Well, it's Sunday evening and I'm bored - so let's see what kind of trouble I can start!

What philosophy makes one a "real" backpacker? Must you be a tree hugger, or naturalist? An environmentalist? Or does any of that matter?

Let me get a bit more specific. I can identify a few types of trees ("evergreen," "not evergreen," "maple, I think" - you get the idea.) I even know a few types of rocks - quartz, I'm good at; usually, but not always, I can distinguish between granite, sandstone, and limestone. I have a vague idea how wind and water sculpt rock shelters. I'm no good with identifying animal tracks, and plant species leave me dumfounded.

But, here's the thing. Getting closer to nature is not why I backpack. I live a fairly controlled life: structure of family, big-time structure of work (I'm a CPA), demands on my time and attention. When I backpack, I give myself the gift of time. I can simply walk, with a minimal house on my back, and let my mind wander. Do I fail to appreciate nature? No. One morning, I was sitting on a point at the head of a valley, just sitting - and the only way I can describe what came next is "God came close." Just a sense of perfect peace, just existing, just belonging.

I appreciate a beautiful sunset or sunrise, and I'm awestruck by a sky full of stars - but I can barely identify the Big Dipper; the North Star remains a mystery. My breath is taken away by fall color, or by the way spring or summer sunlight plays on different shades of green foliage. I find pleasure in listening to the sound of breeze blowing across thigh-high meadows. But the pleasure is mostly just being out there.

I don't want to become active in environmental causes - though I do make some efforts to recycle; I turn down a bag when I'm only buying one or two already-overpackaged items, and so on. I don't help build trails, though I'm scrupulous about walking through the muddy spots, or not shortcutting switchbacks. Getting involved that way would, I fear, simply turn a pastime I love into one more demand on my time, to be sandwiched into the other committments and schedules.

So, what does it mean to be a backpacker? Do I need to turn in my boots and slink off in shame? smile