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Nature Autobiography: Finding my Ditch

Lisa Marie's picture

Growing up in a city with an abundance of outdoor recreational activities, my parents were always whisking my brother, sister, and I off to hike, bike, ski, or canoe. Starting at a very young age, both my older brother and I would accompany our parents on hikes. One of the first hikes I remember being on a loop around Paulina Lake, a beautiful body of water that sits in the Newberry Crater. My brother and I were usually not so fond of completing the 8 mile hike—we would have rather been watching TV or playing with our friends on our cul-de-sac. My parents always found a way to get us feeling somewhat excited about it though—often it was the bribe of a lunchable or candy. Once we were on the trail, my brother and I forgot about how much we had resisted going on the hike; we were more focused on trying to spot a bobcat or other wild animal in the woods and were excited about swimming in the lake. My dad and I would make up stories together; an activity that seemed to make the time pass by faster and made the miles seem shorter.  Another quality that David and I liked about Paulina Lake was the overflow of Obsidian rock that could be spotted on the trail. We would each pick up a small rock to bring it home and keep on our shelf, remembering the adventures we had at Paulina Lake. 

Another vivid memory I have of hiking is when my mother, aunt, brother, and I hiked Smith Rock for the first time. Many people come here to rock climb, while others hike the daunting Misery Ridge trail, which has stunning views, but also has sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt. Despite the fact that nearly everyone is my family has a fear of heights, including myself; we completed the Misery Ridge trail. While both my brother and I were very afraid throughout most of the hike, completing it taught me that being in nature for me can be challenging and scary, pushing me beyond my limits, making me a stronger person. I am glad I had early experiences getting outside my comfort zone as it allowed me to take on challenges and risks later in life. 

I have only described a few of many memories I have of being in the outdoors as a child. While I love and have loved being outside, it was not until I was older that I realized what a treasure it is to be able to hike or run in the woods or near a lake; how special it is to simply be present in the outdoors. Holden Village is an old mining town transformed into a Lutheran Retreat Center set in the picturesque Cascade Mountains in Washington State. To reach this destination, one must drive to Chelan, Washington, ride a boat to the remote town of Lucerne and from there, and board a bus for the final ten miles to Holden Village. My family pays a visit to this idealistic setting every other summer where there are no computers and no cell phone service. I loved going to Holden Village as a child--playing with the other kids there, hiking, playing with my brother, raiding the Costume closet--are some of my happiest memories. Going to Holden Village as a young adult, though, felt more meaningful; I developed deeper relationships with those I felt close to and those I just met, had fun, took the opportunity to pause and reflect on my life, and most importantly, became more present and accepting of everything going on around me. Without a computer and telephone, there was no separation or barrier between me and the natural environment around me. Going to Holden Village was an amazing experience, one that I could take with me wherever I went. Holden Village is one place I can call my “ditch”, but more importantly it is a place that reminds me that I can have a “ditch” anywhere. A “ditch” to me is anywhere I can take a step back from technology and other distractions, to take a breath and a moment to immerse myself in my surroundings, letting a sense of peace wash over me, allowing me to be fully present wherever I am with whoever I am with. 


jccohen's picture

being fully present

Lisa Marie,

First, the photos are striking landscape images – I’m glad you included them and wonder about including more in the piece to interweave them into the text, e.g. captions that help us connect text and photo and/or some reference to the images in the text.  Or, if you want to keep them parallel but separate, I’d be curious to hear about that choice.


The flow of your piece is interesting:  What I’m feeling as a reader is some of the tensions in your early interactions with different environments, as the pull of tv and friends vies with the pull of family and hiking, swimming, etc.  And then with Holden Village you seem to resolve that tension; here leaving behind technology brings you into a sense of “no separation between me and the natural environment” that you then learn you can take anywhere “to be fully present wherever I am with whoever I am with.”  Would you say that there’s an implication here about the flow or build from that early push from your parents through a place that’s so removed…?  How might your experiences here map onto/support/contradict Sobel’s version of the connection between childhood nature and later attitudes etc.?