When I was a kid I figured Nature was basically a guy thing, the same way I supposed wearing wigs, for example, was primarily a girl thing. That’s probably because when I was growing up it was men who did things like: hunt, spear, shoot, capture and in some cases kill while the females stayed let’s say, nearer to the hearth (or shopping mall). And even though the men in my house didn’t necessarily do any of those things, no more than we sat around churning butter, milking cows, plucking chickens, or stirring cauldrons, that doesn’t change my point; that Nature seemed most sanctioned for those less prone to wear wigs.
Let me explain. It’s true I wasn’t socialized in the country (think indoor ferns, Fresca and 70s atriums and you’ll get the picture). Like most parents in the greater suburbia where I was raised, mine dispensed controlled doses of wildlife: touring Yosemite in a fully equipped motor home, strolling through the aquarium at Golden Gate Park or the occasional trip to the Zoo. I have a picture of me in my stroller attempting to fend off this crazy goat who was trying to eat my favorite blanket, and instead of being encouraged to express my disdain I was coddled and hushed. Unlike my brothers who were alternately encouraged to wrestle and fend, I didn’t even get so much as a pat on the back for my obvious courage. Not once was I ever told to go forth and sow my wild oats, sail the seven seas or explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilization…to boldly go where no man has gone before, etc.
Nope, instead I was strongly encouraged to internalize my distress, to calm down, that in fact was what really happening was that I needed to be calmed, that I was being hysterical, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. If I showed you the picture of me and that goat you would see for yourself; I was clearly not afraid…I was pissed. Not the damsel in distress I was thusly (and forever more) in training for, who henceforward was cautioned at every turn and snarl that the world was a scary place, that someday someone would come and rescue me and in the meantime to cross my legs and think of Jesus.
If you think about it, associating nature in terms of gender is about as ridiculous as the idea of men wearing wigs, yet remember Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, notable men who fought for and touted individual freedom? Like most lofty ideals, the ideal of gender-equal Nature becoming distorted goes with the territory, or so it seems—hence my skewed "environmental identity." Instead of being encouraged to explore and investigate my external world I was kept caged like a zoo animal, forced to the confines of my imagination as Nature and the wild life was reserved for those with more brawn (or Y chromosomes).
Though I didn’t always succumb to this gender conformity (I did climb my fair share of trees, wander into a field here and there and even discover an abandoned life-size doll house that I stole away to every chance I got one blissful summer), I unfortunately continued to struggle over the years with the idea that Nature was to be feared and not to be ventured into alone.
Until recently, when I met an unsuspecting group of Nature activists and enthusiasts including Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, James Hillman, and my brilliant, loving teachers and classmates, all helping me "get so that my feeling is in right relation to the world I am in" as James Hillman put it. Helping me realize that nature isn’t a place, it’s not "out there" or separate from me, but actually I am Nature.
What a glorious realization to see that what I have believed for so long, that great relationships begin within, was essentially my guiding light…ultimately illuminating that after all, I am Nature. And while men wearing wigs seems an odd sequitur, I am relieved by the realization that some things in life are indeed inherently natural, while others are just sublimely ridiculous.
I wish you every blessing wherever you find yourself on this journey…inside or out…