I sat, alone, in the far left corner of a small field in Central Park. Underneath me was my jacket, cushioning me from the crisp orange leaves. Around me, were parents, children, dogs, students and all manner of other people. In my hands were a notebook, a pen, and Emerson’s Nature. As I sat, I heard a woman’s voice saying, “Now, you can go this way and start your fight over here. Are you ready?” Immediately I thought, fight?! So of course I turned around and what do I see but two children, a boy and a girl, facing each other down with matching looks of grim determination, small sticks clutched in their just as small hands. In that moment, I thought to myself that in this dawning age of technology and the ever-expanding metropolis, we still (despite some popular belief) rely on, use, and are connected to nature.
This blog post was meant to be largely conducted in the outdoors, exposed to nature. However, I decided to record some rough preliminary thoughts before the project, just to see if they matched up. On November 1st, I wrote
“For this project, I decided to make a record of what I thought the experience would feel like for me. I do this with the full knowledge that my possible expectations may influence the results, but also the full knowledge that even if I didn’t write down my thoughts, it’s not as if they would simply disappear.
My assumption is that I will feel bereft without my phone. My hands will have nothing to do, because they aren’t pressing the cool glass of my phone screen. My ears will be cold without headphones, and I will have nothing to wonder about because I won’t be ever-searching for the next song to set my walking to. I also imagine that I will feel anxious without communication because, knowing myself, I will wander somewhere far off and secluded. I will also be stubborn enough to endure it.
Past all of that, I know that I am sentimental at the oddest of times and for the oddest of reasons, and quite easily taken by sudden bouts of emotion. There is no doubt that barring some unforeseen event, this entire endeavor will leave me feeling unbearably fond and craving the warmth of my blankets but also the chill of the November air and the strange and distant bird calls that fall through tree branches like the Autumn leaves. I expect I will have gained some newfound appreciation for the particular orange hue of some trees, and the crunch of leaves under my feet in tandem with my breathing.”
I am happy to say that some of my predictions were wrong. Of course, I wasn’t just sitting in the park for no reason. I realized that I had an assignment to consider, but before anything I decided that I needed to take a moment and survey my surroundings. I breathed in deeply and bathed in the afternoon sunshine. I felt at peace in a way that I did not think I would. I’m no stranger to walks in the woods, or hopping onto a rock for hours just to sit and read, but I never took the time to think about how I felt doing those things. Though much of Central Park is hardly “the woods,” it was still the closest I could get to true nature in the middle of an urban jungle. I thought that without my phone, I would feel unsafe or anxious. When I stood up to leave, I’d almost forgotten that I had a phone in the first place. I didn’t feel drawn to an empty part of the park, but instead one that was more populated than I strictly needed. I’d assumed that because Central Park is largely a construction, I wouldn’t feel truly at ease there but I was very comfortable. While I read, I occasionally stopped to simply glance around. I was particularly taken with one bit of sunlight I could see streaming through two very close trees, and oftentimes found myself staring at it without realizing. I heard people kicking bottle caps, shoes dragging along the ground, children’s delighted shouts far in the distance. After a time, I became tired. Not the kind of tired that comes from a restless night, but the kind that is borne of ease and comfort. Nature did not afford me the kind of isolation that many assume it to. Instead, it reminded me how important it is to have community—some kind of a support system.
I thought that I would have been nervous, but I was far from it. I was more than fine, because I wasn’t alone. I felt confident that I could speak to anyone around if I needed something. It was this peace of mind that makes me believe that that is why much earlier generations of people were so centered on community. I have almost never been without the tools I need in order to be independent (phone, money, books, etc.). I realize now that those things are just tools, and that I took them for granted. I realize that for people who did not have these tools, without some sense of togetherness or community, the world must have seemed like a very large and scary thing indeed.
Emerson writes, “I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me…if the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance” (215). Interacting with nature in this way, with a particular focus on it, made me realize that though we may do things in solitude we are not “alone.” And though our focus is not always on nature, just one glimpse of it can endure for generations. Simply sitting outside helped me to understand that although portrayals of nature have vastly differed over time, whether you see nature as the Devil’s land or nature as the height of enlightenment as long as you have an opinion on it at all you are afforded some sense of community in those with like minds if nothing else. In that moment, I felt more connected to the human race in general than I had in a long time.
The nature that I was exposed to was a blend of birdcalls and children calling out for their mothers—the nature of biology, as well as the nature of photosynthesis. This blog post was one of the most anticipated for me, and yet, I feel that even with all my descriptions and all of my pretty words I could never hope to accurately portray the sheer magnitude of the impact simply taking a moment to sit and breathe in the Fall air had on me. What I can say is that nature has had a part in us all. As we preserve ourselves, let us preserve that which enables us to connect across generations. As children, as teens, as adults and as senior citizens, let us never forget that there is a kind of nature in all places. As long as human beings roam the Earth, as long as a single plant is left, there is nature among us.