Hello friends! Hope all is well! We are still soaking tired feet and muscles after a camping and hiking trip in the Rockies, and trying to re-acclimate ourselves to the lovely Gulf Coast climate, which we were abruptly reminded is ever-so-slightly warmer than the 40-degree evenings of high-altitude summer camping.

In my last column I promised an account of the litter situation out in bear country, and I’m happy to report that while trekking and driving across three states, we encountered precisely three items of litter, all of which were found within the borders of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, which also boasted the thickest and most “aggressive” crowds I’ve ever seen in a national park.

Even with thousands of frustrated and travel-weary families desperately fighting for a parking spot in the crowded park, people in general seemed pretty respectful of the pristine landscape.

The only “litter” we found in the entire park was limited to a very cute little frog earring Scott picked up along a hiking trail, almost certainly dropped by accident, and a single cigarette butt, which was a disappointing but not unexpected find. Hey, there’s an a-hole in every crowd, right? It happens.

The only other “litter” we encountered was likely the result of an unfortunate accident, when it appears the wind caught hold of a tourist’s gigantic black umbrella and sucked it down into a shimmering geothermal hot spring, where it appeared to have lodged itself for the long term. People gathered around to point and stare in horror at the unsightly polyester blemish to the gorgeous landscape, and others seemed to marvel at the sadly artistic beauty of the lonely black umbrella discarded amidst the ethereal turquoise waters.

I obviously can’t confirm litter didn’t exist beyond those isolated items, but we certainly didn’t see it, and I definitely got the feeling it was something that was not easily tolerated in that part of the country.

In fairness we spent a lot of our time in national parks, which are well maintained and hopefully treated with a higher level of respect than the average Tillman’s Corner intersection, but we also drove hundreds of miles of interstate and rural highways, which were noticeably clear of debris. All in all, litter seemed exceedingly rare in that part of the country and my litter-fighting life partner was very pleased.

It was a little jarring returning to certain local areas that seem to be perpetually covered in trash, but I’m hopeful the situation will only continue to improve as we increasingly demand more from ourselves and each other. It was encouraging to see so many positive examples reminding me that outdoor environments frequented by humans can remain clear of unsightly and invasive human debris as long as people make it a priority.

It was a fun adventure, and regular readers probably know by now how much we love taking camping trips with our kids. Not only is it the cheapest way to travel (it can be almost free after an initial investment in equipment), but it also feels like the most intimate and immersing way to connect with the places we like to visit. I love all the sights and sounds and smells of making my bed in the woods, and how it feels to watch the sun set over a lovely scenic view and then be there to watch it rise again early the next morning.

I was happy for the opportunity to unplug in the wilderness for a bit and so grateful my family genuinely doesn’t seem to mind sleeping on the ground and hiking until their feet hurt so Mama can share the places that speak to her soul.

It’s been kind of a tough year for me, and I’ve been struggling for a while with an illness that made a pretty significant impact on certain areas of my life (no worries, I’ll be fine!). I’m starting to feel much better and making so much progress toward being healthy (which I am, almost!), but it’s hard not to worry about all the nagging “what ifs?” that come with having a problem you know is potentially beyond your control.

“What if the medicine doesn’t work on me? What if I’m one of the unlucky 5 percent that never gets better? What if I never feel like ‘me’ again?”

These are all legitimate worries in the average adult’s lifetime and something we all have to face at some point, often many points, unless we are unfortunate enough to die while young and healthy. It can be enough to overwhelm you sometimes and make you worry how it will turn out.

Friends, that’s when it’s time for an old-fashioned camping trip. You don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far away — technically your own back yard counts — but you do have find a place that makes you feel far removed from your daily stresses and, most importantly, a natural landscape that inspires a sense of awe and wonder.

Spending quiet time in a beautiful and dramatic outdoor setting really puts things back in perspective for me, and I always leave feeling so much more connected to the world around me. There’s something so nourishing to the human spirit about being in a place where you’re acutely aware of the immense power of the natural world around you, and you know you’re not necessarily in charge anymore.

Suddenly me and my problems seem so unfathomably small and insignificant, in a way that isn’t frightening or threatening to me, but infinitely comforting and peaceful. I always like to imagine Mother Nature lends me a little of her strength and wisdom to take home with me.

Somehow just knowing these beautiful places even exist — that they existed long before I was here to appreciate them and will continue to exist long after I’m gone — reassures me that everything will ultimately be OK, no matter what.