The Role of Nature in My Life

“Things We See Today” The role of nature in my life has greatly changed in the last five years, as well as in the change from adolescence to adulthood. I don’t believe that nature has changed but my perception of nature has and always is, from the rising sun over the cityscape of San Francisco as I take the L Train uphill on Taraval Street, to watching the quarter-sized, glistening diamond, snowflakes fall outside my window as I try and stay awake to catch a glimpse of Santa before morning. To me, Nature is not the woods or a long, sweating hike, nor is it Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or any other city park for that matter.

To me, Nature is catching that rhythm the world beats, that I beat, that you beat, that every pulsing animate and inanimate object beats and feeling that smile spread across my face with no effort or prompt and, knowing at this moment, I was it, all of it and it me. I don’t label it with oneness nor do I feel like I’ve lost my individuality, I have just tuned myself in so well that every strum is pitch perfected, octave above and octave below humming and I feel the waves breaking over and through me. As a child I was surrounded by the stereo-typical definition of nature; the woods!

I grew up on twenty acres of a densely forested plot of land, where the winters were as cold and numbing as rejection but as beautiful and awing as love accepted. I grew up outside the small town of Grand Haven (though my definition of “small town” would change when I moved to Bolinas, CA) about twenty minutes from Lake Michigan. As a child my mom was always kicking me out of the house (for her own sanity) telling me to go play in the woods. I explored the surrounding woods with no fear but lots of mosquito repellant and had many Carroll like adventures.

Once, I even used a felt, roll-up map of Canada I had gotten from Niagara Falls as a treasure map that my twin childhood friends, Ryan and Randy Hackenberg and I were going to find that treasure with. We never did find that treasure but we did find countless hours of fun and adventure and a friendship that fizzled in high school but, if I ever needed anything, even now, I could count on them. This was Nature for me, a backdrop for my wild imagination and an infinite prop and goody bag. I remember looking up at the tops of the trees and seeing faces that both scared and excited me.

I never thought “I’m in Nature now” I just, was. The role then was larger in a physical way but I am still discovering the effects it had on me mentally and developmentally. I’ve noticed that people growing up without easy access to the woods or “Nature” are colder to their fellow human beings, whether it is because they had to spend more time with them (ha ha just kidding) or if it is only the people I’ve met so far, I don’t know. Those same people also seem to have trouble melding with others and leaving their comfort zone, mainly their hometown.

I thought just the opposite would be true. So, as a youth I grew up sledding, slaloming through trees and snow and sweating the melting, humidity so high it should be raining, summer days away, very much in and a part of “Nature”. As a teen, I despised where I lived and what I grew up with; looking at it as ammunition for the ridicule I was receiving. Curse my parents!!! I knew everyone from playing sports and hanging around town but I was the last to know that being from the outskirts, was a problem.

This wasn’t really the problem though, it was the first thing that came to the insulters mind and the first thing I blamed, but it was the fact that I was, academically and athletically, at the same or better level than them and I didn’t need their special, expensive camps or schools. I was also extremely nice, happy and naive having been isolated from the cruel, “real” world. I fell for all their tricks and traps which cut me deeply and left me very bitter against them.

I would cry to my dad, asking him why we didn’t live closer to town, why didn’t he drive me into town when all the others were playing, and why I couldn’t play on all the traveling teams. I know this hurt him and I feel terribly about this now but I’m sure he knew this might be coming having obviously picked out where he lived. I did my best never to be home those years. It was a lot easier after I started driving and drove my parents mad wondering why I never stayed for more than a few hours (other than sleeping). I hated it, with all my heart.

My dog was the only thing natural I liked. I didn’t go out in my woods or out on my friends’ property. The closet I came to nature then, was the National Geographic program on PBS. Nature and I would not bond again until much later. The last five years have been a battle. Living in a tent for six months (not by choice) brought me very close with Nature. I would wake up on a Cliffside with nothing but a hundred foot, sheer rock face, drop with the ocean and rising, blood orange sun in-between. It had a bit of an edge to it though.

I was illegally staked out on someone else’s property, leaving before they woke, returning after they slept and I was all alone. After moving to Bolinas, Ca with my older, female cousin, I was abandoned after two weeks for smoother sailing. I had gotten a job serving and bartending and developed a routine; wake up early (I had no phone because the tide soaked it and therefore no alarm), hitchhike to work (no car), work for eight or more hours (notice no mention of shower before, just a dip in the ocean) followed by a heavy night of drinking (there was literally nothing else to do).

So, Nature and I….. bonded. I would smile at the big, bright moon with all her Saturn-like encircling rings (standing outside the only local bar) and wonder how lucky I was and then curse nature for her rocky bed, noisy birds and my pounding headache in the morning. As soon as I moved into the city I became very resistant of hikes and nature related events. She had left a bad taste in my mouth and I had finally escaped her. I blamed her, but it wasn’t her fault.

Man, when left alone and isolated, reverts to more primal emotions, deep seeded in anger and angst. This is not a clean palate but one already burnt with the modern ways of living. Having and losing is a harsh lesson to be learned. More recently, I have been dipping my toe in nature’s waters, going outside and taking a deep, refreshing breath and being happy. I’d like to get out more but school and work keep me happily busy. I have a kinder eye towards the chirping birds and, when I think no one is looking, I stop and smell the roses.

We are friends again but the love affair is over. I am sure that Nature’s roll in my life will change, as everything is constantly changing. She has played an intricate roll molding and shaping me, directly and indirectly. We haven’t always gotten along, but we have developed a mutual respect for each other. She is just as much a part of me as I am of her and there is no changing that. I love her beauty but despise her amorality or at least her giving me the ability to recognize that amorality.

She comes off as cold and heartless but she is only an observer, a counter weight to the balance of life. We may think things are going awry but the potter’s wheel is always spinning and it may not be ideal for us humans but when was the last time Nature’s and our goals have coincided? When is the last time she has cared or is caring irrelevant? Nature is a harsh mother but we can’t change our roots. Love her, hate her, there is no escaping but why would you want to?

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