I was not raised as an outdoors person. Yes, I would play around the creek behind the apartment complex, but I would not be the kid catching toads or digging up worms. In fact, getting dirty was a punishable offense by my mom. Dirt, bugs, icky things were not allowed. My laundry was done daily, and dishes were not allowed to sit dirty overnight—wash them by hand or run a nearly empty dishwasher before bed. The environment wasn’t a concern back then.
My dad was also strict about cleanliness. However, as a hunter, getting dirty was necessary. You just can’t bring it inside the house (or garage). I did get sprayed down with a garden hose occasionally. Not recommended.
While getting dirty is still not my thing, I have been studying our ancestral relationship with nature. We evolved, if you believe in this theory, in nature and because of nature. We had to adapt to survive. We collected and ate thousands of different types of vegetables and only some fruits and only when in season. Protein was hunted or fished and required tremendous physical and mental efforts to secure. Sweets, like honey, were rare treats. In our modern-day grocery stores, the most effort I’ve witnessed was the struggling to grab a can of tomato paste from the top shelf. For the most part, we are disconnected from nature.
A few years ago, my husband encouraged me to go camping with him. Not camping in a camper with electricity and running water. No, camping in a tent with a campfire and bugs everywhere. Camping where bears would wander through our site trying to eat our trash. Sleeping like an entombed mummy inside a sleeping bag while hoping you don’t have to pee at 2am because you know something is watching you. There is dirt everywhere. You never feel clean. You are freezing at night and getting sunburned during the day.
What an amazing, wonderful, and invigorating experience! My inner-early hominid felt alive and appreciated. While we still gathered food from a local grocery store, the connection with Earth was titillating. And I found myself wondering why we as a society have lost our connection with nature?
The natural world is full of gross, stinky, dirty, amazing, beautiful, and phenomenal living beings. We are not separate from nor alien to this planet. It is our home. We are all stuck on this fast-moving rock being hurled around a nuclear reactor. This is a planet where the realities of the cycle of life are both beautiful and harsh. A world where our choices influence billions of humans and trillions of other living creatures that we have never met and may never see, and a place where our evolution has given us the ability to adapt, respond and thrive. Worms may be gross, but they are vital. Spiders might be scary, but they are necessary.
I encourage everyone to explore the natural world. Not the shopping centers. Not the concrete jungles. Not the temperature controlled palaces. Explore the forests. Step into a lake. Play in the dirt. Make friends with your animal and insect neighbors. If we lose our connection to the planet, we will have no problem destroying it because we do not see the value of this amazing place. When I see you hiking, I will give you a great big bear hug.