I am writing this blog post to remind myself of all the wonderful connections I have developed with nature throughout my life. I want to overcome my current inhibition of going camping or planning trips to the national parks I would like to see or go on all-day hikes. Although I have spent plenty of times in the outdoors, I have never had to organize something overnight or far away in the outdoors, when it was just me. I guess, when I have to rely on myself, there suddenly is the fear that I don’t have the skills or am “not smart enough” to do this on my own. But maybe looking back on the things I have already accomplished will provide me with the courage I need.
I developed a relationship with nature early on in my life. I grew up in a neighborhood with a grass area behind a long row of connected rental apartment complexes. We lived in one of the middle apartments and the area was so big, that going to the end of the complexes and wander on the street seemed miles away (at least in kid miles). My parents used the opportunity to kick me out of the house to play outside almost every day. I loved having that freedom. I climbed on trees and had my own pretend world out there, including setting up my “home” in the bushes alongside the complex.
As I grew older, the radius of my roaming grew bigger. The confinement of the grass area was lifted. My friends and I started to expand our radius and visit the creeks that were short walks away. For some we had permission to play in. Being caught in other ones spelled trouble and house arrest for my friends (not for me, as that would have meant my parents would have had to keep me inside). Corn fields to one side of the neighborhood became the perfect spot for games of hide and go seek. I was never concerned exploring alone or with friends.
Despite my parents encouraging outdoor play, they were not the outdoorsy kind themselves. I think the outdoors were just an easy babysitter. Family gatherings did however always include the mandatory “digestive walk” after a large meal.
When I was around 15, I was allowed to go on my first camping trip with friends. It was then, in the troubles of my teenage years, that I discovered that nature held so much more for me than the entertainment and fun it had provided throughout my childhood. When my friends and I lay head on belly in a large circle watching the stars, it allowed for a human connection unlike any that I ever found by going to a movie or partying together. It also provided me with the solitude and comfort I needed, when struggling through difficult family situations and trying to figure out the turmoil of romantic relationships. I would retreat to a lake to throw rocks in the water and watch the concentric rings expand in unison with my contemplative thoughts.
Later in life, working as an environmental educator, I shared my love of nature with groups of kids and young teenagers. Although I loved spending time in the outdoors every day, this job brought out major anxiety in me. I was faced with the expectation of being able to name and explain nature. For me nature had never been about identifying trees by name or knowing the species of wildflowers that grew alongside the path. It had always just been a feeling of peace and understanding. In nature I can forget all my sorrows, in nature I don’t have to play a societal role. Yet, nature isn’t always just easy on me. It challenges me to give my best. I learned this, when I was backpacking in the Alps with a group of friends. As I didn’t live near mountains, a trip from hut to hut, proved quite challenging and I was rewarded with black toe nails for a whole year following the trip. At the same time though, I was rewarded with the most stunning views I had ever seen in my life. Needless to say, I can’t wait to go back.
I still can’t identify poison ivy, even after studying it in books and having it pointed out to me on numerous occasions. There are other skills requiring my mastery as well, like fire building or navigating with map and compass.
The fact that I am usually a quick learner, is a sure sign to me that having adventures in nature is something I am clearly meant to do. Why else would fear throw such a fit and try to convince me that I am not capable of learning even the basics to be safe out there? After my carefree living among the trees, fields and creeks in my youth, with my mind watching in panic mode, it finally found a way to stop me in my tracks. I can almost hear fear squealing with delight that it found my weak spot and has been able to convince me that mastery of certain predefined skills is necessary to be allowed to go on adventures.
But I am on to you fear. It’s time for me to show you who has the hiking pants on. I am making an official statement that this year will be the year of my first solo and mother-daughter camping trip. I plan to be the one squealing in delight as I claim back my connection with nature. I will also practice some fire building and map reading skills. And when that happens, I will share my success (and mishaps) with you.