My Grandfather on my Mother’s side spent part of his farming career as a sharecropper in South Carolina, the family was large and the kids worked the fields with my grandfather and other male members of the family while the women tended house, cooked and cared for the younger children. There was a point of time when Granddaddy took on picking cotton and tobacco and enlisted the older kids to help.
My mother told me stories of having to work in the hot sun, getting bitten and stung by horrible large bugs and getting pricked by the thorns at the center of the fluffy cotton plant. It sounded like…torture. My Mom was the oldest daughter and the apple of her father’s eye picked cotton once, tobacco once and figured out how to stop working in the fields by cooking inside with her mother. All that time in the kitchen made Mom an outstanding cook. All the time Mom spent working in the outdoors created an intense dislike of the outdoors which she transferred to us. As a child of the 80’s, I totally latched on to Mom’s philosophy of shopping over camping big time.
For so many people of color, the idea of being outdoors is not connected to moving up in the world. I used to say,” My ancestors spent enough time being forced outside to work in the dirt I’d rather be in the mall.”
I moved to New York City and love the form and structure. Buildings, structure, parks lots of planned structure and I love it. For me nature is chaos. Random things biting you , landing on you. Plants that can give you a rash, scratch you and dare I mention ticks… Lyme disease…blech.
Being enlisted as an Organizer for GirlTrek and going through Organizer training in Colorado last week shifted my perspective.
Our first trek was a nighttime hike to a spot in Estes Park called The Cathedral. We walked without lights. The sky was so clear and I saw a multitude of stars. I’ve never seen that many stars outside a planetarium. We walked to the open space and sat on the benches and looked at that beautiful sky filled with more stars than I could count. I cried silent tears.
The next few days GirlTrek taught us how to be ready for the challenges in nature in order to BE in nature. That my friends, is brilliant. No one has ever thought to teach me how to fall in love with nature. I’ve had several ex boyfriends and nature loving friends who just tried to pressure me into going hiking and camping. They would share their love of nature and invite me out there with no prep and judge me when I would freak out around bugs, wild animals and other fears I have about nature.
GirlTrek provided activities from classes with the Sierra Club to CPR training that slowly allowed me to acclimate not only to the altitude in Colorado, but to nature. That night hike allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and to face a major fear…being outside in the woods at night without lights. As the week progressed each day we had classes that took away the unknown factors of nature, busting my preconceived notions about outdoor activity.
The training climaxed with a 7 mile hike up a mountain in a national park in Colorado. As 40+ black women wearing our “superhero blue” GirlTrek gear hiked up the mountain my perspective shifted with each step. I gave myself permission to let go of the story in my head that connected the effort of being outdoors with the oppression of slavery.
The effort of doing months of training to prepare my body to be able to hike at altitude, the process of learning how to be in nature took work. I could have easily have said no to this opportunity and just stayed in my comfort zone, but I chose to say yes.
Saying yes to the pain of training, the bug bites, being with a group of people, cardio training, and facing my fears were worth it. Learning how to do what is difficult without complaining and being a part of a collective was my best lesson. Hiking up that mountain with my new friend Angela, who has MS and treks with a walker, has lost over 150 pounds walking with GirlTrek. Angela hiked up that mountain with hiking poles and was with the front of the line most of the time. Angela is a super hero.
The last part was being held accountable while being in a community of support. GirlTrek cares without coddling. Sets physical goals that are challenging and achievable. I’ve got a new reverence for nature. I am excited to spend the rest of my life cultivating that respect as I begin my journey to complete a triathlon when I am 50 years old.
#GirlTrek made me do it. It starts one step at a time.