Daniel Fox: Feel the Wild

Nature is raw and rough. It is deadly, strong, destructive, and intimidating. It is also beautiful, relaxing, humbling, lifting, motivating and inspiring. Beyond this, Nature is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It reminds us that life is not about us and that there is something far bigger than us. 

Untrodden contributor Daniel Fox has made a life out of exploring our place in this world. He has spent countless hours in wilderness in contemplation, learning from Nature and her gifts. He writes that his time in the wild has taught him "about life and death, about change and evolution and about challenges and perseverance. It has taught me about perspective and balance and most importantly, it has shown me how to be humble and spiritual..."

Daniel has made it his mission to capture and document the spirit of the natural world and its many participants. Through his photos, videos, and words, he masterfully brings us along with him on his voyage of discovery, sharing the valuable insights he has gathered along the way. 

His stories are powerful medicine, prompting us all to break free from our conditioning and curing us of our desensitization to the magic of world around us. His work and art reveals the mystery, wonder, and meaning engrained in all that can be found by those who are willing to walk among the forests, mountains, and beaches with the eyes of a child. 

He is an inspiration to all those that feel like they don't belong -- and shows that belonging can be found in nature if you know where to look. 

In anticipation of his upcoming book, Feel The Wild, we had the chance to speak at length with Daniel, and are thrilled to share his story and wisdom... 

Can you tell us a little bit of your story? How did you end up here?

It is interesting to look back and ponder how I got here. It has been far from a straight line. I have always been a voracious, curious person -- constantly questioning everything.

Some would say that I was difficult and a bit of a rebel. I agree with that, to an extent. My rebelliousness came from my desire to find mentors that would feed my never-ending thirst to understand the world. I wouldn't settle for anything less. For that reason, I didn’t do well with most authority... not because I didn’t respect it or understand its necessity, but simply because I didn’t want to be told what to do without being given the context and the bigger picture. I was the annoying kid that always asked “why?” In reality, I never grew out of this phase. I am still that kid today.

Loneliness was a predominant theme in my life. We moved a lot when I was a child. By the age of 15, I didn’t have enough fingers to count the homes I had lived in. I was constantly having to re-create a sense of belonging, losing it the moment I had managed to settle in.

I was, and remain to this day, a transient -- connecting with people of all different backgrounds and naturally understanding where they come from, without necessary agreeing with them. That ability gives me tremendous freedom but it also isolates me. I have had the same issue with my masculinity -- never really associating with the expectations and stereotypes of a "man's man." While I never doubted who I was, in a culture of opposites, I was the man in the middle.

Feeling like you don't belong is a powerful force. Without belonging to a specific place or set of expectations, you are free to venture to new places and try things you have never done.

I spent a lot of time outside as a child. Like a bee, I would explore the neighborhood and local parks, searching for adventures and new territories to claim. In winter, I would layer up in thick clothes and dig tunnels in the snow. In summer, I would go to summer camp—and did I have fun! All the times that I spent exploring the world formed a foundation for a life filled with amazing experiences and exquisite discoveries.

When you are young and without a care in the world, dreams are pure and innocent. As we grow up, we are introduced to responsibilities and obligations. Dreams that once felt big begin to feel infantile and we soon conform with everybody else, relinquishing our grand plans. One day we wake up and notice that we have lost our spark, our smile, our joie de vivre.

Life, at some point, may feel like an endless, futile race. We might catch ourselves staring at a dog chasing its tail and realize that deep inside, we are doing the same thing. In that precise moment, each of us must choose: continue along the paved road of emptiness or head out into the unknown.

When I faced this choice, I remember longing to feel like the happy little boy who once roamed the woods and ocean shore. I longed to return to the child who found magic in simply climbing trees or digging in the dirt. I felt that my life had became empty. I was missing that deep sense of feeling connected. I was a ghost wandering without any purpose, a soul without any meaning, un-rooted. What had happened to that little boy who loved and laughed, who sang without a care, who saw a world of possibilities and endless discoveries?

After living in New York City for many years, I was still trying to find my place, my tribe, my purpose. I worked in an office and performed a job I had no passion for. Day after day, I acted my way through the part, feeling as if I didn’t have enough to give to my work. And I didn’t. I was not motivated by my work; I was drained by it. Like a stabled wild horse, I wanted out. I needed to find that inner child again, to feel alive once more.

I sold everything, bought a camera and persuaded some companies to help fund the rest of the gear for my trip. I took out a world map, put my finger on New York and traced south until I reached Patagonia, Argentina. 

This land had been many things to many people. For Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake, it was the Land of the Giants. For Charles Darwin, it was the magical land where the seeds of his Theory of Evolution began to germinate. For Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, his time in Argentina led him to write his first best seller the Vol de Nuit, establishing him as a rising star. Writer Bruce Chatwin’s first book In Patagonia made him famous and revitalized the entire genre of travel literature. 

For me, this vast land encompassing millions of square kilometers of wildlife, mountains, rivers, canyons, ocean coasts, and wild, unbelievable skies, would reconnect me with my true self. Patagonia is where my awakening happened.

I was standing on a beach at Punta Norte on the Valdes Peninsula in the Chubut Province, a place famous for orcas that beach themselves to snatch young careless sea lion pups. Looking out and watching black fins knifing the shallow waters, I started to feel like I was choking. I did not know why. I couldn't explain what was happening to me. 

Instead of giving in to the anxiety of the moment, I gathered my wits and took a deep breath. I felt the south wind pushing its way into me. This cold air had traveled north from Antarctica, passed Tierra del Fuego, followed the rugged coast of Argentina and now settled into my lungs. And with this new intake of icy air came a release. It was as if I was taking my first breath. My lungs opened up like the petals of a flower stretching out to receive all the light around it. I felt a sudden awareness, as if I was unexpectedly waking up after decades of hibernation.

Since that day, I have made a commitment to use my own voyage of discovery to help others. My work is about the insights and wisdom I gained once I let Nature in. Through my photos, videos and stories, you will find the essence of the nature and the animals I have encountered -- the ones who have so gracefully accepted my presence and allowed me to photograph them. They are my teachers, my source of inspiration, and the mirror to my own existence.

Nature is raw and rough. It is deadly, strong, destructive, and intimidating. It is also beautiful, relaxing, humbling, lifting, motivating and inspiring. Beyond this, Nature is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It reminds us that life is not about us and that there is something far bigger than us. 

What makes you tick? What drives you?

Life drives me! It is messy and beautiful.

There is something so powerful and peaceful when you have zeroed in on what matters in life. When you do, a lot of anxiety goes away. It is not about sitting back and watching the world go by... quite the opposite.

You learn not to be bothered by the little stuff and you start understanding the process of growth, learning, evolution, and developing resilience.

Evolution is a complicated process and destruction is an extremely important part of it.

Wisdom is acquired through experiencing and reflecting.

Experiencing means going through the good and bad.

Reflecting is the ability to analyze the consequences, what worked and what didn’t.

From that perspective, you understand that failing and making mistakes are all part of it. The focus has to be onward -- learning from the past, growing from mistakes and empowering the future. 

The reason why we are soon to be 8 billion on the planet is not because we are a bad species, but because we rise up when the shit hits the fan. We figure our way out. This is what we are experts at. We adapt. We learn from our mistakes and rise above.

Is it easy? Hell no! It is hard and complicated. But we prevail. Life prevails. Imagine what process was necessary for life on this planet to go from a microbe to us. It was certainly not a straight clean line. It was an endless billion-year period of trials and errors. And it continues and will continue for billions of years more.

What are your favorite places in the world?

I have lived and traveled to many places around the world and I have learned that there isn’t one place better than another. There are places that fit you or they don’t, and at a particular time in your life. 

Each place has good and less-than-good realities. There is a huge difference between visiting places and living there. Visiting is always just skimming the surface, enjoying the best it has to offer. Living is all about the mundane and routine stuff. It is about paying the bills, doing the groceries, getting stuff done, seeing the same people over and over -- the things we take for granted.

That said, I love Alaska. The wilderness in Alaska is a reality, it is in your face. It is definitely not a concept - like it is in the lower 48. There, the bear and moose are in your backyard, the rhythm of life is still driven by nature and the seasons. Driving 8 hours to see someone isn't crazy, it is every day life.

I love Europe for its priorities: if you have food and people, then you have hope. That is why meals are important and Sundays are meant to be spent with friends and family. You protect what you care for.

And I love the USA for its shear desire to innovate and push the boundaries. I haven’t found any other places in the world where people can invent and re-invent themselves and one day be recognized for it. It is a country that is built on the notion of “going against the odds”. It is a country of renewal and the embodiment of “rising from the ashes”. 

But it is also the youngest culture on the planet and the jury is still out to see it will find a way to adapt. These are tremendously interesting times we live in.

What are the most valuable lessons you have learned from your years on the road, immersed in wild places? To frame the question differently, what have you learned about yourself and about life from living on expeditions in these incredible places? What has Nature taught you?

I will answer the question in two parts. Every Friday, I publish the Proust Nature Questionnaire, where I ask inspiring people to share  the impact nature has had on them - specifically, I ask about the three things Nature has taught them. For me, nature thought me that...

a) Some kind of life always prevails,

b) Humility & Perspective,

c) Life is Unfair.

From my life experiences, I have developed two mantras... two ethos that I have come to live by: Feel the Wild and Stop Breathe Relax Listen.

FEEL THE WILD is a way to experience life. It is a sensitive and intuitive relationship with nature, life, and our “wild” side - our wild side being our primal and holistic connection to the world. Leaving behind the guilt and righteousness often associated with our place in nature, Feel the Wild is about the power of nature to nurture, awaken, transcend, uplift, restore and elevate the human spirit.

STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN is about creating a space for introspection, where we can find the answers we seek. Stop and create boundaries. Breathe and get a new perspective. Relax and see the clarity. Listen and make sounded choices.

It is about empowering our inner selves, finding peace within our journey on this planet and celebrating who we are, so that together, we can become better humans, protecting and caring for this world, leading towards a bright and inspiring future.

Do you have any insight or words of wisdom pertaining to how we should travel in such a way that our tourism benefits the places we visit? As individuals, what can we do to be a force for good? Have you discovered best practices for respectfully engaging with local communities?

Connect. Engage. Impact. There is this naive belief that the humans can live on this planet without having an impact. That is ridiculous. Not only is it impossible, but it creates guilt and anxiety.

Like any predator, we have a role to play in this ecosystem. We have role to play on this planet. It is not our mission to save the planet. But it is our responsibility to care for it because we depend on it.

We have to stop being righteous and start being humble

Nature/Life, is bigger than us. If we F it up, shame on us. The planet will take some thousands of years to bounce back and whatever happens to live in the future will look back at us the same way we look at dinosaurs. 

We have to accept our place in nature, take ownership and honor the responsibility we have. Of course we have to take, but we have to give. I often talk about our lungs being the perfect metaphor for our relationship with life and the planet.

First, our lungs don’t exist and can’t function by themselves in isolation. They are part of a complex network where each component depends on the participation of the others. Without the brain, the heart, the veins, the rib cage muscles, the lungs wouldn’t do what they do. Without supplying the body with O2, they would have no reason to exist. They exist only through the connections, dependencies, and responsibilities they have. That is what I call Connectedness.

Second. Our lungs exemplify Reciprocity. All they do is “Give” and “Take”. The lungs expand and breathe in air. As much as they want to hold on to this air, as much they want to be greedy and keep it for themselves, they can’t. At one point they have to give back. So the lungs let go and release CO2, carbon dioxide. The CO2 they give back will be used by other organisms. What they give back to the world will give life to others.

Third, and this is for me a profound one. Vulnerability. You see, when you breathe, you take the world in. You blindly open yourself and let the world come in. You make yourself vulnerable. You can’t see what goes in, yet you put your trust in it -- because without it, you can’t live.

So CONNECT. ENGAGE. IMPACT. Be curious. Seek to understand different perspectives and develop empathy. At the end of day, despite all the troubles, wars, crimes and all the tragedies we hear about, we all wake up with the same goals: to put food on the table and protect the ones we care about and love. What differs is what we believe in and how we go about it. But at the core we are the same.

Do you have anything else (stories, insights, jokes, etc) that you wish to share with the Untrodden Community?

If any of the above resonates with you, my book FEEL THE WILD is coming out this October. I will be on a book tour with Arc’teryx, Lexus and Fujifilm and we will visit Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Washington, New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and Calgary.

 If you want to come to the event, contact me or subscribe at www.danielfox.co

I have also a pledge called the BILL OF NATURE that I invite people to sign. The pledge is about a set of values inspired by nature on which we want to build the future. 

Follow and subscribe to the Proust Nature Questionnaire. I have so many things coming up. 

My two ethos FEEL THE WILD and STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN are becoming lifestyle brands and we will have loads of merchandise. All of this is to give support to my nonprofit WILD.ECO where I raise funds to send disadvantaged students to month long wilderness camps and offer mentorship. 

Connect with me on Facebook, Linkedin or Instagram. 

Nature Meditations

This collection of Nature Meditations seeks to inspire introspection. The photos are visual guidelines that lead to a quiet place where the viewer can connect with its inner self. The simplicity and seemingly emptiness found in nature has a powerful purpose, it creates a place for us. It is an invitation for symbiosis. We are part of Nature. We are Nature. Just like Nature is within us, it is us.

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