I have a dear friend who reminds me annually that she does not “do” New Year’s resolutions. Her reasoning is that there are too many influences in our lives that we cannot control. Creating fixed expectations for ourselves at the beginning of a year limits our ability to adapt to inconceivable situations.
She is not against making goals in general. But, after years of unused gym memberships, abandoned healthy meal plans, and not taking hard-earned vacation days, she has developed a new personal growth technique. Each January, she summons a single word, a guiding principle, to consider with every opportunity. Somewhat ironically, her word for 2020 was “collaborate,” which proved difficult at first, though now she is a master of Zoom.
We have had long virtual conversations about the special word to weave through this year. Curiously, all of the ideas in consideration have a common theme of how people connect with each other through the many dimensions of nature. It has been a monumental challenge to abridge the myriad ways we share our lives by way of the land. A challenge worth exploring.
The homestead cemeteries, crumbled foundations, and middens scattered across the landscape are remnants of people’s lives. Some of those landmarks give clues to who used the land and how, like grave markers and cornerstones. But think about the old trees near those revered places. What have those trees witnessed? Childhood adventures? Romance and heartbreak? Disaster and loss? Nature has some long-lived features that have beheld generations of human interaction. When you place your hand on an ancient tree or dip your foot into a meandering river, you join a timeline of people who have done the same, and maybe for the same reason.
Universal feelings like desire, wonder, despair and courage can all be sparked outdoors. When you see children climbing rocks or trees, like you may have once upon a time, do you remember the thrill of letting the earth fall behind? At the top of those heights, do you remember joy at seeing a landscape unfolding? The awe of a new perspective that perhaps your self-involved life was smaller than you thought? How about the trembling fear of gravity’s grasp when you remember you must eventually descend? Finding common ground through emotions is not exclusive to those who love nature. Feeling lost or afraid of the dark also binds us together. Nature can generate a spectrum of emotions that connect us.
Each time you walk on a trail your footsteps are bookmarks for the people who will come later to read the same scenery. We are drawn to canyon, ocean and mountain vistas, illustrating a shared aesthetic of a landscape we cannot help but find glorious. Being overwhelmed with a reassuring sense of harmony with the world around you is so common it has a name: eutierria. From masterwork paintings to postcards displayed on the refrigerator, we find beauty in many of the same places.
Though recently we have been isolated individually, humans are inextricably connected through our use of natural resources. The conservation practices of generations before us have resulted in the world we are living in now. So too does our behavior in preserving and protecting the land and living things within it sculpt the world for future generations. In caring for nature, we care for each other.
I find conjuring a single word much more difficult than a traditional New Year’s resolution, though ultimately it is not as easy to abandon or forget. In addition to any resolutions you make, consider inviting an awareness of our connections to each other through nature. In doing so, you will realize that you are never alone, this year and beyond.
Kelley V Phillips is the Outreach Coordinator for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her work in community engagement inspires excitement and wonder in nature through education and tangible experiences.
Photo by Paola Aguilar on Unsplash