Nature is the Great Equalizer

I’m a gay liberal, you’re a straight conservative, and they’re somewhere in between. Nature can bring us together.

the view from Big Horn Mine, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

When I’m out in the woods by myself I have a lot of time to think… about how sore I’m going to be tomorrow, about how I miss my dog, about those pesky gnats, and always eventually about mindfulness and the peace I find in the unavoidable now of nature.

I end up thinking big thoughts too, and lately I can’t help but think about the the ballooning divisions in our society.

The community of nature is so welcoming, whether it be your fellow trail hikers and campers, or the easy-to-anthropomorphize community of wildlife that’s out there with you. But the communities where we all normally live — these cities and towns and sub-developments and this nation as whole — they’re not so happy-go-lucky these days. One quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter and the division is gaping. One little stroll down a street in diversifying neighborhood, and the canyon sinks deeper. Last year’s presidential election dangerously widened the fracture.

These are some of my communities: I’m a human, an American, a Californian, and a Los Angeleno. I like yoga, whisky, dogs, music, camping, and hiking. I am a politically liberal white man, one who grew up lower income but now comes from some fiscal privilege, though I know by being a white man I’ve had privilege the whole way. Oh, and I’m also gay.

The community of liberal, city-dwelling, yoga-bending, music-singing gays is a prevalent one (we’ve had our own sitcom!), so I’m well aware of the stereotype that presume we aren’t interested in the outdoors, camping, or generally anything dirty. We like fashion, brunch, and Lady Gaga, right? I guess I do like brunch, so that’s 1 out of 3 for me. That’s the thing about stereotypes, they may be true for some, but they’re also complete bullshit for others.

No community is ubiquitous. We are not one thing or the other, we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things. The divisions between different communities are almost as numerous as the divisions within a community.

So what is it about this community of the woods that draws me away from the one I call home?

the community of Hermit Falls Trail, Chantry Flat, San Gabriel Mountains

In nature I see a place where a whole array of people from different enclaves, experiences, ethnicities, and educations come together to trek through our common ground. It’s a place where everyone, from hippies to hikers to hunters, finds happiness. It’s a place where nothing belongs to any one of us, because it belongs to all of us. It’s a place of acceptance, where the stereotypes and expectations hold less importance. It’s a place where we are many different things as well as a sum of all those things.

When I travel alone, far outside my normal community safety net, I feel more secure than ever. The community of nature is a bond beyond — a visceral, natural, native bond, that transcends modern political and ideological boundaries.

Not every community has had a chance to experience nature as I have, specifically people of color. I consider that another point of my own privilege and it’s something we need to change. But in those public lands, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how often you’ve been there, it still belongs to you.

That mountain, this forest, those streams we explore, they sand off the rough edges of our differences. They’re inherently a part of us, we’re a part of them, and that makes us all part of the same thing — mankind.

my community, Buckhorn Campground, San Gabriel Mountains

I’m a gay man. That’s one slice of my own personally pieced together community. It’s a community fraught with as many internal struggles as any, but by and large it is one of acceptance and free expression. Those who came before me fought hard to create it, and that fight allows me the freedom to expand outside its boundaries. I am exceptionally proud of my community.

But I am a gay man who also loves the mountains, so I have more than one community to tend to. Maybe we all do. Maybe it’s through the interaction and intersection of those communities that we start to come together as a nation and as a society. Maybe, nature is the great equalizer that helps us get there.

Our society desperately needs to tear down the walls of separation that some continually seek to build. Nature and our public lands are like wrecking balls, ready to demolish that which would divide us up, giving us the space to put common courtesy and kindness back together in its place. Because in the wilderness we are all family.

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**Urban Disconnection is a project of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument/Angeles National Forest Artist in Residence program, with the goal of inspiring Angelenos to explore, enjoy, and protect our majestic backyard. Follow me on Instagram for more adventures.