Colbert: Using ‘wilderness as a medicine’ for mental struggles
Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as exposing the inner you to the world, laying bare all you hide behind each smile, each laugh, each tear.
Mental illness is terrifying. It’s irrational. And it’s just about impossible to talk about. But, when one does, it can make all the difference in the world.
Last week, I went to listen to Roaring Fork Valley resident Devin Pool talk. A photographer like myself, he was the latest speaker in the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ Potbelly Perspective series. His landscape photography is amazing, and he is certainly worth a follow on Instagram (@sixsevendevin).
Now, I didn’t go because I wanted to pick up a new photo technique or figure out exactly how he managed to snag that majestic shot. As someone who struggles with his own mental anchors, Pool’s backstory was what interested me. The title of his presentation was, “Finding Strength in Wild Places: A Photographer’s Guide to Resilience.”
In short, he told how the magic of the great outdoors, and eventually photography, saved his life. Pool grew up in West Texas, and suffered with depression when he was younger. By discovering nature, notably through a college backpacking trip to New Mexico, he found a new perspective on life.
“I used wilderness as a medicine for my mental illness,” Pool said during his talk.
I can’t begin to guess what exactly went through Pool’s head during those dark times. But, speaking from experience, I know what that battle is like. I know what true loneliness feels like, and I know its destructive power. I know what it’s like to have that void seep into you so deep it brings you to tears, seemingly for no reason.
I rarely talk about these personal struggles, mostly because I don’t know how to. Part of feeling distanced from everyone else, even those friends who are closest to you, makes it feel like you have no one to talk to, even if that’s not true.
This is why it was important for me to go listen to Pool talk. He didn’t go into great detail about his depression, eventually moving onto a much happier topic, that being his stellar photographs. But he said enough, and I want him to know it makes a difference.
To stand in front of a room full of both friends and strangers and tell them about those inner demons takes a lot of courage. And I loved how he found salvation through nature. I’m also a passionate landscape photographer, and the wilderness has always called to me, as well.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my own head, and that’s not always a good thing. Photography can be the same way, especially if spending hours, or even days, alone in the wild just to get a picture.
Again, not really knowing Pool that well, I don’t know if he still has these battles. He did, however, have the fortitude to realize the healing power of Mother Nature, which is part of the reason why he moved here to the Elk Mountains.
I realize the natural world won’t be the medicine each of us needs to overcome these inner struggles, but Pool’s talk made me want to listen to her call that much more.
This wasn’t my best work. I still stand by my original picks to win each of the snowboard contests at X Games Aspen 2023, but fate chose poorly. The main lesson? Don’t pick against Mark McMorris, Marcus Kleveland or Scotty James, unless you have a very good reason.