Hiking as Scholé: Recovering your sense of wonder

We think of leisure as reclining on the couch eating peeled grapes that someone else has prepared for us. Or, at least, that was one of the first images I had when someone said I should be teaching from rest.

Hiking is not that. It is certainly, at the very least, physical exertion. So how can I say that hiking is scholé?

Scholé is an attitudinal posture. It is an expectation of seeing something worth seeing, of receiving the gift of an idea. It is an opportunity for contemplation, for thinking deeply about ideas that present themselves to you.

Hiking has a lot of ideas – from flowers and trees to bees and butterflies. It causes you to think about the path and the surrounding flora and fauna. You might think “I hope we find trillium today!” in May, you might go with that expectation, but you’re never really sure if they’ll be there until you see them. And, that moment of finding? That is scholé.

But you may not see those moments.

The first way hiking is scholé is wonder. As in “I wonder what we’ll see today?” I think we put too much pressure on wonder.Wonder isn’t only the awe and emotional response to marvels, but the question. I wonder. We go into the woods with expectation that 1) we will see something and 2) we wonder what that will be.

When we see something, we may “wonder what is that?” This is an excellent question for scholé! You may then notice the color, petal structure, leaf structure, shape, size. It’s all in one glance, but what a glance of observation.

Then, you may look around and say, “Look!” we passed one of those already.” or “There’s another one right there that’s further along!” This happened to my husband and me this spring. He saw the first trillium and as we looked backward on the path we saw several others that we had missed. Why does seeing one open our eyes to more? I wonder.

There is more scholé to be had, though – a mental snapshot, a camera shot, or even a quick sketch all help to cement the moment in mind. You don’t have to paint or watercolor in plein air, you don’t have to draw in the moment. I usually snap a picture on my phone. Still contemplating what the flower or plant or mushroom or bug might be.

These days I do have an app that will tell me nearly immediately what something is. And I like knowing, but whether the act of knowing that way is as permanent as seeking it out when I get home in field guides or online is a more permanent knowing than “this is a deptford pink.” Immediacy doesn’t feel like scholé.

I usually share to Instagram even though I know that I would do better at remembering if I would add to my nature journal from my pictures. There is a difference between ease and scholé.

When we return to the woods, whether the same trail or another, we try to name as we go. “Look, here are more trout lillies!” “Wild bergamot.” “Chanterelles!” and we point them out as we see them. We know them, we have a relationship with them and we are excited to meet them again.

For that, we worship God who has made all things. We can glorify the creator of such a variety to bless us and interest us.  

So we practice scholé in our wondering, in our seeing and naming, in our knowing, and ultimately in our worship.

Someone recently asked “How do I recover my sense of wonder?” Get outside. Find one thing you can’t name and wonder what it is. It’s OK if that wondering is put on, but say out loud “I wonder what that is.” Then find out. Next time you walk that path, you’ll be amazed how excited you’ll be that you can name it . Then find another. Wonder grows with wonder. Scholé begins there.

Hiking is scholé.

Scholé is the opposite of stress.

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