When I began thinking about my relationship to nature for this post, the first memory that came to mind was my trip to the Adirondacks this past summer. Even on the drive up along a seemingly-everlasting I-87, I felt as if the road would become engulfed by towering green-covered mountains that made me rethink having called my west coast raised sophomore year roommate pretentious for referring to the Pennsylvania Appalachians as “foothills.” However, I unfortunately can’t say that I got to truly appreciate these mountains: the day before I left, I spilled a boiling french press of coffee on my leg that left me with second degree burns and a stern warning from the doctor to not do any hiking unless I wanted to risk infection.
Even though I did not get to hike through the clichéd mountaintop meadows and pristine forests I had been looking forward to, the views from the car seat were enough to inspire me to want to return and served as another step to recreating a connection with nature that I forgot I had. When I was younger, I could find this connection easily. I would attempt to climb any tree with a branch that could be grabbed when I jumped and hike the Appalachian Trail with my parents on the weekends. Summers were spent camping on Cape Cod, where my friend and I had the thrill of getting to sleep in our own tent and ride our bikes through the campground on our own. The brittle Massachusetts pine trees were used to create secret forts and pretend campfires.
Somewhere along the way though, I lost my ability to find these simple pleasures in nature. Maybe it was during my family’s final camping trip, during which it rained every day of the two weeks, forcing us to sleep in our car on the last few nights. After that we started renting houses. Or maybe it was when I was waken up for a 4 AM hike after being kept up by my lovely bunkmate’s snoring at sleepaway camp. Either way, by high school I considered myself “not much of an outdoorsy person,” as a draft in my notebook for an English assignment I had to write about myself in 12th grade starts.
Yet even as I felt no connection to nature, I still appreciated it. I would still be the one swimming farthest into the ocean on my family vacations and I ended up taking many, many more hikes on the trail taken for the sunrise hike (albeit when I wasn’t lethargic and angry). It wasn’t until I arrived at Dickinson and was surrounded by a strong environmentalist community that I realized how much I take these small moments for granted.
Last year, I spent my fall pause backpacking through Allegheny National Forest in West Virginia t0 avoid being bored in Pennsylvania for a long weekend. During those three days, I felt a sense of calmness in being surrounded by trees with no end in sight that I had thought impossible at such a high stress place as college. I dreaded losing that feeling upon returning to classes, but over the next few weeks, I could feel it returning to me through those moments that I had taken for granted before: a quick bike ride to class, an afternoon reading in a field rather than the library, and a day spent climbing the trees I loved so much as a child. It was possibly for this reason that I wasn’t entirely disappointed when I couldn’t hike in the famed Adirondacks over the summer.
Despite not having celebrated national parks in my backyard, there are still spectacular ways to connect to nature every day without having to drive 7 hours listening to the same two CDs. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax stresses the importance of how one person can have a great impact on their environment; whether it be positive or negative. In a similar idea, it only takes one small, seemingly unspectacular connection to inspire a positive relation with all of nature.