Have you ever loved something so much it's all you wanted to do all the time? Some feel that way about eating pizza (who doesn't), working with animals or working with animals with numerous pizza breaks. Well that's exactly how I felt about spending time outdoors. It turned out that the more time I spent outdoors, the better I felt - in all of the ways.
I grew up in the Chicagoland area and always had a deep love and curiosity for nature, spending days on end riding bikes through forest trails, exploring "the crick" and even sleeping in the family hammock overnight listening to the sounds of summer evenings.
During the summer of 2003, I enlisted in the Marines and shipped off a year later. Serving a diverse role as an artilleryman, I deployed to many places from the deserts of Iraq to the subtropical rain forests of Japan which only strengthened my curiosity to see what's out there.
Once returning from the Marines (and this is when we get serious), I faced challenges common to service members transitioning from active duty. Over the first couple of years there was the novelty of being the veteran in the classroom or the Marine in the office but replaying the past and reliving personas because it was what I thought would make me fit in or made me feel liked was actually destroying my identity. I was no longer Corporal Wolf because there was no place for Corporal Wolf. I am Aaron Wolf and that is what I wanted to be.
As time progressed I had opportunities to spend several days at a time immersed in the backcountry. The influence of the sensations of the wilderness were overpowering and reignited my childhood curiosity for the natural world. I felt damn good outside. I felt like I belonged outside and I felt no superiority over the land or animals; I felt acceptance and peace; I felt trust in the balance of the wild. Over and over I would leave my stress-addicted job in advertising to romp in woods, John Muir style (a bit better equipped) to hit the reset. With each trip I would take I would make great strides in my own development. Strides that gave me self confidence; strides to calculate risk and strides to be an unapologetic and compassionate citizen of Earth. The opportunity to be humbled by foreboding landscapes or to have morale decimated by weather was good for me. Just as the sounds of a forest alive at night, the sight of Lake Superior or the scents of the Earth was good for me. They still are.
I learned that the wilderness is the place we call home. It's where we came from! We're really only a few centuries removed from being primitive beings, thriving off the land and working in balance with nature. Now, one of my philosophies is if we can all reconnect with our planet, with our human nature and identity as human beings, society and wilderness will prosper.
Eventually I had had enough of the stressed out spreadsheets and the company's need for me to have a work phone. It was time to allow the joy and peace I found in the wilderness manifest and for the call of the wild to be answered by every single person I can reach. Spending time in the backcountry gave me the vision and confidence and now it is my mission to bring all the healing and lessons to be had to the people of Chicago. Especially our youth.
So here we are now - chasing dreams nestled peacefully on winding trails illuminated by starlight. Who knows where the trail ends but one thing is for sure: this absolutely is a 'happy trail'.
This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer and is operated under special use permit with the Huron Manistee and Hoosier National Forests.