Full disclosure: I went with a friend to a tarot reading about 18 months ago. Leaving aside any comments on whether or not such things are mystical fu-fu mumbo jumbo, I’ll just say that one of the things the female reader said when she looked at my cards was that I needed to take every opportunity to get out into nature, because it would save my sanity. She was as spot-on about that as anyone could be (she was also correct when she predicted a 180-degree job change in about five months, but that’s another story).
I’ve always been powerfully drawn to the outdoors and the natural world. As a child, I collected and displayed leaves and rocks. I very much wanted to take geology in college, but didn’t have the prerequisite, the university wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t fit the required course into my schedule. Forty years’ worth of hindsight later, I lament the fact that I didn’t become a naturalist or horticulturalist as a career. Back then, though, I didn’t even grasp the fact that such vocations existed.
In early adulthood, half a lifetime ago, I lived on an island in Lake Erie. It’s a resort in the summer, and a very small, close-knit community in the cold months. I always had an apartment, so never had a yard of my own there. On my few free afternoons in the summer, I would go down to the cement slab “beach” at the end of my landlady’s property and just sit, watching the water. Then in the wee hours of the morning after my last work shift, I’d go sit on the seawall that girdles the narrow part of the island, and again, just watch the lake, with the moon reflecting on it. In the winters, again in the middle of the night, after I shut down the bar, I’d put on my snowmobile suit and walk the roads and the little patch of woods. Once the last customer had gone home from the bar, I could be sure of wandering around, enjoying the cold and the severe beauty, without encountering another soul. Those were the hours I cherished.
Once I moved to Cleveland, it was years before I stopped long enough to breathe and get back to nature.
I inherited my love of gardening from my father. As a man who worked with blueprints and fabricated steel, he evidently found putting flowering plants into the ground to be a welcome contrast in his off hours. It was the only “soft” thing about him; otherwise, his strict German upbringing didn’t allow for any impractical pastimes. I learned about flowers, bushes, and trees, and when my husband and I bought our house, I translated that knowledge and love into an urban oasis full of growing things. My husband has called our front yard a jungle; my best friend says it looks like a forest glade. To me, it’s a vital buffer between the house and the busy street.
“Urban,” however, is the operative word for our situation. No matter how much I beautify our little patch of ground, we’re still surrounded on all sides by heavy traffic, sirens, and endless coming and going. When we got our motorhome six years ago, it was an instant godsend, an escape from the ’hood. We make a point of it to travel only to places that have lots of trees and, ideally, access to water. Our experiences are expanded many-fold by viewing the scenery from our kayaks. Hiking trails are high on the list, too. I won’t say I couldn’t live without our trips to the woods, but I’d be a very sad, desperate person without them. Sitting among tall trees, looking out at the sun sparkling on a lake, gives me a joy that nothing else can. It’s peace for the soul.
I didn’t need a tarot reader to tell me that I’m hard-wired to worship nature; I was always in touch with that part of myself. But I think we’re ALL that way, deep down. It’s just that probably the vast majority of people don’t realize it. People who have lived their entire lives in concrete meccas may never experience the quiet of a forest. They may go to the beach for a few hours, but they don’t internalize the movement of the water. Modern citified humans have forgotten their ties to the natural world. Forgotten that we’re all connected to the Earth that supports us. I believe that’s why there’s such a disregard for nature, why we think nothing of paving over a wetland to create a new strip mall, or clear-cutting a forest for a housing development, neither of which we actually need. Rampant, overwhelming consumerism also stems from this failure to recognize that we’re part of the natural world, not above it. Those who never have a meaningful encounter with Nature have indescribably poorer lives for that lack, possibly accounting for at least some of the ills of the Western world.
As we read about devastation of the rainforests or drilling in wildlife refuges, wreaked by those who never give a thought to the natural world, it’s reassuring to know that there are at least some people who still feel close to the land and are willing to fight for it. The tribes at Standing Rock, along with indigenous peoples in Brazil and other vital areas, represent the last line of defense for some of the most threatened parts of our planet. They live as their ancestors did, in harmony with their surroundings. We would do immeasurable good by recognizing their efforts, valuing them, and supporting them. And by reclaiming our oneness with the natural world and the other creatures in it.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to hug the trees, revel in the lakes, and even, sometimes, hide out far from cell service and connectivity. As perhaps we were always meant to.