I wanted to take a moment to come back to my personal life. I really appreciate the opportunity that this blog and this study have given me, allowing me to evaluate my own understanding and involvement with these issues openly and in a very intimate way. As I was reading about this natural disconnect, I kept going back to my own childhood. Although I don’t think I could pass the nature identification survey author Timothy Beatley describes in the beginning of his book, Biophilic Cities, I do think I’ve been very fortunate to have spent a great deal of my youth outdoors and in wild spaces. Particularly, from the time I was 3 until I was 10 years old, I lived in an older suburban house on a little less than 1 acre, nestled along a street that had remained fairly secluded and forested. I don’t think that friends who lived in the more typical suburban developments weren’t as fortunate as I was because, on my street, my parents felt comfortable enough to let me wander about unsupervised. I don’t recall any real restrictions which I was given in terms of where I could go- there weren’t too many large roadways within a kids walking distance. Certainly, I would have to be home before dinner, but it’s not as though I always wore a watch as a kid, and this was before cell phones. I really do think I must have had a decent amount of freedom! I spent a lot of time exploring the forest in my backyard- allowing me to be creative while I would learn, experience, and develop among nature. When I get together with the girls on the street, we would be brave enough to venture much deeper into the forest across from my home. We would wander up the hill, through the forest and follow a trail- about a quarter mile distance from my home- until we came upon a clearing of a small meadow patch, soaking in the sun aside a bubbling brook. It seemed like a long walk from home, well beyond shouting distance, and I am certain we didn’t tell our parents where we were headed every single time we would hike out there. If someone got hurt (only once did we have a minor emergency, no worse than a knee scrape), or should we have encountered a dangerous person (the only other humans we ever saw were some suspicious teens one afternoon), who would know to come looking for us, and how long would that have taken? But still, I have absolutely amazing memories of those adventures, and I can’t imagine a childhood without that experience!
My friends and I would also build forts, collect specimens- including patches of fur and bones from deceased animals, snake skins, and interesting rocks- and climb the occasional tree (it wasn’t until my family moved to a new subdivision that I would really hone my tree-climbing skills, probably because there wasn’t as much nature to play with). I also remember running off to a filed which would later be developed into your typical suburban neighborhood. I remember running off to that construction site and playing quicksand in the swampy ditch which would become the bio-retention pond. All of this, our parents must have known at least something about (we were honest kids!).
During these same years, I recall days at my grandmother’s house. I have this engrained image of my lying on the floor, watching Nickelodeon while eating Doritos and drinking Coke (Mimmi always spoiled us!); but I also have these incredible memories of playing in her yard. There was a creek there, too, right next ot the house. I’d follow it down the front hill, would pick up rocks where the water collected to see what neat creatures were underneath, and I would even crawl through the narrow culvert directing it under the street (in retrospect, this actually grosses me out as I think about all the spiders and creepy crawlies!). I remember watching the birds at Mimmi’s bird feeder, and I remember scaling the hill in the backyard up towards the water tower on the adjacent lot. Even there, at the site of this very human element, I could explore the wildness of the world around me. The image of that water tower- which I can see from my bedroom window- evokes such great emotions of discovery, playfulness, and family. At my grandma’s, I would eventually be able to combine both memories- TV and nature- when Mimmi put a TV on the screened-in porch. Talk about balance and/or hypocrisy!
When my family moved to our new neighborhood, I managed to find some gems: a river, much bigger than my old brook, but twice as far away; an exotic bamboo patch behind a neighbor’s yard; and the most magnificent climbing-tree ever. But it was suddenly more difficult to immerse myself in nature without the distractions of cars, people, and homes. I fought these hurdles for some time, but eventually gave in. As I was transitioning from elementary to middle school, I equated less time in nature with growing up- and playing in nature became just something of my childhood, right alongside the Barbie Dolls.
Today I’m not sure if I spent so much time outside because my parents and grandmother forced me to, or because of my own desire, or both- but I’m really glad I did. I just wish I hadn’t let go of it for that period of my adolescence. I didn’t relize how important it was to me until I moved to New York City for college. The excitement in the City was something else, and I loved it at first. But Fall would soon come, and the City became colder, darker, and lonelier. Where I used to enjoy solitude in a serene forest, the City gave me no environment in which I could retreat. During that semester, I would visit home on the weekends, and I particularly recall one visit on a Fall day, driving along a windy country road watching these warm and vibrant autumn leaves fall on my windshield- a golden fire, falling from the heavens. It was so beautiful and mesmerizing; I never wanted to return to New York after that. After I completed the semester, I moved home.
It was clear to me then how much my environmental was influencing me (it should have come as no surprise- I was after all pursuing a degree in interior design for that very reason). After moving home, I found more time to hike, picnic, and explore, but I was still missing some connection with nature a few years later. As I’ve noted already in these posts, I began to discover Earth Religions which would recognize the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and the connections between all living things.
I very much agree that people need a connection with nature. As I make more efforts to be a part of nature, even for only brief moments, I notice how much happier, focused, and productive I am. Furthermore, as Beatley and many others have suggested, the more involved I have become in nature, the more inclined I’ve become to protect it.
Recognizing how valuable my experiences in nature were to me, I think that all people should have the opportunity to experience nature every day. And I am determined to find a way to bring nature back into our cities.