I was born and raised in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. My hometown is credited with being one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the country, and I had the privilege of being exposed to healthy ecosystems throughout my childhood. My parents’ home sat on the edge of a dense forest, about a mile from the small Swannanoa River that snakes between the steep mountain ridges. My sisters and I would spend most of our time playing in the woods and splashing around in the shallow river instead of playing inside. I grew up appreciating the plants and animals around me and respecting their power. I learned about trees by climbing them, I learned about bugs and snakes by getting bit by them, and I learned how to find your way back through the woods by getting lost in them. Whenever a thunderstorm formed , my parents would turn off all the lights in the house and gather us to sit on the porch to admire the flashes of lightning and the tremendous claps of thunder. I learned to admire the forces of nature and to take time every so often to enjoy them.
I think I was closest to nature (figuratively as well as literally being covered in dirt) as a child and only grew steadily away from it. I became so concerned with school work and fitting in and making friends that I forgot to stop and appreciate life and the Earth itself. I started deriving entertainment from electronics and television rather than the forests just beyond my backyard. As I grew up I started consuming more and I began contributing to the degradation of the nature that I had once had so much respect and admiration for. Now I consume more than ever before and I live in the middle of a city with next to no access to forests or serene rivers. I have quite literally moved away from nature.
A few days ago I went to the most natural place I could think of around Charleston: Sullivan’s Island. Although it’s highly developed there are some places that remain detached from the wonders of human civilization. I decided to meditate in a small grove of trees and vines between the road and beach. The trees and bushes grew around an old ruined stone building of some kind (an abandoned fort or storage facility perhaps). I thought the site was a perfect symbol of mankind’s relationship with nature. As I sat on top of the decrepit facility and looked up, I saw something that looked familiar from my childhood; the Sun and sky and clouds behind the moving collage of leaves and bark that reached far above my head. While not the most natural location, I found it quite serene, and it reminded me of my childhood surrounded by the dominating arms of trees. I realized once again that the power of the natural environment predates our feeble attempts for glory and control. I felt the respect for trees and creatures that I had lost since I was a kid, and I felt more connect to nature than I have for a long time.
It’s important for us to feel connected to nature, otherwise we might quite literally forget our roots. Too often we see ourselves as having so much knowledge and control because we are humans, but it’s important that we realize that we exist as a part of nature and we’re not above it. We should admire and enjoy nature as if we were children. We should feel dwarfed by nature and should fear it to a certain extent so we don’t abuse and exploit it. Perhaps I don’t have to continue the pattern of feeling less connected to nature; perhaps I could take more time out my days do respect and admire nature more like I did when I was a kid.