In the final year of my undergrad degree, I took a geography course called “The History of Environmental Thought.” It was a seminar course, similar to the classes I’m now taking during my master’s degree. That means we spent a lot of time sitting around and talking.
After the week of readings by romantic poets, we discussed our own feelings towards “nature.” Almost everyone in the class was from a middle-class Canadian background and we all expressed similar sentiments. Only outdoors-y types took that class, after all. We described our favourite camping and hiking spots, the places where we found amazing peace and serenity that gave the best “Feeling blessed” Facebook photo updates. We competed to see who had the top “This one time in the lake near my family’s cabin” stories*.
All except one person. He was the only immigrant in our tutorial group. He was from Uganda and had very different feelings towards nature.
He said that the forest was a scary place that he tried to avoid. It wasn’t somewhere where he would go to “find himself.” We looked at him with pity. He looked at us like we were mental.
In Canada, we’re incredibly lucky with our landscapes. I have no fears about hiking the mountain near my parent’s house alone or with the dog. There are few predators, including both people and animals. Mostly, we love nature because we’re separated from it. After three days of camping, I know there’s a hot shower and working toilet waiting for me. I know I can walk into my clean house and slip into soft sheets to sleep. I love nature because I can choose when and how we interact.
Here, though, I notice that my attitude is changing. There’s a forest beside a part of the road where lots of expats live. It’s known as a high area of crime at night because thieves can easily hide. When I run in the mornings, I choose paths that are busy. Sometimes I see a turn that looks beautiful, but is deserted. Instead, I always go where women are sitting outside their huts cooking breakfast and children walk in their school uniforms.
Moreover, I can’t get away from nature. My feet are always dirty. My clothes are always dusty. It’s always hot. I don’t feel any need to seek tranquillity by sitting under a tree – I’d rather sit inside under a fan.
What a princess I’ve turned out to be.
*Being from BC, I couldn’t join in. Ontario is cabin country, not here. But I grew up with the ocean and mountains beside my house, so they can suck it.