Finding Peace in Nature: Your Own Backyard
“Nature surrounds us, from parks and backyards to streets and alleyways. Next time you go out for a walk, tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.” – David Suzuki, academic & environmental activist
Dear Friend of WV Rivers,
If you’ve been following my blogs, you know I’ve been travelling across the eastern panhandle with my family finding peace in nature.
We’ve gone up, down, over, and beyond, and it’s truly been a blessing. I wouldn’t trade these special moments with my daughters for anything (except maybe sleep, if you made me a good deal).
Most of these trips required a car, and a flexible schedule, and an understanding of the benefits of time spent in nature. They also required knowing where to go and how to get there. These are luxuries that many people can’t afford, including workers on the front-line of the coronavirus pandemic who are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants.
Which makes me wonder…are the trips we’re highlighting truly accessible to everyone? Can we expect people to find peace in nature if they can’t access nature to begin with?
In recognition of this reality, we ditched the car and traveled no further than our own backyard.
We are priviliged to have a yard to call our own. What can I say about it? It’s small, but it’s wonderful. We have chickens, and a garden, and an old croquet set the neighbors threw away. And we love it all, every inch. Is it special in the same sense as Blackwater Falls or Seneca Rocks or the New River Gorge? Probably not. But it holds an even dearer place in our hearts, because it is ours.
Be it a yard, or a garden, or a tree on the corner of the block, I hope we all have our own slice of nature somewhere in our neighborhood that brings us joy. But just how small of a slice are we talking about?
- We know West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation for the percentage of families below the poverty level and that low-income, working families often have less access to nature.
- We know that low-income families and communities of color are burdened with disproportionately more air and water pollution (timely enough, a new study links air pollution and deaths from COVID-19).
- We know trees can improve public health, but that city trees are most frequently located in wealthier neighborhoods.
- And lastly, we know West Virginia has exceptional fishing, whitewater rafting, and hiking, but yet we fail to capitalize on the increased benefits that come from greater access to our streams, rivers, and public lands.
Knowing all of this, what can we do?
First and foremost, we must recognize that these inequities exist, and focus our work on addressing them. We must all accept David Suzuki’s challenge to acknowledge our role as both inhabitants and stewards of the nature in our neighborhoods. With that mindset, all action taken, big or small, will begin the critical, arduous, life-sustaining process of making nature accessible to all.
Our daughters will spend hours in our yard, pouring water from one bucket into another. And despite our need for a break, we are always compelled to join them (and really, who can resist a baby in overalls?)
They are tuned into something that we often forget as adults. We can find enjoyment, and peace, right where we are at, where we are most at home. In our backyard. In our neighborhood. In our nature.
So tread gently. Be a good inhabitant, and an even better steward.
And if you need any tips, just remember, you might not always be able to access nature, but you can always access me.
To clean water and clean hands,
Tanner Haid, Eastern Panhandle Field Coordinator