Why “Getting Back to Nature” is Overrated

Dirt road winding through pine trees, getting back to nature.

“Set down your phone,” our elders tell us, “and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.” The National Park Service has even formally invited our generation to get out and explore nature.

A James Madison University study even suggests that time in nature will increase our empathy for others.

But I’ve found immersing yourself entirely in nature to be overrated. Apply in small doses. That’s my take after jumping into nature with both feet.

My husband and I are active, outdoorsy-types, so the opportunity to live in a log cabin as newlyweds while he finished law school at Indiana University, located in Bloomington, Indiana, seemed like a Tiny House adventure too perfect to pass up.

The author Mariah and her husband standing on the porch of the log cabin featured in the article.

Let me be clear. This was not a carpeted, insulated, air-conditioned up-to-date log cabin; rather a 19th century dwelling.

Rustic, you might say. Charming, even.

Yes, but “rustic” charm included critter-sized holes in the walls, spiders living in every crack, and bats.

Let me paint you a picture.

My husband and I are sitting at our kitchen table, typing away at our respective laptops on a normal weekday evening. Less than four feet from us, coming from our furnace closet, something starts fluttering and screeching in a shrill chirp.

George stands, pushes back his chair, and leans around the closet corner to see wings and little skeleton hands scraping frantically at the wall between the closet door’s opening and the log wall.

The bat proceeds to come out, scurry along the wall like Spiderman, hang out under our window for a quick minute, still screeching all the while, then darts right back into the hole in the wall.

Let me tell you what’s hard to romanticize about this log cabin in the woods — rabies.

It’s true that rabies is rare (34 cases have been recorded since 2003), but the most common source of rabies in the US is bats. From 1997 to 2006, 17 of 19 naturally acquired rabies cases were from bats.

It’s also true that you can’t get rabies unless an infected animal bites you. But a report put together by the Indiana State Department of Health states that “some types of bats have small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly,” and in some situations, you should seek medical attention even if you don’t have an obvious bite wound. Such a situation might include finding a bat in your home and not being able to catch it for testing.

Did the bat come out of the woodwork during odd hours of the day? Check.

Did the bat get away before it could be captured for rabies testing? Uh-huh.

Could the bat have grazed my husband or me while we were sleeping since we had moved in a month prior? Yep.

Action shot of four men, dressed in sweatshirts and holding tennis rackets, trying to catch a bat inside the cabin.
George and three friends trying to catch the bat with tennis rackets and blankets.

The greatest thing about this rustic log cabin was its wonderful open concept, i.e., we slept in the open loft of one room. There’s no way of knowing if the bat came out anytime within the previous month while we were sleeping and landed on us.

Two more things: the only sure way to know if you have rabies is by getting a spinal tap, and once you start exhibiting symptoms, the disease is nearly always fatal, according to the CDC. And rabies symptoms are flu-like: general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache.

What did I come down with three weeks (the beginning of the average incubation period for rabies) after we battled the bat? Aches, fever, vomiting, and a horrible headache. *Thumbs up emoji*

On a completely serious note, my husband and I had been married for eight months. We were still newlyweds and faced with the mental hurdle of preparing for the absolute worst — the possibility that my neurological state could quickly spiral into death.

I’m still alive to tell the story, so obviously it was just the flu and I made a full recovery, but the romantic six months of living in a cabin turned into an almost fatal reality.

A weekend in an enclosed tent out in the woods fully fit with candlelight and all the nature sounds would have sufficed. But we dreamed big, and reality slapped us in the face.

Reality is a humbling friend, one that forced my husband and me to plan ahead, count our blessings, and be thankful for every day within the next eight years (the longest incubation period on record) that we’re in good health.

There’s nothing quite like jumping into the surf and being reminded you can’t control the strength of an undercurrent pulling you further from your romanticized destination. Tread water for a time, and you’ll soon be thankful for feet-on-the-ground reality again.

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