Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature. -Rachel Carson
The President stole your land. While easily forgotten thanks to the hundreds of other scandals since, in an unprecedented act Trump reduced Bear’s Ears National Monument by over a million acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante by over 800,000 acres. Recently, documents accidentally released by the Department of the Interior revealed biased decision-making in favor of extractive industries. All the while the Trump administration continues to favor special interest groups and profit, rolling back regulations meant to protect us and the environment at an alarming rate.
To me, it seems obvious that the health of our planet is inextricably tied to our own. It should be especially obvious during this particularly perilous time for the earth that this should not be partisan issue. Yet somehow having a healthy environment has become politicized, and as always the political and the personal must intertwine. So let me tell you, without any exaggeration, that nature quite literally saved my life.
While not something many people know about me, during the year I spent living in New York I regularly thought about jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. This thought would casually pop into my head on the subway or while pushing my cart down the supermarket aisle, the way a healthy person might think about what to eat for dinner or their weekend plans. The depression and loss I felt during that phase of life was enormous. Most of the time it seemed insurmountable, and I was desperate to find a means of escape.
Luckily, I had a contract job that I chose not to renew, and since that summer I was already planning on attending my best friend’s wedding in France, I decided to figure out a way to stay in Europe through the summer. Eventually, despite never having backpacked before, I decided to walk across Spain on the Camino del Norte, with absolutely no idea what to expect.
Over the course of forty days walking, my entire world changed. I’ve never quite been able to explain it, but with each step the haze that had tangled itself into knots in my head seemed to lift. I felt light for the first time in ages, and more connected to everything around me than perhaps ever before. Despite years of trying to sit and meditate, each day it became easier and easier to live every moment fully in the present. It was as if some grand secret had been whispered from the treetops and blown in on the wind, and by the end I finally felt I understood just how easy life could be. I learned my happiness flowed from living simply, and generously, and most importantly, closely with nature.
Since the Camino I have not had a home, in the traditional sense, for four years. When not working or traveling between gigs I can usually be found in my home state of California, where my partner and I live out of a Toyota Highlander, spending our days hiking and climbing in protected areas and sleeping on public land (when we’re not taking advantage of the generosity of our family and friends). To pay the bills, I found my way into seasonal work, where most of my time is spent teaching kids about the outdoors. For a week at a time I’ll have a group of students, and I do the best I can while hiking, camping, climbing, kayaking and snorkeling to spark wonder, and to inspire them to want to protect our shared planet. With some groups I have more success than others, but when all else fails, if nothing else, I try to give them a glimpse of the solace nature can provide, should they ever feel as desperate as I once did.
So, you see, Trump and his administration’s attack on the environment feels incredibly personal. I know I’m not the only one who can sincerely say that wild places saved me, and I need them, in a primal, insanity-preventing, indescribably essential way. When I say our land was stolen, I am not only talking about protecting nature or preserving our American heritage, I am talking about my sanctuary. I am talking about my home.