Do You Need Permission to Enjoy Nature?

We were naked in the out door bath after a great hike in Hokkaido (hike pictures).  The hot spring was on the shore of an enormous and ancient crater lake overlooked by our goal, now completed:

There is something very masculine about looking up at the peak you climbed while standing naked in hot water outside.  5ft away from the outdoor bath was the lake, cold, pristine, and inviting.

No one was swimming. Understand that Japanese hot springs are have a fairly strong unspoken code of behavior, but swimming in adjacent lakes isn’t covered…Papa (The Lady Friend’s) was sitting on the shore with one foot in. I took this as enough and edged my way in. Thighs…no one complaining…waist….no one complaining…shoulders…that’s when I heard it, ‘ah, he’s energetic!’ (元気だね).

A group of middle aged men were laughing. This, in Japan, could either be hearty admiration or patronizing admonishment.  Papa looked unconformable, but the water felt so good. Fresh, cold, natural. In I went, head underwater, eyes open, and a blue in 100 shades, deep, bright, and  expansive, welcomed me. With open arms, the lake told me I was in the right place.

I’d never seen anything like it, this blue; surrounded by this, the invigorating cold, and the lack of clothing brought me a primal satisfaction. I tried to explain to Papa; he needed to experience this. But, no. Too cold (re: socially unacceptable). Then a Russian guy took a flying dive off the rocks into the water. This was nice because I was no longer the most energetic (re: socially unacceptable). People left, I swam some more. And finally one brave Japanese soul tested the waters. Foot…calf…screw it-dives in! I was overjoyed.

And then Papa. He needed permission. Not from me, certainly not from the diving Russian, but from other Japanese; thankfully, he got it. He slide in, opened his eyes, saw the blue, and came up breathless. He had never seen anything like it, talked about it all night. Who knew you needed permission to enjoy nature?

One of my weaknesses is waiting for permission (and I’m in good company). Who gives hall passes for thru-hiking the Japanese Alps? Do I need a permission slip to tarp camp above the tree line? And what if I fail, what will people say?

Starting this blog helped; I publicly wrote myself a permission slip and no one said no (not even my mother). I gave myself permission to think big, look at nature with creativity, using ingenuity to enjoy her in new ways, see the opportunity to do things differently and take control of my experience.

What do you need a permission slip for?

  • Do you need permission to evangelize lightweight hiking instead of preaching to the choir?
  • Do you need permission to ask tough questions of the lightweight community?
  • Do you need permission to make the time in your life to really enjoy the outdoors instead of looking at MLD’s website and fantasizing about your adventures?

Those all ring true for me, but what about you: have you ever found yourself waiting for permission to enjoy the outdoors?


About hamilton

Walking, Walking!
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15 Responses to Do You Need Permission to Enjoy Nature?

    • hamilton says:

      Thanks Chris. I really appreciate your ideas and the opportunity they give me to reflect on my experiences in new ways, glad you enjoyed the story they inspired!

  1. Hendrik M says:

    Being in Finland, the land of thousands of lakes and the birth place of Sauna, it is very common here to go swimming naked in the lakes. It is thus very interesting to read this piece, and see how different cultures are around the world.

    I probably would have been like you and take a dive in the lake, because I know how refreshing it is. Most Finns would do the same, as well, though with the foreigners it is always a bit of an interesting happening when you come out of the Sauna: “We really now go into that cold lake swimming?” – “Yes, that is how it is done usually, but you don’t have to.” – “But is it not so very cold?” – “You will feel the coldness only for the first moment, then it will be just fine.” – and so on… This became evident on the trip with eg Phil and Steven, and has been experienced countless times before.

    I live by “There are no rules” and thus I think one doesn’t need any permission to do anything ^_^

    • hamilton says:

      I think even I would be intimidated by your Finnish lakes! But of course I’ll try next time I’m in the neighborhood. Luckily, the summer camp I worked at was next to a lake that got quite chilly in the off season, so I had some practice. Maybe I’ll type up one of those stories some time…

      I try to remember there are no rules, or that rules are our own construction. But I’m always surprised to find I’m following some rule I didn’t realize, or that someone else isn’t following a rule I had expected them too…rules are sneaky things. That’s one reason I love living abroad, my secret rules get discovered and challenged! Sometimes very uncomfortable, but always worthwhile.

  2. Joe says:

    Excellent post Hamilton on a subject not often discussed. Sometimes it’s hard to break with tradition and convention. Here in Norway it’s the use of ultralight equipment and techniques that is at odds with the status quo.

    I too said “Screw it!”. I’m not wearing heavy boots and carrying a 95litre pack because of convention.

    Free your mind.

    • hamilton says:

      For sure, free your mind! When I first got to Japan a year or so ago, I decided The Lady Friend and I were going to start backpacking. So, of course, we got her geared up…and now she’s dealing with me saying ‘gear down!’ She loves the tent…more than me maybe…working on the conversion. But looking back, I think ‘why wasn’t this lightweight thing totally obvious!’ I can remember many nights in my tent wish I could see the stars with no idea about a solution. Doh!

  3. Mark Roberts says:

    Very nicely written and thought-provoking post, Hamilton. It somehow relates to anther post Hendrik picked out on his Week in Review post about feeling guilty while walking.

    Joe – I think that’s a common status quo. Yesterday I saw a bunch of people leaving their campsite in a nearby state park. Most were carrying boxes and giant tents/sleeping bags. One couple were dragging trolleys up a very steep and tree-rooted trail on which they had two enormous coolers stacked on top of each other. Seriously, they were about 100cm x 50cm x 50cm.

  4. hanameizan says:

    Nice story, and good to see you have a playful spirit!

    I wish you luck and good weather on your August trip.
    You probably already know, but your route is very similar to the TransJapan Alps trail-running race which is being held this year, Aug 8-14, about 415 kilometers.

    So, you might be overtaken by some gnarly nutcase runners carrying very little!


    • hamilton says:


      Thanks for the tip, I’ll cheer as they fly past. I’m going to take a look at the route as well, maybe I can learn something. And a bunch of running nut cases will be nothing but inspiration. Will you be (have you been) among them?

      • hanameizan says:


        Only in my dreams! I’m not strong or fast enough to complete it within the 7-day time limit, but will try to do the two qualifiers on my own later in the year for “fun”.

        I’d love to see what they’re carrying. Please take some pictures and do a post on them!


  5. wesu says:


    Nice to see you made it up Mt. Tarumae. It’s a pretty easy hike as far as volcanoes go, but the scenery is pretty nice (especially the views down towards Lake Shikotsu)

    I’m guessing the hot spring where you swam was at Marukoma hot spring on the western shore of the lake?


    • hamilton says:


      Tarumae was a pretty easy hike, the trail from their up to Puppushi was a bit tricky with the chains and all, so it felt like a real adventure. But yeah, beautiful scenery with the ocean, plain and various mountain ranges. Yotei really does look like Fuji-san jr. We didn’t go to Marukoma (although it is much more popular) and I heard that their hot spring pool is a bit further from the water. The place we went was small, and run down in a casual, charming way. It’s called Itou I think. Can’t quite remember. But it is awsome.

      I’m heading up to Hakuba for some canyoneering and car camping next weekend and want to do a (not too hard) day hike with my buddies. Got a favorite?

      • Wes says:

        Marukoma has a pretty cool outdoor bath whose water level changes depending on the lake depth. When I went there the pool was 150cm deep! People were swimming in the hot spring bath!

        Day hike? Amakazari is pretty awesome, and you don’t have to deal with altitude sickness. If you’re lucky the mizubasho should still be in bloom, and there should still be a lingering snow field or two. Feel free to check out my post on my “sister” site, the Tozan Tales (click on my name for the link)

      • Hakuba? I’d recommend Karamatsu-dake for a fun 1-dayer. Hop the main gondola up from the town, then the ski lifts, and you’ll pop out at about 1800m and just below Happo-ike. From there, you should be able to get to the summit within 3-4 hours, with a return journey to the ski lifts of about 90 minutes. Lifts close at 4pm. Good views across most of the N.Alps. Not too hard, easy navigation, you & you’re buddies would enjoy it.

        As for permission, never, ever wait for it. In fact, take aim at those things where permission is denied, where it’s “too risky”, “no-one’s done it before”, where “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t”. Then do it. And if you fail, then at least you fail on your own terms. Screw what other people might say. Were they there? No, they were too busy with their safe McLives, where excitement is the last episode of LOST, and danger is the latest Lady Gaga track. It’s your life, you don’t get a dress rehearsal, and no-one’s going to live it for you. Burn the permission slips. You won’t need them where you’re going.

  6. hamilton says:

    I think ‘Fuck McLife’ will be my new mantra for big hills and cold windy nights. Cheers Chris!

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