This past summer, I left my job working at a non-profit to work and live in a state park as an interpreter, this title meaning I “interpreted” the surrounding natural environment and its intricacies in hopes of making it a relatable and informative space to visitors from all over the world. This idyllic setting was jarringly different than the offices and fluorescent lighting of the non-profit agency I had been working at and was an opportunity to gain some insight on what role I wanted to play in the name of shifting our collective environmental perspective.
Working at the state park in Big Sur left me with many different impressions. Upon completing my work and moving back to a city, I felt like I was returning to a foreign country whose predominant culture and lifestyle choices felt so odd. Much like the impressions I had after completing my JV year, after spending a slowed-down summer working and living in the park setting, rushing around no longer made sense, choosing convenience over depth no longer made sense, and an ease with which one could spend the days without a significant amount of time outside no longer made sense. I found it funny that it took a summer away from my normal lifestyle to remind me of these lessons I found so life-giving upon the completion of my JV year. I discovered how prone to forgetfulness I am, how easy it is for me to choose a life of habit over a life of principles. It showed me that some of the best lessons have to be re-learned over and over again, that there is no one-hit-wonder when it comes to learning something, and that repetition is a valuable tool.
A desire to be outside is a common thread that not enough people are able to give the attention it deserves. It became easy as an employee to scoff at the endless weekend warrior crowds eager to check off a list of “must sees” in the area. Soon, I started to realize how desperate so many are for the time and space to re-connect and reflect in the outdoors in a meaningful way, just like I am. The overcrowding of many beautiful spaces that Big Sur and our state and national parks deal with is more a testament to the lack of available and accessible wilderness areas then anything else. This lack of wild, outdoor spaces alongside the necessary planning and intentionality behind going out into them leaves many people who would like to go experience them without much opportunity to easily do so. Much like I’ve found more individuals would appreciate healthy food if there was more accessibility and ease to it, the same standard holds true for outdoor spaces.
Spending time outside, in whatever capacity, continues to be many things for me. It reminds me of my human-ness and has become essential to my life as much as the water and food that sustain me. I think a lot of us want and deserve a life more intertwined with our natural environment. Much like the end of my JV year, this time working at the park left me with more questions than answers as how to best proceed with this wealth of knowledge I had gained from this experience. I find guidance in the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke as I live my next set of questions:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot to be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.Rainer Maria Rilke
Photo by Meghann Van Pelt