Cambrian: Opinion

In backcountry, tension’s cure is just outside the window

The view of San Simeon Cove from behind Rocky Butte illustrates why living in the backcountry can provide an antidote to urban tensions.
The view of San Simeon Cove from behind Rocky Butte illustrates why living in the backcountry can provide an antidote to urban tensions.

Over the decades, there seem to be two kinds of guests who visit these Santa Lucia Mountains. One type says, “This is heaven on Earth!” The other announces, “I’m ready to get back to town.” Faithful urbanites ask, “Why would you choose to live so far away from pizza delivery?”

An answer to that question is that, despite unconventional living conditions, backcountry can be a curative sanctuary, a panacea for many current ailments and vexations. In these mountains, we have unlimited access to this remedy, as do coastal villagers. Still, even in small doses, woodlands and waves can arouse wellness. They can help clear the mind and open the heart. They can encourage the capacity for reason and gratitude. For some of us who have prescribed ourselves frequent and copious dosages of this powerful medicine, life is good where the bears and wild pigs roam.

Up here — unless there’s a sow on your heels — tension is optional. Hope is available. There’s nothing to prove. There’s no one to burden or bother by doing life at our own pace. Not a single soul is troubled when the rooster crows at first light or the dogs bark at boogiemen. And, since fashion and beauty standards are down-to-earth, nobody loses their mind when women’s breasts aren’t kept under tight wraps. Unhooked from society’s sensitivities, if it suits a gal, this part of the Wild West can be a braless land.

Untethered from leash laws, the dogs, too, enjoy nature’s contributions to well-being. Tails wag. Tongues drag. The dogs bounce as they escort hikers or guard our hardy flock of truly free-range chickens. For man and animals alike, the great outdoors inspires appreciation of the present moment.

Naturally, a remote lifestyle isn’t for everyone. This old cabin is way off the grid. Among other things, running water, electricity, refrigeration, heating and cooling are all do-it-yourself deals. Plus, it’s a long bone-jarring trip to Cambria and an even longer one to local hospitals.

However, when it comes to man-made stressors, for some of us, distance is a strategy. Rural landscapes can offer places to disconnect from much of the absurdity and manipulation that’s out there, not to mention the countless unintentional ways there are to offend folks. And, what about dealings with defensive people who have hair-trigger tempers? Shoot, it’s no wonder some of us are reclusive.

Luckily, it’s possible to turn away from the showdowns and tune into nature. Suddenly, stress fades and spirits brighten. With nature, we can experience more pleasure and less pain in the rear — in part because our attention is no longer on those bun-clenching individuals who make every endeavor feel like a colonoscopy. There’s one in every crowd …

Fortunately, anyone on the Central Coast of California can forgo the inundation of nonsense and sickness at any time. Just look away from that which is made or caused by humankind and look toward the wondrous world that surrounds us. An antidote is right out our windows.

From over the ridge and off the grid, Michele Oksen writes Mountain Musings for The Cambrian. the second Thursday of each month. Her column is special to The Cambrian. Contact her at