my lifelong connection to the natural world

I had to write an environmental autobiography for my religious and environmental views class. I didn’t edit this too much, I kinda just cranked it out in an hour, but I feel oddly proud of it. I am so happy with my life as a whole and how it has contributed to the person I currently am. I also thought the idea of an environmental autobiography, where you write how your life has been influenced by the environment, was really interesting and I wanted to share it with all of you. Here she blows:

For as long as I can remember, I have felt very close with the earth. I usually describe this connection as spiritual, even though I am not very religious myself. Being outdoors makes me feel so small and a part of something much more significant. It feels like I understand this feeling very well, but I still struggle to explain it with words. I am just so impressed by life, and nothing else really matters to me. I have always been passionate about animals and the environment. I grew up having what I now know is climate anxiety, feeling like I want to save the environment but am ultimately helpless against the actions of larger corporations. I would hang up ‘Save Endangered Species’ posters around my neighborhood. I feel like this also reflects my personal identity as an activist. I find a lot of joy in using my life to make the world a better place. I didn’t know that I could even major in the environment until I was about 14, but it was very empowering to know that I could dedicate my life to this passion.  

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and would frequently go to Hocking Hills or surrounding metro parks to hike with my family. I think my mom encouraged us to get outside as a form of exercise, but it helped form this personal connection to the earth. We would frequently take our dogs on walks at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, which has bison in a pasture. I was so impressed by these animals. They are so big and powerful yet peaceful. Coming around the trail corner to see them in their pasture also felt so magical to me. The only animals I ever really saw in their natural setting were deer or squirrels, which are so common that I don’t really even notice them. However, the bison were so rare and interesting. I really like this way of seeing animals. Going to the zoo, and seeing unaware children pound on the glass, has always made me feel a little bit sad. I think such conservation methods are necessary, but I can’t help but be reminded of the harmful actions of humans that have required such conservation. 

I also grew up going to my grandparent’s property in Pennsylvania. My grandfather was really into hunting and so he owned a lot of land to hunt on. I don’t really like hunting, but I respect it more than the current animal agriculture practices in our country. We would always go to their house for thanksgiving, and I have such fond memories connecting with members of my family during hikes around the property. My cousins and I liked to build forts in the woods, which was such a great experience. Nature always inspires me; whether it be wanting to photograph a bird or wanting to build a fort, there is always something new to explore. I feel like so many kids do not have consistent access to greenspace, which could inhibit their creativity. My grandparents no longer own this property, but my family still gathers in their hometown every thanksgiving (in a rented house) where we enjoy similar activities out in nature.

My mom is a veterinarian, who was always bringing rescue animals into our house during my childhood for us to foster or adopt. The most notable include a chinchilla, parrot, and 3 rats. At the time, I thought it was comical and that my mom was slightly crazy for filling our house with all of these animals. This may hold some truth still but in reality, my mom felt a deep need to care for living creatures which she instilled in my sister and me. I am so grateful for all of these pets. They have supported me in ways that I feel like other people could never find the words for. When my parents were getting divorced, and I felt like I was completely alone, my cat, Meow, was there to lay on my lap and comfort me with his purrs. Something about connecting with an animal is so spiritual to me, and I feel like our society as a whole does not fully understand this yet. I grew up not noticing the difference between “pets” and “food”. I looked at Meow and at cows off of the road, and recognized I only cared more for one because of the relationship built, not because of their species. I officially became a vegetarian at eight years old, and only learned more about the environmental ethics and impact of animal agriculture. I believe my mom helped paved the way for my environmentalism by showing me the importance and value of caring for living creatures. My love and respect for animals taught me that I must be a voice for the voiceless.

I also think my education influenced my love and passion for nature. I attended a Catholic Montessori school in Columbus from kindergarten to eighth grade, called St. Joseph Montessori School. This was not a traditional Catholic school by any means, but I am so grateful for this entire experience. This school is incredibly open minded and has made me a more accepting and thoughtful person. There was a large emphasis on exploring different spiritualities and being stewards of nature to protect creation. I remember working in the school’s garden and feeling very appreciative of the natural world. I also have a distinct memory of running to put a spider outside before anyone in my classroom would kill it, which further shows my care for voiceless creatures. My teachers at this school were mostly environmentalists who educated me about climate change and recycling from a young age. We had a yearly science fair, where I did my project on recycling one year. This project actually motivated some of my family members to consume less and start recycling. I really liked the feeling of being able to cause what I saw as positive change. This was one of my first experiences causing a “ripple effect” in positive environmental behavior, which I hope to have many more of in my future career.

I also attended Bishop Ready High School, a Catholic high school on the west side of Columbus. This experience provided me with more knowledge about how the Catholic church views the environment. Like discussed in this class, I think I had assumed that Catholicism was largely against the environment. I was very surprised to learn about Pope Francis’ views in Laudato si’ and the encouragement for believers to be environmental stewards of creation. I feel like I definitely went through this period of being anti-religion. I thought people could only care for the environment if they were recognizing the inherent value that the environment has. I am now extremely grateful and excited to hear about everyone’s individual relationship to the environment. I wish I was a little more open minded during my high school experience so I could have asked more direct questions related to religion and environmental sustainability, but I am excited for the current opportunity to do so with this class.

I felt like this environmental autobiography was a bit all over the place, but I feel like it really speaks to how I have felt connected to nature throughout my whole life. It is so confusing to me how other people do not have the same passion for nature, and it is especially difficult to understand when they do not feel the same motivation to protect the earth or speak up against pressing environmental issues. I hope to improve environmental education campaigns in my future career to hopefully encourage more environmental activism in our society.

If you made it here, thanks so much for reading this!! I appreciate you and would love to hear how you feel connected to the earth!

Love, Olivia

One thought on “my lifelong connection to the natural world”

  1. I really love this idea of an environmental autobiography. I have really similar feelings to you about, despite not being a very religious person, how being in awe of nature gives me an almost spiritual feeling. I would never think to connect religion and environment but then I totally connect them in my personal spirituality. The farm I stayed on in August were big followers of Saint Frances and also Rosemary Rutherford (I think she was an ecofeminist?) causing me to think more about the connection between religion and the environment. I’m excited you’re taking this class and you motivate me to take a similar class at some point.

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