The first thing that comes to mind when I think about our environment are the times and places I feel most connected to nature during a busy, urban life in LA. These instances have mostly been during hikes, where the air feels crisper and easier to breathe, and I can see above the layer of smog. A city that can feel so hectic and hurried suddenly feels small and manageable.
Every other Friday, my fellow classroom staff and I have started taking our kids out on hikes. Most of our students flourish, running ahead and exploring in ways we don’t always see in the classroom. One student who refused to go on any field trips earlier this year has been coming hiking with us, and quickly emerged as a leader, helping the other kids figure out which rocks to step on when crossing a stream. We’ve seen peers who often struggle with friendships connect over finding a salamander or sharing a good walking stick. A student who always finds a reason to be negative can’t help but smile as we tromp through the forest. Another splashed around in the creek, and exclaimed that he “loves nature water!”
Despite these positives, one of our students did not have such a fun time. He told us during the first hike that it was his “first time in nature,” and spent much of the time frustrated, complaining about getting his pants dirty, and claiming that he was only excited for the part where we’d eat lunch. The second wasn’t much better.
I often find myself resorting to this dichotomy between “nature” and “city,” but I think this distinction is problematic. “Nature” shouldn’t be so foreign to us that we classify it as a completely separate place, and are so unfamiliar with our surroundings that, like my student, we can’t wait to leave. I think this (false) dichotomy is ultimately harmful to the environment, because we are more able to separate ourselves from the ways in which our planet is suffering. It’s much easier to ignore a drought when you don’t see the way a river has been reduced to a trickle, flanked by dry, desolate banks where water once was.
Feeling connected to the environment, for me, is synonymous with feeling connected to humanity. The poem I was assigned during our month focusing on the Environment reflects this synergy.
Its words remind me of the ways I’ve seen my own students connect, with nature as the catalyst. It also reaffirms that recognizing nature is intimately connected to appreciating humankind, as it changes our perspective and invites us to interact with one another. As much as I dread my early morning weekday wake-up, for example, I love that I get to watch the sunrise every morning. That is an experience I am sharing with so many others around me at that very moment. My challenge moving forward will be to find (and appreciate) those instances more frequently, and maybe “nature” won’t feel so far away after all.
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee's Urban Service Programs. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service.