While we’re looking for a place to put down roots, access to nature keeps coming up as an important piece for us. We want Camille to have spaces that feel wild and that she feels like she has independence and yet respect for a big world. She already seems to have an instinctual affinity for the natural world – pinecones and other treasures hold her attention much longer than bright toys.
I wouldn’t call myself exceptionally outdoorsy but I like do like to get outside. I really enjoy camping, climbing, snorkeling, and getting fresh air among other things. And I find God in creation. But what if I just don’t like nature that much? What if I’m a homebody who prefers to be indoors, warm, kind of clean, and buffered against what is natural? These are some of my fears as we look for a place to put down roots and we talk about our values for our future and our daughter. I recently read a book called Twelve by Twelve, about a normal guy who moves out of New York City and lives off grid instead. This summary doesn’t do the book justice but he discovers the ability to be more in harmony with God and the environment. This quote stuck out to me:
“Freud noted that people subconsciously struggle with two opposite but equal fears: being expelled by nature – cast of out Eden, as it were – and being absorbed by nature. This was the latter fear. By scaling down to only this speck of human space, I had been enveloped by nature.”
– William Powers, Twelve By Twelve: A One-Room Cabin off the Grid & Beyond The American Dream
I feel this fear. I want to make my human mark on the world. Put up walls, put up art, wear loud patterns, make sure I’m really here. Our first hike once we landed in British Columbia was up Teapot Hill, a little mountain I remember hiking as a kid with my family one summer. The mossy magical trees of my memories were still as majestic. It’s like British Columbia’s version of snowy boughs, with moss falling softly over everything. Tory said it was the first time he felt peaceful, like we were finally digging in to what we came on this trip for.
For me it was the first time on the trip that I felt winded and frustrated. It’s pretty but what’s the point? I made a point to have a good attitude and only allowed this feeling to creep in during the final ascent when I started huffing heavily at the very moment Tory ran joyfully ahead carrying both a backpack and a baby. Aside from that minute I did enjoy myself overall. The most delightful part for me though was that people have started hiding teapots along the trail to the peak. They were inspiring, these little manmade bits of beauty, nestled into the moss and old stumps, hanging off branches and perched on logs. Clever little humans, making our marks.
We talk a lot about how it’s important to not equate comfort with happiness. Outdoors, it’s rare that I’m truly comfortable for an extended period. Before we left, spending this season in Thailand outdoors meant waiting out the blistering hours of the day in the hot shade. On the west coast of Canada right now that means getting cold or wet or both. It’s rarely just right (and adding exercise or physical exertion for me is its own demon). So this is what worries me – I am happy to walk miles exploring a new city but I don’t think hiking is fun. If I can hunt for teapots or end at a coffee shop or have good conversation along the way, I find purpose in that but it’s hard to imagine just walking (or specifically hiking) in nature as something I would want to initiate on my own. So while I’ve grown to feel at home in the foothills of Thailand’s mountains and we’re constantly talking about finding another place surrounded by nature that we can raise our little girl in, it’s ironic that I’m unconvinced. Logically, I’m into it. Emotionally, I worry that I’ll never be. The fear of boxing myself into a life that I believe in but can’t appreciate persists.
I’ve always been thankful that I have an innate sense of a creator since experiencing the world with a lens of faith and spirituality is important to me. I have the God-gene, but I worry that my brain is so acclimatized to modernity that I’m missing the “outdoor gene” that will be key to finding peace in the small things, in creation, and in simple living.
“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness. This disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
I take comfort in a few different thoughts:
- I think I have seen enough change in my attitude towards city life and new affinity for the peace and beauty of the outdoors since moving to the Thai countryside to have hope that my personal growth is continuous even if incremental.
- Even if I am perpetually living in some discomfort in whatever life we choose for ourselves in the future, it will become our daughters baseline – and offer her something more than cultural trends and unavoidable inputs that will be hellbent on convincing here she is not good enough, wealthy enough, cute enough – never enough.
- I feel like we are being divinely led. We keep asking the same questions of ourselves over and over and we are realizing that we need to be constantly taking steps towards some kind of answers. This trip is about stepping towards the questions – even if the answers are “no”.
It’s been interesting to watch my thoughts and reactions to our first introductions to life on Canada’s West Coast. Even though I have always loved cities I am seeing in myself a shift. It’s not that I don’t like Victoria. I’m very charmed. But because we have this lens of “potential future home” applied to everything we do, I don’t feel comfortable here. I don’t want to give up on the growth I’ve gained in Thailand and return to a place where so many public interactions are consumptive – even if it’s enjoyable and yes, comfortable. I guess that’s what they say about how having a kid changes you. It’s no longer just about me and my comfort. It is my hope that if we continue to offer our daughter opportunities to live in nature, play in nature, and find solace and God in nature, her relationships with God, herself and creation will follow naturally and buffer her against societal pressures. And I am open to attempting happiness even if I’m not always comfortable.