The Ways We Connect

By Hannah Gartner

The modern environmental movement is filled with calls to connect with the natural world. Over half of the world’s population now live in cities, and having gown up in a city myself I understand how easy being in the concrete jungle makes it forget that one is part of nature. Danger arises from this because human beings value and take care of what is seen as like them, and without any connection to the natural world there is no motivation to behave more sustainably. The environmentalist are therefore on the right path by encouraging connection with the natural world.

My own connection really began as a child, when I spent my Summers going to Maine and my afternoons walking the woods near my home in Philadelphia. Then, in my early twenties I began hiking, snowboarding, and rock climbing. Throughout all this I also grew an understanding of how the world interacts within me through what I take in and put out. For example, the food I eat and excrete can be turned into compost, which has nutrients that feed the plants who then go on to provide me with oxygen and more food. This rapport, along with many others, is no accident but rather a symbiotic relationship developed over millennia.

I have found no better way to connect with nature then to adventure in it, sometimes in exposing and scary ways. Each of the athletic hobbies that I pursue also connect me differently. Snowboarding is a fast rush, while climbing is slow, calculating, and far more exposing. Hiking does not possess the same thrills, but allows more intimacy with the most peaceful aspects of nature. The connection is further enhanced as I learn more about the native flora in my home.

A few weekends ago I took a three day backpacking trip. Passing into wilderness areas with nothing but my feet to move me and what was on my back to sustain me, I found a nature that is rarely seen. The first night was spent by a mountaintop lake between two high passes. The next day, after getting water from the lake, we continued over one of the passes. It was a beautiful day until an afternoon thunderstorm came and refused to leave. We arrived at the campsite that afternoon sopping wet with the rain still pouring down. The tent was erected as quickly as possible, and the remainder of the evening was spent huddled from the rain under that nylon barrier.

Experiencing the natural world is not always confortable. This lesson is clear in the above story, and is one I learn almost every time I adventure in nature. Another lesson I learn is that it is through vulnerability that a deeper connection is able to arise. To foster these types of experiences in one’s own life therefore spontaneously creates the kind of links to the natural world that our culture so desperately needs. Furthermore, allowing oneself the discomfort of being in the outdoors better prepares them for the uncomfortable task of mitigating climate change. So go out there, get your hands dirty, and get close to nature!