“Yellowstone” by Rob Glover (2013). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
If you think about the word “nature,” you might conjure images of wilderness areas—the undeveloped stretches of valleys and mountains that exist across the American West, for example. More specifically, you might picture Yellowstone National Park or the famous black-and-white photos of trees, lakes, and cliffs taken by American photographer Ansel Adams. All these mental images certainly are natural, but they only represent a fraction of what nature is. As Emma Marris says in her 2016 TED Talk titled “Nature is everywhere — we just need to learn to see it” in Banff, Alberta, “Nature is anywhere where life thrives.”
We at Inclusive Guide wholeheartedly agree with this more expansive definition. Romantic ideas of a pure, untouched nature discourage those within historically disenfranchised communities from connecting with the natural world. When we consider nature solely as the faraway trails, forests, rivers, and slopes that reaffirm our culture’s dominant view of the outdoors, we ultimately exclude the folks who can’t take time off to roadtrip to a national park, who can’t afford x gear or y equipment, or who are made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in certain natural environments. It’s no secret that there’s a “nature gap”—also called the “adventure gap”—in outdoor recreation, as the majority of Americans who enjoy these recreational activities are white. Indeed, Census Bureau data shows us that “[w]hite Americans vastly outnumber people of color in outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.” This is a problem.
How can we fix the nature gap? The first step is redefining our relationship with the natural world. Following Marris’ lead, we must embrace the idea of nature being all around us—and yes, this includes cities and other heavily industrialized spaces. These places are natural because life, including humans but also various plants, insects, and other species, thrive in them. What about the children who live in inner-city New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia who don’t have ready access to mountaintops or waterfalls? Do they not get to enjoy nature? When a kid finds a roly poly under a rock in their front yard, isn’t that engaging with nature?