I am the throat
of the sandia mountains
a night wind woman
with every breath
- Joy Harjo, “Fire”
There is a Lakota saying that goes “when a man moves away from Nature, his heart becomes hard”. I have heard this same sentiment perhaps hundreds of different times, and in at least three different languages.
In an increasingly industrialized world, we are both inflicting and suffering from violence on a frightening scale. And it’s time that we did something about it. It’s time we did something about all of it.
What are small actions that could have a large impact? What if we could change the world, by reconnecting people to the world they live in, and with the people that they live in it with? What if we could positively influence public policy decisions, human health, urban life and design, the aspirations of both the young and the old, the manner in which we deal with conflict, the way we feel and interact with each other (and with all the life on this planet)—all of it—just by getting people outside? Would it help inspire people? Would it heal them?
What would our world looked like if we took time away from the cities and escaped to the woods? Or, better yet, what if we made cities more livable in the first place? What if we built parks and planted trees and constructed green roofs and had community gardens on every block?
Which direction would the world move, if everyone had the opportunity, time, and ability to reconnect to this beautiful planet? What would happen if we recognized the world that we evolved to live in? If we began to love it again? Would it help us to love each other? To find some peace with ourselves?
What would change if kids grew up knowing where their food came from? How would we feel if we stopped living solely in micromanaged, sanitized spaces? What would we do differently if we started going barefoot more? How would our decisions and values change?
What would it look like if our homes and cars, if all the divided compartments within which we live, were replaced by something that allowed us to feel, and importantly, to connect? What would happen if we began to rethink and to redefine progress? To rethink our purpose here?
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice—though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles…
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do the only thing you could do determined to save the only life you could save.”
-Mary Oliver, The Journey
There was a recently published National Geographic article that highlighted the emergence of new scientific evidence supporting what I think most of us have known all along: nature is good for us. The piece successfully brings together the growing body of work that has demonstrated that time spent in the outdoors makes us more focused, calmer, less violent, healthier, and (perhaps most interestingly) potentially more empathetic.
I want people to be healthier and happier, and to feel a sense of place and connection to those around them. I want them to care about the environment, about the world that they live in. I want all of us to recognize ourselves as integral parts to the health and beauty and peace of this Universe, and to act accordingly. I want to expand our patterns of thought, and to reprioritize our values.
How difficult would any of this actually be in practice? To get people to use less, and love more? To recognize the impact that we have each day on the world—from the food we eat to the tires on our cars.
I want our children to know where their food comes from. I want to teach them to grow their own food, and in doing so give them the gift of witnessing and experiencing the miracle that is life. I want us all to accept each other. To relinquish, slowly, a lifetime of judgment that we hold against ourselves.
Getting people outside might just be one of the first steps.
After all, how do you get people to care about a forest they’ve never seen? Animals they’ve never stared into the eyes of, swam with, and observed? How do you get them to truly understand the grandeur and importance of glaciers they’ve never watched calve into the sea? How can they possibly learn to be astonished by the complexity of a rainforest, or the trees they’ve never walked amongst?
How do you get people to appreciate food they’ve never grown? How do you get people to conserve water they’ve never seen, except when pouring out of their tap? How do you get people to care about other people that they’ll never meet? To care about and understand a connection they’ve never felt?
We spend all of our time in individualized houses or cars or cubicles. How do we create a space infinitely larger than our narrow social spheres? How do you get people to have real conversations when there are too many TVs and computers and Instagram accounts to keep up with? When you look around the room, and everyone else is looking down?
Maybe, just maybe, you get them outside.
And you start with kids. You show them the world as it was, and as it is, and ask them what they want it to be. Take them to the parks, and let the awesome beauty of the natural world there help them catch a glimpse of what was, and in many places could be. Let a dream carry us into the future.
I know that I would not be the person that I am today without endless hours in tents and on hiking trails or sitting by the river or working in my family’s garden or running through orchards or skiing under the moon. I would not have the same sense of peace and joy and feeling of homecoming that I experience each time that I step outside.
Nature is the most beautiful artist, and she is the greatest of teachers. And we don’t have far to look for her. She’s usually just outside the window. It’s time for all of us to get out there.
After all, if not now, then when?