Nature is a Privilege
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Connecting with nature is quite evocative for most, and is a privilege for those who can bask in its embrace regularly. In this story from Alexa, founder and director of STIN, you'll hear about what nature means to them, how to recognize the privilege of accessing nature, and what STIN has in store for July. Be sure to read to the end, where you'll find a five sense meditation exercise to try on your next outdoor adventure.
Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal, I often felt like I was living in a paved playpen. People would rush to and from home, work, stores, and restaurants, moving through life unconsciously, unaware of their surroundings and impacts on our planet. Not to mention, largely unaware of their privilege too. I never liked living in the suburbs. I felt trapped. Nothing to do and nowhere to go... Until summer weekends would roll around.
My family has a trailer in northern Vermont that we'd escape to every weekend. We always say that we're "going to the country" because for us city folk, hanging out in a trailer on Lake Champlain surrounded by cornfields and dairy farms was the countryside. It wasn't until I was into my early adulthood (yes, early adulthood) that I realized how privileged I was to have this weekly summer escape. As a white cis-woman (which was how identified at the time; I only realized I was outside of the binary in my mid 20's) from a middle-ish class family, it never even phased me that having an opportunity to go hiking in the Green Mountains, exploring covered bridges and waterfalls, and canoeing and swimming in a warm lake until I was a prune was a privilege. Besides that it's hugely problematic that I didn't realize I was privileged until I was about 18, I don't think I even realized that while access to nature should be a right, it's still largely a privilege to experience untouched nature.
Green Space is a Privilege
Access to green spaces and nature are forms of privilege and learning about how this type of privilege represented in your city is important. Here are a few Halifax based organization that are working towards making green spaces more accessible to non-white communities:
With the recent mainstreaming of police brutality against people of colour and (mainly black) trans folks, and outcries to defund the police, I've been reflecting on my white privilege. Before I continue with this blog story, I want to note that this is not new news. Systemic racism and oppression of black and indigenous people, and people of colour more generally, has been happening since the start of colonialism in the 16th century. [Read as: This problem has existed since white people started competing in building their empires, which is still going strong.] Racism has been a long-standing issue in Canada.
A lot has come up over the last few months. I've been learning and unlearning and trying to be a strong anti-racist ally. In calling out my own privilege, I also practice gratitude daily as part of the process. Yes, I practice gratitude to help keep me grounded in addressing my white privilege and white guilt, which helps me move forward with allyship.
When I reflect on what I'm grateful for, nature comes up nearly every time. Nature makes me feel some type of way. I crave time outside. Particularly, time in my garden watching the pollinators enjoy the fruits of my tending, and time outside of the city immersed in the chaos of nature. The city is chaotic too, but it's different. City chaos is ordered by colonial systems. The apparent chaos of nature is actually not really chaos at all when you think about it. When humans don't intervene, nature operates in perfect balance. There's harmony between every element and specie of plant, animal and invertebrate. Nature is truly an incredible balancing act.
What does connecting with nature mean?
For me, when I'm in nature, it brings me intense calmness and wonder and joy. I can tune out unnecessary thoughts and be present with my innermost self. Connecting with nature keeps me grounded and energized.
To no surprise, when I asked folks from the Stop Trashing It Network (STIN) what connecting with nature means to them, they shared similar reflections. Folks who responded to my Instagram Story post which asked for one word to describe their connection to nature said: grounded, future, serene, calm and relaxed. I also reached out to some local photographer friends who inspire me to capture moments in nature for their perspectives on connecting with nature.
"Whenever I think of nature I think of calmness and freedom. When I go chase a sunset or a hike, I forget all my worries and enjoy the surroundings. Which makes it my happy place because will always have some sort of nature to be enjoyed or explored."
Bema takes incredible portraits of friends out in nature, along with stunning landscapes images too. You can check out his work on Instagram @thisisbema.
When I asked Rachael what connecting with nature means to her, she said healing comes to mind. She shared an image of still water with both light and heavy clouds (left) and explained that:
"I often visited this place to find clarity growing up and would even consider it as part of my identity in a way."
Rachel's simply cool style is reflected in her photography, ou which you can check out on Instagram @rachaelschrumphotography.
As an avid adventurer, photographer, and underwater treasure hunter, this question was met with a story:
"Last night while I was snorkelling around, I shifted my focus from treasure hunting to just watching the world I was in. I let the tide push me around, as the waves rolled in. The sheer number of colours, the abundance of life – it was all very soothing and it made me want to take responsibility. Humans are kinda like custodians of the planet."
Elise Lemieux Flikkema
To outdoor adventure woman and all-around sweet human Elise:
Connecting with nature to me looks like being fully in the 'now' and being fully aware of what’s going on around me in the present moment. For me, it also means respect! Have respect for the earth around you and love it as if you were caring for yourself or a loved one! Pick up trash when you can, take in all the tiny beautiful things, nurture & love it 💛
Connecting with Nature this July (& Always)
This month STIN is encouraging folks to connect with nature, in whatever capacity possible. That might look like going for a picnic with friends in the park, meditating in the woods, or going on a long bike ride. Over the next few weeks, our ambassadors will be sharing some great resources and ideas on how to connect with nature, including a DIY suet bird feeder tutorial! However you choose to connect with nature, remember to be present and take it all in. Deeply connecting with nature can do so much good for us. One of my favourite things to do is a 5 senses mediation when in out in nature.
Simple Senses Meditation When in Nature
Find a nice spot in nature, get comfortable, and close your eyes.
Take 3 deep breaths. Keep your eyes closed as you continue.
Focus on smell. What do you smell? Pine needles, the ocean, seaweed, maybe your beer? Note all the smells. Take a deep breath.
Then, focus on taste. What do you taste? Maybe the salty air? Maybe it's hot and you're thirsty. Check-in with your taste buds.
Next, focus on touch. How does the ground feel beneath you? Are you sitting on a hard cold rock, or maybe some warm soft sand? Keeping your eyes closed, feel the environment around you. Let it sink in. Take a deep breath, and sigh it out.
Now, hone in on sound. How many different sounds do you hear? What are they coming from?
Take a deep breath and open your eyes. What do you see? Take it all in. Look around. Can you see the sounds you heard? Can you see where the smells are coming from? Does the sight in front of you reflect how your other senses perceived it to be?
Next time you're basking in nature's glory, give this exercise a go. You may notice things around you that you haven't before, even in the same spot that you always visit.
With love & light,
Alexa is the founder and director of Stop Trashing It. They're originally from Montreal and moved to Nova Scotia in 2013 to pursue a long-standing passion for ocean conservation. Alexa has a BSc in Marine Biology and Environmental Sustainability and Society (ESS) and a Masters in Marine Management from Dalhousie University. On their downtime, you are likely to find Alexa outdoors, probably hiking the coastline or in her garden, doing yoga, hanging out with friends, or scuba diving, which is her lifelong passion. Alexa is an established regional expert on abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) commonly called 'ghost gear', and works closely with the fishing industry, academia, non-profit organizations and indigenous groups. As a Sustainable Oceans Alliance Youth Leader, Alexa continues to inspire and motivate others to take action in doing better for our ocean, and was nominated as one of Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25.