One of the bonuses about my upcoming foray into more teaching and professional road-tripping as a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer is that the region we’ve been assigned is the region where I spent my formative years. It’s so strange to think that after all this traveling, after living on two other continents and in a boatload of other states to boot, I’m gonna wind up right back where I started. Kind of. Sort of.
I’ve got some crazy memories and mixed emotions about the place, particularly when it comes to the outdoors. As a kid, my family lived out in the boonies on a not-working farm of roundabout 12 acres. My parents both worked full-time, and I went to school about half an hour away, so there wasn’t much farming going on to speak of. We did plant a little – though that by hand – but most of the work we put our John Deere through was lawn-mowing rather than crop-tending. We had outside dogs, back when people didn’t really think twice about that, and as a kid, I’d take them for walks down the long, mostly-deserted road. All the land was private land, and while I’d peer into the woods and wonder what was back there, I wasn’t the type to wander where I wasn’t welcome to try to look. We didn’t really know any of our neighbors, and it never occurred to tiny-me to knock on doors and ask to.
I was never opposed to being outside, but I had terrible allergies to grass, trees, mold, the outside world. I was outside a lot regardless, but my allergies certainly made existence outside harder; I’d sometimes go a whole year never getting a respite from my exploding face. Still, after my parents split up, I was expected to jump on the tractor, mow the 8-acre lawn, and even though I knew what it would mean, I spent a lot of time outside reading. Young minds cope with stress in not-entirely-logical ways.
In middle school, I got to spend a couple weeks each summer on week-long camps that ranged from nocturnal forays into the local wilderness preserve to 6-hour road trips to wilderness areas in other states. I did it more for the people than for the outdoors, to be honest; I’d learned what wilderness was “supposed to be” through my science and history books, and I was convinced that what we had in the region wasn’t really wilderness. Wilderness wasn’t squared-off chunks of woods there for use, rather than being for its own sake. Wilderness was truly wild, something that couldn’t be hiked in a day, something untamed. There was nothing like that nearby, nothing that I knew of, nothing that was accessible. And besides, my parents weren’t really into the outdoors – my mother was a hard sell on camping, my father was impossible.
With High School came better mobility in the form of friends with cars, and I found myself in the outdoors a lot more often, though again, the outdoors bits were more incidental. We’d LARP for a day or a weekend nearly every month, and it was the story – I got into tabletop gaming for the story, and the same can be said for LARPing – that kept me coming back, despite the second day on weekenders usually being pretty miserable, what with the whole allergy thing. My boyfriend at the time was the one into hiking for hiking’s sake, and when he’d go camping, I’d respectfully decline, not wanting to explode in the face parts to see sights I considered nature-ish, but pointedly not wilderness.
I can’t have been the only kid who didn’t really have access to the outdoors or wild spaces, certainly not growing up where I did. And, having been back to visit a bunch, while the attitude towards public space is certainly improving, it’s not the same as it is in places like Colorado. I grew up thinking there was nothing exciting to do in the outdoors where I was from, and, at best guess, I can’t imagine that situation’s improved much. I think there’s a need in the region for a better knowledge of and connection to the outdoors among folk of all ages – especially kids – and I’m hoping this new job of mine will allow me to help with that.
While access will remain a problem – a huge one, and one I wish was a part of the scope of this project, though we’ll already be doing so much – I’m hoping that we’ll find ourselves able to talk to folks about public space, about nearby rad spots, about getting invested in natural spaces that are theirs by virtue of simply being. If I can help to instill even the tiniest bit of curiosity about what awaits them in the outdoors– well. I think I’ll have done alright.
What’s going to happen – and what the whole experience is going to be like, particularly in regards to race as it relates to public space – remains to be seen, of course, but I’m going in with an open mind and excitement in my heart. The end of April can’t get here soon enough.