Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My problem with nature is this…

We have now been in Austin for a little over four weeks. I know--I can’t believe it either. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was bitching about another snowfall, another -2 day in Chicago? But here we are, welcoming 80 degrees on a spring day, which is typical for this area, I’ve been told. Warmer temps mean more outdoor excursions for us, and that’s how my girls and I ended up at the park in the middle of the afternoon yesterday.

I had seen this neighborhood park while house-hunting and made a mental note of it to come back with the girls. When we did, they quickly grew tired of the play structures and went on to the other activities there - a fun little gravel pit, a serious-looking exercise area with new stretching and even stepping equipment to get the heart pumping, and finally, much to their delight, a nature trail. Pickle, who can’t read yet, didn’t need the sign to tell her what she was looking at when she pointed at the trailhead and yelled, “Look! A nature trail!”

I enjoyed their reaction, but dreaded the trail myself. And this is the part about me I don’t quite like, especially now that we’re in Austin, where the great outdoors is the place to be. I have a love-hate relationship with nature.

I love the idea of being one with nature, but the thought of it actually terrifies me. I see forest-like greenery and all I can think of are the things that lurk in there. I don’t do well (at all) with things that creep, crawl, slither, squirm, anything really. I’m okay with the cute, furry squirrels and bunnies that were plentiful in my old neighborhood in Chicago, but I don’t think I can handle anything beyond that.

I grew up in the heart of a concrete jungle in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and other than playing in the soccer field in front of my flat in my elementary school years, exploring nature meant strolling down our street lined with a handful of trees to have dinner at the hawker stalls (outdoor food vendor). When we finally moved to a house with a yard, we grew grass. And that was it. I am pretty sure my brown thumbs are inherited because I don’t remember my mom being successful in growing anything either. Or that she even tried.

Even though the tropical rainforest was never too far away, we never camped, we never went on nature hikes, we never went anywhere near anything that looked remotely like nature. To me, nature was the Lake Gardens, a large patch of greenery surrounding a, you guessed it, lake - all part of careful urban planning that was meant for city dwellers like me. I would go there with my friends after school for a change of scenery: Look! Pretty hibiscus along this paved path next to the lake. Yay! Nature!

I lived on or near campus in my four years of college in SmallTown, USA, and when I moved to Chicago, there were pretty neighborhood parks and well-pruned forest preserves to quench my thirst for green. Often, the hundred-year-old trees on our streets and the Lake Michigan beach were plenty for me. For vacation, we only went on popular trails in the Smoky Mountains (and believe me, I had my reservations then too, despite how much I adored being in the mountains) but now that we’re here in Austin, this may be the first time I actually experience anxiety about the outdoors.

Austin is a pretty green city with running trails (because without the shady trees on many trails, running would be near impossible in the scorching summer months), nature trails for a leisurely family hike, and large and small bodies of water all around us (lakes, rivers, creeks) that beg exploration. People seem to spend a lot of time outdoors here because, well, we have decent climate for it most of the year.

And all I can think about is what lurks behind the greenery. When the girls attempted to pick a flower on our trail yesterday, I found myself panicking: “Don’t move any rocks!”

“Why, mommy?” Little Miss asked, and I couldn’t get myself to give them my crazy answer, which was, there might be something under it! It’s sensible, yes, but I would only be transferring my fear to them. I remember absorbing this fear when I listened to my mom, aunt, and grandmother talk about their phobia of a certain animal, which eventually became my own, and I refused to do this to my girls.

I cannot allow my own irrational --sometimes debilitating--  fear cloud their appreciation for nature; they are young little explorers with so much to see and do. I simply can’t limit them because of my own inability to overcome my fears. It just wouldn’t be fair to them.

And so, on this Earth Day, when I saw this Growing Up Green article that encourages us to get in touch with nature, I am determined to do something about my issue. I no longer want to hide behind my, “Oh I’m a city girl” facade, and possibly rob my own family of their enjoyment of what this beautiful world has to offer.

I probably won’t be crocodile hunting anytime soon, nor will I ever be comfortable about camping in the wilderness with just a piece of nylon between me and nature, but I can start small. Instead of cringing at the idea of a yard, like I did when we saw a house that had half an acre of land that included a vegetable garden and a greenhouse, and I thought to myself - what the heck am I going to do with all that?, I would start with a plan to get my hands dirty with the girls -- grow something from the ground.

And maybe I will even finish that nature hike with them that I couldn’t yesterday. One baby step at a time. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I suppose, on Earth Day, when the hope is for everyone to pitch in to be kinder to the only planet we can call home, something is better than nothing.