This just in: Trees think you dress funny. REI labels it “outdoor gear.” Juniper trees call it ugly. They go as far as saying that what you are wearing on your little excursions hurts their feelings.
While nature, especially in the spring, is busy being beautiful, sexy, even at time wondrously vulgar (think yuccas in bloom,) you are busy wearing jeans and khaki pants, hiking boots with neon piping, upscale sandals that look like repurposed bungee cords, those sneakers with individual toes. The aspens told me you looked better in Birkenstocks.
What’s even more ridiculous to nature is that you pull these intentionally hideous clothes out of your closet for the specific purpose of hiking, going to the lake and generally engaging with nature itself—a zone you have imbued with elevated meaning such as sacredness, healing and beauty—i.e., better than the mall.
There are those who claim to love nature so much that they go all out, investing in gear worthy of a trek up Machu Picchu to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Up the Atalaya Mountain Trail and Aspen Vista they go in sunblock undershirts, fancy fisherman hats and indestructible pants made of material that can be reduced in the end to pure petroleum, all in the name of “being prepared,” as if nature is some heinous unpredictable bipolar asshole ready to take a person down at any moment.
Nature’s like, “Hey I’m flattered, but it’s just Aspen Vista; the trail is as wide as Canyon Road. What do you think I’m going to do, throw a raspberry bush at you out of nowhere? Send down a flock of hawks to rip you limb from limb like in a Hindu myth? It’s a day hike. Why are so many of you dressing like Jane Goodall versus the zombie apocalypse?”
A few years ago, I was preparing to set out on a hike down the arroyo near my house with my friend Margot. She came trotting down the hall in a black cocktail dress and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! black boots. “That’s what you’re wearing?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “Is it ok?”
It was more than OK; it was totally hot. I saw no reason to talk her out of what I saw as quite an eccentric gesture. The dress performed magic on the landscape, quickly transforming it into a dreamscape. Thieving from under realms, she scattered the forbidden mojo onto the daylight sand, and rocks and nature were happy.
It’s been mainly through Facebook creeping that I have found others who have also been enlightened in the art of cos-hiking. Margot had an undeniable effect on me and down the arroyo I went, often dressed in my signature Pendleton camel hair coat, raccoon tail hat and red pajama pants with deer on them. My UGG boots revealed themselves to be quite sufficient for scuffling over rocks. It was in this same arroyo that Ahjo K Sipowicz and two other friends painted themselves red and moved through the sand, improvisational dance-style. The deal was sealed.
"It’s been mainly through Facebook creeping that I have found others who have also been enlightened. "
Ultimately, most of my forays dressed like a fabulous weirdo have been solo. I know there are others out there. I see them occasionally on social media.
Amid the backdrop of White Sands National Monument, on the shores of the lake, they work nature’s catwalk in their disco finest. Perhaps I should start a “Dress like a Druid” hiking group on meetup.com. Why I think passersby would actually be less scared of encountering a group of druids, rather than one single druid hiker, escapes me.
There’s no question some of this trend spawns from Burning Man and Instagram culture; the throngs of young people who while tripping on psychedelics discover their Patagonia windbreaker is the devil, throw a DayGlo feathered boa around their neck, and set out into the wildness for communion, exercise and yes, a great photo op. It also harkens back to our early ancestors for whom clothing in nature was life or death—both spiritually and pragmatically.
The late Kip Davidson of Ojo Caliente, an apprentice to the Mazatec shaman María Sabina, explained to me that people need to identify themselves to the nature spirits around them. They need to know who you are, your “credentials.” His way of doing this was through song.
Why couldn’t this also be done through clothing? The Navajo Blessing Way chant is full of intricate descriptions of clothing worn by the inner forms, the sacred beings. Do we need to look any further than the flowers and the birds to see that nature is alive with color and form and that these things matter? Why shouldn’t nature, not just the nightclub or the theater, be the arena where we enact the expression of our more mythological selves through clothing, even costume?
Personally, I’d like to hike Aspen Vista as a full bearded lumberjack with a craggy walking stick. I’d like to see the nudist women on the rocks at Abiquiú Lake take it up a notch, perhaps wearing burlesque outfits. Maybe they will be inspired to dance when the motorboats speed by blasting Guns N’ Roses.
Glitter nipple pasties can help with sunburn! Just try not to get all Coachella by appropriating any kind of Native American “look”—the juniper trees really hate that. It can be as simple as stepping out on a hike barefoot or wearing your favorite pajamas. It’s a day trip. Nature’s probably not going to hurt you. Probably.