway to heaven.” This was the epic Briksdal Glacier in Norway.

Photo Credit: Christine Wang

At the time, I didn’t make much of my host family’s indulgence in nature and weekly trips to the mountains, lakes, glaciers, and forests of different kinds. I was a young student pursuing high school in UWC Red Cross Nordic and visited them occasionally.

Even in school, I didn’t understand the high emphasis on outdoor and adventure, the weekly skiing or hiking trips, or the importance of an entire week organised just for skiing in nature.

Then I learned about friluftsliv in Norway, which literally translates into “open air life.” That’s when I discovered a contradiction in its historical context and contemporary practice.

Friluftsliv appeared while I was digging further into the history of the Norwegian law allemannsrett. The law promotes friluftsliv and translates into “all man’s right.” Through the Outdoor Recreation Act, Norway institutionalized this law to give freedom and access to anyone who wishes to traverse the countryside and camp or picnic wherever, without having to worry about trespassing violations. The law encourages freedom with responsibility and gives free access to nature, while expecting a certain level of mindfulness and respect for the earth and the private landowners. The law has been a traditional right since the Viking period and was institutionally implemented under the Act in 1957.

Photo Credit: Vidar Stenset

As a concept, friluftsliv finds a significant place in Scandinavian history and culture, particularly in Norway and Sweden. This rich philosophy is deeply embedded in the pursuit of spiritual oneness between humans and nature.  It was popularized by writer Henrik Ibsen in his poem back in 1859, where he wrote, “this is friluftsliv for my thoughts,” while looking into the stove and sitting alone in a cottage amidst nature [1]. Later, ecological philosopher Arne Naess extensively wrote about friluftsliv in his books that focused on the positive spiritual impact of the natural environment on human beings and their evolution.

Both Ibsen and Naess highlighted friluftsliv as a state of mind which doesn’t necessarily require any physical activity. One can feel this “open air life” while doing nothing, and simply sitting and staring at the stove. All that is needed to experience this blissful state is to be in the context of nature.

That said, I’m not sure if the two thinkers would feel drawn to the interpretation and use of friluftsliv in the contemporary context. What I experienced in nature with my host family and at my school wasn’t friluftsliv. They didn’t promise that either. Many Norwegians and Swedes, however, are invited by commercial companies to experience this state of mind in nature with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and so on. But this sense of adventure doesn’t necessarily carry the true philosophical meaning and value of friluftsliv .

Photo Credit: Orca Tec

Changing contextual meaning may not be a problem for some who see a certain business sense in it. The idea of friluftsliv is attractive because it offers the possibility of enlightenment and higher consciousness. Surely, the ones who are invited to experience it in nature at a ski resort would be naturally drawn to it. That speaks positively of the customers who want to become better human beings. But it definitely doesn’t portray the resorts and tourism boards in a positive light. Such methods depict them as people who promote the wrong direction for the right goal.  A family at a ski resort may get really confused about why they haven’t felt friluftsliv yet. It would be a shame for them to sit around and wait for this philosophical state of mind to happen in a context that is far from it.

Personally, I am interested in the pursuit of both friluftsliv and adventure. But I think it’s important to keep the two separate and not use them interchangeably when it is convenient to do so. While reading more about this idea, I gathered that Scandinavian thinkers seem upset about the commercial sector using friluftsliv in the context of adventure. In the name of outdoor activities, the deeply philosophical experience is reduced to a superficial pursuit.

Ecology is one area where Scandinavia has much to offer to the world. In few countries like Norway and Sweden where laws are mindful of nature, using language and terms in the right context is an important social responsibility. Separating friluftsliv and adventure sports would only help clarify the means of achieving the two ends. Both are necessary and impactful on the body, mind, and soul in their own ways. With that clarity, people can be guided in the right direction to achieve the right goals.

[1] Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life Hans Gelter, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

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Op-Ed

Nov 22, 2018

“Today, I’m Thankful For…” the Privilege to Suffer

On Thanksgiving, we ask: what allows us to have the experience of trail-running or mountain-climbing in the first place? The luxuries of time and money not spent on survival.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

As adventure athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, we are intimately familiar with pain. It’s something that many of us choose to live with, and we take it for granted. On Thanksgiving, it’s important to be self aware of this luxury that we are free to enjoy: our own privilege to suffer.

Pain is the fraternal glue that bonds the collective outdoor community together. The elite ultra-marathoner, avid runner, and casual jogger are bound by common experience to the credos of discomfort. It is tacit law that burning quads, blisters, and mind-numbing exhaustion are the domain of the dedicated.

We’re hardwired to minimize effort, right?

We ascend vertically in spite of gravity’s protestations. The mountain biker knows the acute sting of scraped skin or worse following a toss from the saddle. The alpinist has taken whippers, the kayaker endured pounding white water, the backpacker dense mosquito swarms. We do all of it and more for the sake of well-being, pleasure, and connection to the wild places in which we recreate. Be it bicycling or surfing, camping or climbing, skiing or swimming, all outdoor recreation involves a challenge.

We idolize those members of our species who appear to have achieved a transcendent level of pain tolerance. They are the men and women who grace the covers of our adventure magazines. They eat pain for breakfast, run 30 miles, then power-nap while doing pinky push-ups. They are the ultra-marathoners who crunch thousands of vertical feet; the cyclists who pump up and down hills with uninterrupted cadence; the mountaineers who ascend Himalayan peaks in sub-zero temperatures. Their feats are astounding and require an implausible amount of pain and fear management. By all analysis of human behavior—we’re hardwired to minimize effort, right? —performing activities to maximize discomfort seems masochistic. Their successes are incumbent on short-term suffering. But in our fetishization of such successes, we’ve fetishized the suffering.

All too often we neglect in the heroism of our adventure athlete idols and our own Strava-worthy accomplishments the privilege inherent in this form of suffering. Just as the First Thanksgiving wasn’t quite a genial gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans over turkey and potatoes, our “suffer-fest” celebration necessitates an asterisk. What allows one to have the experience of trail-running or mountain-climbing in the first place? The premium luxuries of time and money.

A decent Ironman bike costs as much as the per capita GDP of a middle-income country.

Statistics compiled by the US Outdoor Industry Organization show that an unsurprising 74% of American outdoor recreators are Caucasian. A sizable 31% of this demographic has a household income of over $100,000 annually, which represents the top 10% of all Americans. In keeping with other measurables (education, housing, employment), outdoor recreation is inequitable. The barriers to entry can be a pair of running shoes or a pricy backcountry skiing setup and a slew of climbing gear. The cost of a decent Ironman bike is as much as the per capita GDP of a reasonably wealthy middle-income country, like Montenegro or Malaysia”. As the result of socioeconomic status, we can spend our free time suffering by choice.

There is another form of suffering, and it is not by choice. An inexcusable portion of the world, due to geographic location or political circumstance, deals with violence, oppression, and illness. For the 43 million Americans receiving federally subsidized food stamps, daily sustenance takes precedence over optimal performance powders and sports gels. For the half million homeless, exposure to the elements is not a rugged escape from urban monotony but an unabating reality. This kind of suffering is not a choice afforded by privilege but allotted due to lack thereof. We can push into a place of deep pain on a punishing climb, but that suffering ends the second we return, wobbly-kneed and woozy, to our cars at the trailhead.

Most of us are aware of such suffering; many of us have lived it or are living it. We can be proud of our athletic achievements, especially in an age where we can shop for groceries from the couch. However, amid the hubbub of fitness fanaticism and athletic adulation, we must remind ourselves of the relatively rare privilege to choose to be hungry, endure physical pain, and put ourselves in harm’s way deliberately and enthusiastically.

A garage full of outdoor toys does not exempt one from the inevitable experiences of pain and suffering. But come tomorrow morning, when we hop on our mountain bikes to do penance for that extra slice of pumpkin pie, let us give thanks for the privilege to recreate and the privilege to suffer.

Want to do more than give thanks? Consider supporting some of our favourite charities: Sierra Club, ATCF, Rewilding Britain / Rewilding Europe, First Descents and Orangutan Foundation

Cover photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash

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