It’s April 2018. A beautiful, sunny day in the central coast of California. The windows and sunroof rolled down, the sky painted a perfect blue, surrounded by the mountains we call home, my sister and I zoom down the 101. Post Malone blasts through the speakers of our Honda Civic while I devour a Whopper from Burger King, my hair whipping about freely. It’s Earth Day, and Olivia and I are taking a trip to Knapp’s Castle in Santa Barbara to celebrate. I’m not very well-traveled; to this day, I’ve never left the country. My geographical resume includes a high school graduation trip to Hawaii, a national park road trip with stops in New Mexico and Utah, a soccer tournament in Vegas and a couple visits to Denver to see my sister. This isn’t due to a lack of interest or desire. Olivia and I both played club soccer growing up, which meant our family’s “vacation” money went to gas and hotel expenses for games up to five hours away every weekend.
For this reason, I was completely unprepared for what I would experience this spring day in 2018.
Olivia was halfway through her first year at UCLA and I was halfway through my junior year of high school, so we spent the hour drive down to Santa Barbara catching up on current life events. She enthusiastically shared stories about the crazy parties she went to, the all-nighters she pulled studying with her friends and, most importantly, how I had to listen to the song “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. I updated her about my club soccer team, my schoolwork, my friends and my boy drama. At some point, she asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated high school— what college did I want to go to, what did I want to major in, etc. There was no hint of pressure or older sister tone in her voice; she was genuinely just curious and excited for me.
Regardless, I felt my heart sink into my stomach, a natural response we all experience when faced with these stressful questions. I started to doubt myself. What DO I want to do? What am I good at? Am I even smart enough to get into a good college?
These questions swirled around my mind as we ascended the mountain to Knapp’s Castle.
The sun began to set, and the sky turned from its previous baby blue to a colorful gradient of pink, orange and yellow. I hardly noticed, mentally preoccupied with the seemingly insurmountable feat that was my future. As a soon-to-be senior in high school, college was a topic of increasing discussion among my friends and teachers. It was something I had given a bit of thought to, but only as a distant, faraway reality.
About 10 minutes later we were out of the car, standing atop the mountain, facing the dilapidated castle and a shockingly immense valley behind it.
All of my worries dissipated at that moment.
The glowing sun fell slowly behind the vast mountaintops, creating a silhouette that looked like painting. A distant river flowed gently into the horizon, reflecting the soft light of the remaining sun rays. Trees and houses in the vast valley beneath us appeared so small that they resembled ants.
Behind us, the waning sunlight illuminated the rocky mountain formations, making them look hollow and soft in some places, harsh and jagged in others. The skyline shone a vibrant magenta pink as the sun said its final goodbyes. The air was fresh and cool, like 8 p.m. on a hot summer night. The sweet scents of pollen and earth filled my nose, inviting me to give in to their relaxing powers.
I had never witnessed such a breathtaking scene before.
The feeling I experienced in that moment is one of the most memorable of my life. I felt hopeful, not just about my future, but about everything— about life, about that day, about that moment, about myself, about the world. I remember having the recurrent spontaneous thought that everything was going to be okay. How could it not, in the face of this magnificent natural beauty? I wondered.
My stress about college became a silly concern. All of my problems became insignificant. They mattered, of course, and they were real. Standing at Knapp’s Castle, though, I became a speck in the enormous valley. As my eyes were opened to my physical size in relation to my environment, my worries shrunk from all-consuming, draining issues into seemingly minor dilemmas.
Three years later I learned the term that perfectly encapsulates what I felt: sublime.
In philosophy, sublime is a quality of greatness. It refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of human comprehension— like calculation, measurement or imitation. Whereas some things might be characterized as beautiful because they evoke pleasure to the senses in some way, the sublime elicits an overwhelming feeling of vastness in experience. It manifests in the awe and wonder we feel when we overlook the Grand Canyon or stand atop Mt. Everest.
Nature is subliminal because it has the capacity to overpower our perception and imagination abilities. I experience the sublime most when I watch the sun set over the ocean. The unfathomable immensity of the deep sea in combination with the incredible colors in the sky never fails to comfort me. I am insignificant compared to these entities, and the thought always brings me solace. This is precisely the solace I felt standing on that mountain in Santa Barbara, my stress about the future fading almost instantaneously into nothing.
Ever since this Earth Day spent at Knapp’s Castle, nature has been my sanctuary.
Simply existing in an outdoor environment, I become absorbed in the various shades of green in the trees and plants, the sounds of birds chirping and bees buzzing, the sweet scent of fresh, cool air. No matter what difficulty I may be dealing with, being in nature puts it all into perspective. Though it’s important to spend time contemplating problems in our lives, we cannot obsess over them.
There is so much more to the brief time we spend on this earth than constantly worrying, especially about things that are out of our control or in the past. For me, being in nature allows me to maintain this perspective. I still address and take care of things that cause me stress, but I now do so knowing such an incomprehensibly large and amazing world exists beyond myself. Visiting Knapp’s Castle that day in 2018 forever changed the way I view life and how I live mine day-to-day. Nature has gifted me a perspective I will continue to implement until my own time on this earth comes to an end, and for that I am eternally grateful.