WHO ARE YOU WHEN YOU’RE STANDING IN THE FOREST?
Why you need to spend more time in nature.
Words and photographs by Celia Moase
Going on a trip, a voyage, a journey — whatever you may call it — is an adventure. I have a romantic attachment to the idea of watching the scenery go by through the window whether from a train, a car, a bus or a plane. Our world is vast. Our world is beautiful. Our world is also finicky. Neil deGrasse Tyson once tweeted that we have put up these “artificially conceived borders”, which limit our species from enjoying the world, and — let’s be sincere — from surviving in parts of it. We don’t own the Earth, yet we don’t let others come onto what is also theirs to explore — without proper documentation and rigorous security measures. We need to evolve, and preferably quickly. We need to learn to love each other — those we know and those we don’t yet know, those who are close by and those who are far away. Because the world is just as much ours as it is theirs, and it just as much isn’t ours as it isn’t theirs. We come from this paradise of a planet to live out our lives, and the more we take the time to cherish it, its natural beauty, its towering mountains and blue and green oceans, its lush forests of sky high trees, its animals, insects, reptiles, fish and birds, and its diverse population of the human species like you and me, the more we’ll see how we’re just another species in this network. And hopefully then, we will see that we are all connected.
I went on an adventure of my own recently with my partner, one that began as a road trip to head westward in Canada. Neither of us had ever been west in Canada, yet had been wanting to go for so long as we kept hearing about the beauty that side of the country has to offer. So many exclamations of “Oh you have to go!” “You’re going to love it” and “Beautiful BC,” have now become our own. We started mapping out our pathway, and used our friends and family en route as guides on where to stop and visit. We knew we wanted to see a few landmarks — the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. We decided to return via the United States to include a few other spots along the way, such as the Grand Canyon, the California coast and even more family visits. We had no idea we’d end up seeing so much of this beautiful continent.
When mapping out our trip, we decided to camp at least in Canada and a bit in the States. In addition to friends and family, our guides were the green spots on the map. If we were driving to a city we wanted to see — Seattle for example — we’d look nearby for the closest green spot. In this case our search led us to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. We didn’t really think of the park as anything significant, but a place to sleep. Upon arrival of the national forest, however, we were in awe. The sun was setting as we entered the forest, and hours and varying feet of elevation later, with the sun far gone, we were standing in front of the most beautiful, delicate and breathtaking view of a mountain we had initially diminished to a green spot on a map. Mount Rainier poked out of the landscape, with its white cap glowing against the soft blue in the sky, contrasting the black ridge of the trees on the horizon. A single star shone as company to the elements. We both took some time to appreciate the view, got back in our car and exclaimed to each other about where we were. My heart felt so strongly for the Earth in that moment, as it does when I see its beauty so obvious in front of me.
It was at this point that our trip took a bit of a turn, or a shape I should say. We no longer saw the green spots as simple places to sleep, but as spaces with so much potential of unknown views, landscapes and chances to fill our hearts with that which we are so connected to yet so disconnected from. I enjoyed visiting friends and family in cities, yet I continued to see so much disconnect in cities from our connection to the green and natural life.
In cities, we remove trees and churn up land so we can build roads, buildings and homes. We structure our worlds around paved roadways and cement sidewalks so that a park is something special to visit rather than a necessity in our daily lives — it is well known the benefits of being in nature. We even — more often than not — have to pay to visit the park and it is now worth the money because we’re so desperate to spend time in a natural, untouched and conserved environment. There, we can find some solitude and reconnect with nature. We live as if we’re invincible but in the meantime we put ourselves in a drought — in California for example — yet we still don’t see our connection to the problem. We eat meat so frequently that it is normalized — to the point where we don’t even think about where it came from or the effect its process had on our environment (huge!) or our bodies and souls— and we find those crazy who consciously decide to skip the middle man (i.e. the cow, the pig and the chicken) and eat the vegetables straight (I’m talking about my fellow vegetarians and vegans here), many for the sake of reducing the environmental impact on the world we all share. Imagine if all of the land used to graze cattle and grow corn to feed said cattle, was used to only grow vegetables and grains for us? There wouldn’t be any animal waste wreaking havoc on our waters and air, nor would there be workers in a slaughterhouse experiencing and committing heinous acts that affect their everyday being. To learn more about the process of eating animals I suggest reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Remaining blind in our connection to the natural elements gets easier and easier the less we choose to interact with it. Nature needs our help to stay healthy.
To say you don’t care about nature is to say you don’t care about yourself.
If you go out to a national park and see an elk, or witness a baby fawn prancing behind his mother, you’ll be in awe. Because whether we choose to accept it or not, nature continues, as it always has, and we are a part of it. The trees, fellow animals, the water, the earth and the air, are a part of the biosphere that maintains our life. The more time we spend distancing ourselves from that realization — i.e. time in cities, the more of a disconnection we put between ourselves and our natural world and the less we care about preserving it. But let me say this to you: We are it. It is us.
Like I said, I loved visiting friends and family in cities, but I felt at home in the forest and by the water. This trip has established me in continuing to experience the green spots for myself and share the necessity of their preservation with the world.
Over the course of our journey, I focused on photographing the moments that took my breath away. I loved looking at the minute details of moss patterns on rocks in Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario, and taking in the wide powerful ocean in Malibu California. I loved feeling the heat on my body as I stepped out of the car in Nevada, and the arch in my back as I peered up at the Redwood trees in Northern California.
Some things needn’t be photographed but simply experienced, like driving through Oklahoma and being rerouted for hours as a flood takes over the town, or catching a wave for your first time on a surfboard — one that I’ll never forget. As a photographer, I am learning to love that not everything can or should be captured. Instead, I clicked and then, with camera back in bag, tried to see the roadrunners in the distance that my partner caught in his peripheral. And I saw them, in a group down in the valley, with the desert heat on my back as the sun slipped behind the mountains. I listened to a Note to Self podcast episode recently called “Bored and Brilliant: Boot Camp.” The episode discusses what Professor Linda Henkel has coined the “photo-taking impairment effect” after she found that subjects photographing a museum tour actually remembered less than those who did not take photos. When we don’t take photos, our brain is responsible to recall — not the camera. This struck a chord with me. Now, I experiment more with this approach and find accuracy in it. On my trip I photographed on my Hasselblad using 120 film, which has only 12 exposures per roll. With fewer exposures at my disposal, I was not shooting in excess but trying to only bring out my camera when I was moved to do so. I did, however, still have my phone camera, but found myself using it less and less as I was already feeling the pull of missing an experience if I wasn’t fully immersed in it.
Our adventure brought us to places we didn’t know existed. We had no idea British Columbia had so many different climates, from desert land to subtropical rainforests. Even if I had been told before, I rarely remember these things if I don’t experience them myself. The road trip shaped some of my views on the world, and helped me further prioritize my mission to bring nature to the forefront of everyone’s minds. I really think if we all spend more time in nature, we will return to our homes with shifted priorities. We may realize we don’t need the things we thought we did. Or, perhaps we would further understand the connection of everything we use and how it does affect nature now or how it will down the road. The thing is this: the green spaces are getting smaller, and are continuously being used for our resources, whether directly (logging and mining) or indirectly (water and air pollution). The Redwood Forest used to be over 2 million acres of forest in California and Oregon, but after a gold rush and unrestricted logging, today the park remains protected at 133,000 acres — a significant downsize to less than 7% from its roots. A way we can see our connection to this is our priorities: do we really need as huge of a house built as we planned? Perhaps if we downsized we could use half as many trees, or perhaps we can build using recycled materials — such as shipping containers and earthships — or we can buy a home already built. We have control over what resources we use, and we should try to think about that even — and especially — when we see it on a store shelf. Creating products uses resources, and whether it is making a future Redwood Forest smaller, or the water nearby the factory unusable, we have a say if we wish to further its progress. Buying it is to progress it, and seeking another alternative would be to slow the progress down. Weigh the costs and benefits and be conscious of what your choice entails.
We are all in this web — some caught and some trying to break free — of buying more and more things we are convinced we need. We see people with other things we have to have. All of this perpetual and unconscious buying just continues to lend to the increase in the market’s need to use our planet’s resources. Everything is made from the Earth, at some point, or affects it in some way. If we were able to slow down and look at what it is we truly need, we would cut out a lot and reduce our consumption. But we are convinced we need it — brainwashed we need it with advertisements, television, magazines and each other. But we don’t. We don’t need the latest outfit. We don’t need the latest popular breed of dog. We don’t need the luxury vehicle or couture purse. To get more basic, we don’t even need several dozen cleaning products because we can make most of them ourselves. This cycle of unconscious buying affects our lives whether we choose to be active in how it affects us or not. If we convince ourselves we need all of these things, then we will also find ourselves requiring a larger steady income. Perhaps this then finds us remaining at a job or career path we aren’t content in. Perhaps we don’t feel like we’re living our lives fully. We have the ability to control that. Reducing our need for things reduces our need to make as much money. We are constantly told to manage our finances, invest, join this bank or that credit card company. This is simply because these businesses want to make as much money as possible — because they too are caught in the web and told to buy the large houses, brand name clothes, luxury cars and designer dogs that they don’t actually need. One can have a very fulfilling life without these things that further deepen the cycle. A humble home, second-hand items, rescue dogs, and a reliable vehicle can maintain your life as you seek your happiness, especially if you can work fewer hours to put forth the costs for these things. This would give you more time with your family, more time to spend in your home, more time committed to leisure activity and more time to walk your own dog. The idea that a full-time job takes up the majority of our life needs to change — and until that shift comes, we need take the power into our own hands and get our lives back.
There is still time to recognize the life that exists outside of making money and working as a cog in the wheel. Making money should not be our priority because, ultimately, it does not make us happier and we know this. There is a certain amount we can acquire that will suffice us, and further than that it is just excess. Our priorities need to shift: spreading the wealth so everyone can have enough to survive, helping each other by reducing and sharing our resources, downsizing, only using and buying what we need, being conscious of our decisions, finding our happiness, and figuring out why we each were brought into this world and how we can contribute to it. Who are we without our accessories, without our jobs and without our money? Who are we when we’re standing in the forest? That’s what really matters. Find out. Figure out how to share it with the world because we need the unique traits that each individual holds. Stop buying the easy and comfortable things and do the hard work — because we have to.
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I’ve always been a curious person and fascinated by the world around me. I love to observe environments and how we interact with them. The adventure my partner and I took expanded my mind and the experience continues to turn the wheels in my head. As a visual artist, it aided me in focusing on what I can photograph and what I love to, and as a pensive and reflective person I can’t help but share the views and opinions I’ve developed on the life that I can see for our world. This is who I am and why I am here: to love the Earth and to share my thoughts, my ideas and my art. I strive to show the Earth in my art in hopes that it will be cared for and thought about and inspire others to experience it. Then, I hope, connections to everything else will arise. While we find ourselves away from a direct connection to nature, try to think about it, be conscious of it and visit the green spots any chance you get. You’ll come back realizing you need a lot less than you think.
To see all photos from my trip, see my series titled “North American Meditations” on my site www.celiamoase.com. To bring more nature into you and your loved ones’ lives on a daily basis, consider a print from the series in my shop. I find looking at these photos helps bring a sense of peace when I’m unable to physically transport myself to a green spot. I hope you do too.
All photos are copyrighted and the sole ownership of Celia Moase. Any use without permission is very much against the law, please don’t do it.