With adulthood comes a certain disconnect from the natural world, an abstraction of physicality. My concerns are with my overflowing inbox, with getting groceries, with calling to make appointments. I no longer concern myself with the underground goings-on of anthills, of muddy puddles, of chasing leaves down a stream.
These days if I go outside, it’s for a purpose—to run for exercise or to hike to get some fresh air—not for the mere joy of feeling my body move, for the sensation of grass between my toes, of mud streaking my ankles and drying there.
Our modern lives have made it easy to be disconnected from the natural world. We drive and walk on pavement, often only setting foot on our lawns to mow them. Many jobs are done indoors, and during winter in Michigan it’s all too easy to never want to leave the house. Working from home during a pandemic doesn’t help, either.
It seems that exploration of and free play in nature is the realm of children. As an adult, people give you odd looks if you’re crouched down beside a puddle or anthill unless there’s a small child crouched down beside you.
In adulthood you’re expected to interact with nature in limited ways. Typically you choose an activity—be it golf, cross-country skiing, gardening, rock climbing, backpacking, etc.—and you interact with nature within the bounds of that activity.
This is not to say that these adult activities aren’t good and meaningful ways to connect with nature—they are. But much like Jon, I’m finding it hard to reconnect with the simple joy of being in nature that I so easily had as a kid.
When I was a kid, I played outside all the time. My family was lucky enough to have access to a creek down a short trail in our backyard, and during the summer hardly a day went by where I didn’t put on my creek boots and go exploring.
But these days even if I hike on a trail, there is still a gap between me and the trees around me. I start to wonder to myself, when was the last time I climbed a tree? When was the last time I walked barefoot in grass, not caring about the dew and the grass clippings clinging to my feet? When did I become so disconnected from my body, from the sensations of my body interacting with nature?
I don’t know how to get back to that childlike enjoyment of nature. But maybe a restoration isn’t something I should even be hoping for. As an adult, there are ways that I can appreciate nature that I couldn’t as a child, either from planning camping trips or from learning about complex marine biology. Maybe evolution is what I should be striving for—a maturation of the ways in which I interact with nature, a synthesis of adulthood’s intellectual enjoyment with childhood’s easy physicality. Either way, I’m going to go outside and touch some grass.
Lauren Cole (’20) graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter.