BY CHANARA ANDREWS
In my last post, I said that coffee was Seattle’s redeeming quality. I’d like to retract that statement. The more time I spend here, the less the area seems to need redemption. This is especially evidenced in its natural beauty. I have yet to encounter a space in the city that doesn’t offer a picturesque view of mountains, beautifully inviting waters, or trees galore. Before coming to the Pacific Northwest, my experience with the outdoors was comprised almost entirely of family cookouts, city parks, and beach trips. These things have always been a part of my life, but I never considered them enough to call myself an outdoors person. Thankfully, my perception of the value of my interaction with the outdoors was changed after taking a camping trip to Mount Rainier with this year’s cohort of IMBY interns. It wasn’t the act of camping itself that gave me this sense of belonging (as it relates to the outdoors) but rather the way by which it became relevant and relatable to my lived experiences. While seeing Mount Rainier in all her glory and watching the neverending Nisqually River flow effortlessly was awe-inspiring, it also evoked a sense of familiarity.
During my self-reflective wandering, I passed a family who had set up camp and were grilling in preparation for dinner. I thought about the countless graduation parties, Thanksgivings, and random gatherings in which my family has congregated in the same way, just coming together to enjoy the weather and, more importantly, each other. I realized that regardless of whether or not we were at a campsite, a small city playground and park, or at my granny’s house, the merit of the experience would not waver. The outdoors hold a special place in every culture’s family experience, and it unifies us.
As I continued walking, I ended up veering off of the paved trail, finding a nook that offered a view like nothing else I had seen that weekend. In that moment, cautiously balancing on rocks and peering between trees, I was taken back to a fall afternoon in 2006. I was in the third grade, and my friend and I were in the neighborhood park looking for an adventure. Somehow, we convinced each other that it would be a great idea to squeeze through a locked fence that led to trees and a huge hill. After stumbling through the trees and summiting our own little mountain, we had a bird’s eye view of the thing that our town is best known for – orange groves. Lake Wales houses the world headquarters for Florida’s Natural orange juice, so it’s not like we’d never seen orange groves, this was just different. We’d worked so hard and the phenomenal view was our reward. Thinking back on this moment, I realized why the outdoors are the beating heart of the Pacific Northwest. Not only can you use the vast amount of natural resources as an opportunity to connect with the people who mean the most to you, but, at every turn, there is opportunity to experience that inexplicable wonder and joy that we sometimes feel is lost in childhood. There is always something new to find, and I can’t wait to explore further.