Saturday is Earth Day and in honor, Green Global Travel is hosting a blog carnival on nature. I want to thank Hike Bike Travel for bringing this to my attention in her fine photo essay on nature. When I think of nature and outdoor adventure travel, I think of the word “atavism.”
The Webster’s definition of atavism is a trait that skips a generation. On a very generic level, this can explain why a grandfather and a son are a jerk, but the father in between is a nice guy.
On a deeper level though, the word explains why I love outdoor adventure travel. Seeing nature is a large component of my love for the outdoors.
Have you ever wondered why it feels good to sit around the campfire, paddle a canoe, or watch a river flow? For people who love the outdoors, these activities stir something inside of them.
Most people who feel this way have a hard time describing why they love the outdoors or they may not have given it much thought. Have you ever asked a canoeist why he likes to paddle? Have you ever asked a birdwatcher why he likes to mark off a blue-footed booby off his life bird watching list? If you have, you probably got a less than satisfactory answer. They probably shrugged their shoulders and said “I dunno, I just enjoy it.” I think I can answer this question for all who love outdoor adventure travel. The answer is the word atavism.
Scroll back up to the definition and you may not make the connection to my point. Atavism is not just a trait that skips one generation. It could be a trait that has skipped many generations or downright disappeared for centuries.
We have all lost a connection to the outdoors compared to our forefathers. Even the most active is only out on the weekends or perhaps a week or two at a time. The rest of our lives we are tied to our cars, computers, and jobs.
When we do go outside and hike a trail, paddle a waterway, or see a moose it arouses something inside of us that connects us to our ancestors. This could be the pioneers that discovered, explored, and killed Native Americans or even back farther to the dawn of man in the Great Rift Valley. Perhaps this is why many who travel to Africa fall deeply for it because it ignites a spark that is deeper than anywhere else since it is where man originated.
When I sit around the campfire I am enjoying it not only because I like to burn things (although I do enjoy a good burning), I am enjoying it because I feel like a settler breaking new ground in a new world and burning firewood to survive. When I view a beautiful outdoor vista like the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, I am not enjoying it just because it is beautiful, although it certainly is. I am entranced with it because I feel at one with a Native American hunter who passed by this same spot on the way to hunt deer for his tribe and took a moment’s pause from his task to admire the scenery. When I see an interesting bird it is not just a mark off a list, but a moment I share with John James Audubon when he was on his scientific quest to document the beautiful birds of North America.
The goal of Traveling Ted TV is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then enter your email in the box to get email notifications for each new entry. Daily travel photos are excluded from your email in order to not flood you with posts. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).
Love these shots!
Very interesting take on the outdoors and nature. I had never heard of atavism before so I learned something. However, you are right. It is hard to explain. For me, I love the outdoors because of the peace I find in my soul by being outdoors. It does take me away from the job, hustle and bustle of life, etc. It is hard to explain but when something connects with your soul, it’s just something you experience.
Jeremy Branham recently posted..My 10 interesting facts about Phoenix
I would argue that a part of that feeling is atavism. I am not saying it explains why everyone loves the outdoors or even the only reason why I love the outdoors; however, I feel a part of that soul stirring that you feel is a connection with ancestors doing what you are doing now hundreds of years ago.
Great essay…and great food for thought! Atavism could explain a lot….somewhere the sense of adventure was lost on my family….but I seem to have picked it up in spades. I see what you are saying about the people who travel to Africa and fall in love with something so natural and takes us back to our origins…haven’t been there but every time I get out and enjoy nature, I am invigorated! There is something so alive about enjoying nature, it’s simplicity and beauty!
Anita Mac recently posted..Photo Essay: Eating and Drinking in Germany
Yes, it definitely moves you in a way that is hard to explain. This is my attempt to explain how I feel when I am enjoying nature and the outdoors.
Atavism. I just learned a lot from this post. Not only a new word, but perhaps a reason why I feel so connected to certain places. Thanks Professor Ted. I absolutely loved this post.
Tawny of Captain and Clark recently posted..Discovering Venice through food with Walks of Italy.
I am glad you enjoyed it Tawny. It is a word I first came across when reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Buck the dog is living the domestic dream until he is captured and ends up released into the Alaskan wild. He becomes the most ferocious sled dog and wild animal. His change from domesticity to his recovery of the instincts of his wild ancestors is a perfect example of atavism.
Interesting theory – it rings very true. When I am home, I enjoy nothing than sitting in my sunroom looking at the forest in my backyard – it brings me a sense of peace. Maybe it is the atavistically familiarity of nature indeed!
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With any theory, it could be a load of crap, but I think it is at least plausible.
Okay, I can TOTALLY relate to this post. First, thanks for teaching this English teacher a new word/making her feel a bit dumb. 😉 Second, travel has made me fall in love with nature, something I never knew I had inside of me. It started in New Zealand, grew in Thailand, and consumed me in Africa. Now, I cannot get enough of being outdoors. Looking forward to spring and summer to continue that love! Happy Earth Day!
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My dad was a high school English teacher for 30 years, so I learned a few words throughout the years. The word is a big theme in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Glad to hear you have caught that nature bug especially since I will be reading your blog, and I like reading nature posts.
I’m with Tawny. I learned a new word and possibly a reason as to why I’m so nostalgic about places and things.. and food. 😛
Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..How We Stay: Hostels, Hotels and Apartments
Yes, atavism could apply to any behavior, not just the outside. Although I think everyone is a fan of food. I don’t think that skips a generation.
i love how much you LOVE the great outdoors. maybe some day we can go on an adventure & you can teach me to appreciate it a bit more!
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Sure thing. It would be great to have the stylish Lola out in the outdoors.
I really admire how much you appreciate being outside. I vicariously live through all of your adventures. Keep on, Ted. I’ll follow along and maybe even join you a time or two.
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That would be fantastic Leah. I hope so.
I love your way of looking at things. Atavism is a word I’ve heard of but never used so I’ve learned something new today,
I have fallen deeply for Africa, the American Southwest and the wilds of Canada.But like Anita Mac I didn’t get this deep longing for the outdoors or my sense of adventure from my family. In fact two out of three of them are incredibly fearful and check every window and door before going to bed. So somewhere in my genes I am connecting to some ancient family member…
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I am glad to teach you and others such an interesting word. It is a big theme in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. That is where I learned of the word.
great post and happy (belated) earth day, ata…vism..nator(?)! this post rings especially true after spending so much time in hawaii, fiji, and new zealand–all places where the locals connect so much more to the natural earth than i (or my close circle of friends and family) ever have. thanks for giving me a new word to help describe the experience!
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Great that you are out there soaking it all in. Those seem like great spots to be atavistic.
It was great chatting with you on your flight home from Stagecoach.
Love this article! As a biomedical scientist, I am somewhat familiar with, yet still very intrigued by this concept of atavism… Ever heard of recessive genes? 🙂
Two related words that come to mind are “archetypal” and “primal”. Me thinks the former to be the better fit, as the latter oft carries a more carnal connotation.
We are discovering—nay, finally accepting—that we are not meant to live in this industrial/technological/commercial/artificial bubble that we have created for ourselves, and I do believe we are beginning to reign it in to some extent. It can become so stressful and in great disharmony with our human nature. Not intending to “burst said bubble”, but simply stating my feeling…
And I think that’s why we all treasure the inspiration from nature that folks like you transmit to us! Thanks so much.
Stay in touch. Happy travels, Travelin’ Ted! 🙂
So great to meet you and talk politics, sports, beer, books, and travel for 3.5 hours. It made the trip seem like an hour. Thanks for helping me rebound from a pretty crappy morning getting stuck in traffic and missing my initial flight. I feel sorry for the gal on my right trying to sleep/read. She was probably like can these guys shut up for just one minute 🙂
I am not surprised after talking to you to see an awesome comment like the one above. Have heard of primal and archetypal, but did not really clearly understand their meaning, so thanks for pointing out the parallels.
I kind of waver between both worlds. I enjoy technology and all its perks, but I have no problem shutting it down not only from time-to-time, but for long periods of time. Look forward to reconnecting once again with the outdoors again this weekend in Red River Gorge.
Hope to meet and talk again with a beer this time!