Most of my friends would describe me as neat and clean. I’m one of those people who thrives in an orderly environment, free from dirt and mess. I shower a lot. My kitchen counter is most often shiny, adorned with a picture-perfect bunch of flowers or basket of limes. What can I say? This is my nature. Being in a clean environment makes me happy.
Knowing all of this, what I am about to say may seem strange: Getting dirty outdoors doesn’t bother me at all. Not. One. Little. Bit.
I hike in the rain and through mud puddles, take shelter in a cave, or go on a multi-day adventure without even thinking about the fact that I’m going to get gross.
The point was driven home yesterday, as I climbed into the depths of a very dark, very deep, dusty cave with two friends. As I crouched down, my clothes, fingernails, and backpack dug into the slightly moist dirt. We sat down and turned out the lights, taking in the silence. There were a few bats.
We emerged from the cave to climb over a grass covered hill, in search of the perfect picnic spot. And we found it: under some trees, near some purple mandrakes and hyssop, on a large patch of rock and stone.
Eager to eat breakfast at almost noon, I sprawled out in the grass and began boiling water for tea. “It’s a good thing that all of us don’t mind getting dirty,” said one of my friends.
“Why would we?” I replied, puzzled.
She went on to remind me that in the world we grew up in, many people don’t like sitting on a tiled floor, much less sprawling out on the ground. Things like cave dust and flies bother people. My friends and I had spent the early part of the morning picking overripe olives and hedge nettle leaves and popping them right into our mouths. In normal life, people wash things before eating them.
I had momentarily forgotten this. In my world of hiking and exploring, getting dirty is half the adventure. If you are afraid to get messy, you really do miss a lot of fun. Whether you’re picking up flint stones, snapping off asparagus shoots, or climbing through a rock canyon, dirt is unavoidable. It’s even more unavoidable when you are splashing through a stream or swimming in desert pools.
But the good news? In our modern times, dirt really doesn’t hurt. After a good day (or few days) out in nature, we get to return home to our hyper-clean homes, shower in the most sanitary water of all time, and throw our clothes into a washing machine. We say goodbye to the grime of a good day’s adventure in just a few moments.
If you find yourself avoiding getting dirty outdoors, just remember: Dirt doesn’t hurt. To experience the beauty and magic of nature you may need to take a deep dive into a non-sterile world. But at the end of the day, you’ll return home from an adventure: boots coated with mud, hands full of gathered asparagus and hyssop, heart full of joy.
And you’ll wash away all that wonderful dirt.