The animated film Madagascar features animals from the New York Central Zoo who unexpectedly travel to the wilds of Madagascar. When Melman, a hypochondriac giraffe, ends up with a tree branch and some leaves on his head and neck, he screams, “Nature—it’s all over me! Get it off!”
I empathize with Melman and have quoted his line many times (although I thought he said “the nature,” and that’s how I refer to it).
As an SF Bay area resident, I risk social isolation by admitting that I am a child of the great indoors and a dedicated city-dweller. My ideal of immersing myself in the nature is lounging on a restaurant patio with a Diet Coke and a cheese plate on a sunny day. I live in downtown San Jose. I do not hike, and I ride my adaptive bike outdoors only when the weather is dry, warm, and not excessively windy. I lived in California for 14 years before I finally made it to Yosemite, and once was sufficient.
My nature avoidance has a long history. Before I married Glenn, we made mutual vows that—among other prohibitions—there would be no camping in our marriage.
Despite my unwillingness to voluntarily hang out in the wilderness, I have no wish to hurt the nature that surrounds my beloved cities. I believe absolutely in the science behind climate change (and in taking steps to stop or at least slow down pollution that contributes to it), I want to protect our national and state parks, I dutifully recycle (although I draw the line at composting—eeeww!), and I bring reusable bags to the grocery store.
Yet I just do not find the nature particularly restorative as others do. The only exception is my fondness for ocean views and breezes, preferably accessed from hotel balconies or beach house porches.
When my friend jokingly asked me if I didn’t want to go camping with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, I explained with mock regret that I had to be able to plug my leg in overnight to charge the air pump and the computer processor, so I really couldn’t sleep outdoors on the ground. This is true, but it is only part of the truth.
More truth is that I didn’t want to sleep on the ground or in a tent or whatever, long before my leg was amputated. Some people go “glamping” in lovely RVs and such, which offer electricity, invalidating my standard excuse and exposing the rest of the truth, which is that I just don’t want to be up close and personal with all that flora and fauna.
Years ago, black feminist writer (and nature lover) Alice Walker helped me through one of her beautiful essays to understand my alienation from nature as rooted in the patriarchy and its false dualisms between women and men, nature and culture. My former therapist provided another piece of the puzzle when she pointed to the link between my chronic perfectionism and my inability to control the wind, rain, or temperature.
Avoiding contact with bugs, mud, snakes, and rain (which I refer to as “unauthorized water from the sky”) also bears some similarities to my desire not to raise children. That is, it reflects both my fears and my desire to raise something other than kids and gardens. Kids and gardens (and camping) are great for some people, but they are not what my heart wants to raise.
I want to raise words into books and articles.
I want to raise my voice to help create a more equitable and peaceful world.
I want to raise students into critical analysts of culture and fierce advocates for social justice.
I want to raise relationships into loving communities.
May you raise up what your heart yearns for, while I do the same—only I’ll do my raising up primarily indoors.