I used to love marijuana – used to.

I’ll never forget visiting Switzerland in June of 2000. I took a train from Barcelona to Interlaken because I’d heard rumors that ganja was available there as in Amsterdam. The Alps were a low priority.

And, lo, it was obtainable as “incense.” So, I smoked myself retarded a couple of times, but not the whole time. One morning I kept enough of my faculties to ride a rented moped high through Alpen majesty. That day in June 2000 made every John Denver make perfect sense.

Many other days, in later years, also found me smoking pot before some outdoor adventure to experience the elements of nature with more emotion. Form, color and temperature, under the influence of marijuana, captivated my senses for longer periods of time, and motivated me to wander onward in some Thoreauvian, transcendental high many times.

Part of me feels compelled to say that I regret spending so much time stoned, but I wouldn’t say that. In a very real sense, marijuana opened my eyes to Nature which television tried to close. Great joy and health have come from my love of being under the sun, stoned or not. So long as I can walk, so long as I can see, this free joy will continue to bless my life in ways that those addicted to graphics on screens will never know. My love of the outdoors is one of my life’s greatest blessings, and I wonder what would have happened had I never stood high atop a mountain in Switzerland.

Of course marijuana’s living hell to me now. This has been so for some time. Its paranoia and anxiety has caused so many painful episodes that not even slightest temptation to use it comes into mind.

Standing atop Windmill Mountain – some small and unremarkable hill off FR 525 west of Sedona – last week would have been living hell stoned. As opposed to experiencing serenity for seeing a land I love from a new highpoint, anxiety for getting lost and vertigo from the view would have attacked. Being sober prevented any negative emotion from corrupting my state, and good feelings which I had formerly sought through marijuana were there.

Marijuana had such power over me because it so quickly changed my emotional state. It was intoxicating. In one moment I’d be anxious. In the next, after a smoke, I’d notice some detail, and stare at it for however long, and think about… whatever. I’d lose myself in my imagination, and 90% of the time this mental stimulation motivated me to go outside and walk.

However, desire to smoke ganja virtually disappeared after I started working outside. Whereas I loved smoking a little before going to work at the University of Texas football study hall, and teaching American literature and history with a buzz, a couple months later, as a ranch hand in the Texas Hill Country, the desire was gone. Yet my love of the outdoors stayed. I’d have to say marijuana led to me love Nature and then said, “You don’t need me anymore.”

I can’t say I regret this.

That’s because Nature’s fascinating. We surround ourselves with Nature – with streams, lakes, forests, mountains, beaches, sunshine, etc – to escape the stressors of civilization. Sometimes those stressors accompany us for some time once our recreation has begun (which of course marijuana alleviated instantly). Yet, the moment virtually always hits me when time disappears, and some new detail of the land comes to my attention, which causes me to stop, stare, contemplate and enjoy the second best gift, after life itself, that God gave all mankind: the outdoors.

Though being outside nowadays doesn’t produce the exact same euphoria I coveted through marijuana, and though sometimes it doesn’t produce euphoria at all, sometimes it does. The right color, lighting and form, with a camera in my hand, can mesmerize me for hours, and produce that sharp euphoria.

Then there’s the entertaining of wanderlust which is easy to enjoy in a state as open and free as Arizona. I know these thoughts of exploring new lands with zero mind to time are real without marijuana. They’re not created by drug-induced euphoria. That’s priceless to me.

Atop Windmill I realized I can barely wait for spring. At times the anticipation’s painful. That’s because I plan to do things I’ve never done before. Windmill was a mere test run.