“Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” ― Walt Whitman
I went to PaleoFX the other week and had the same conversation with five different people. It’s massively ironic that most Paleo conferences are held indoors. In big stuffy halls and hotels, packed with people wearing shoes. Even the events that aren’t strictly indoors can be weak in the hunter-gatherer department–5-star accommodations, flushing toilets, and buffets are the norm. Not once have I had to catch and kill my own food. I’ve loved every event I’ve ever been to, but it’s not the event, really, it’s the people that make it special. The moment that stands out for me the most was one of the first events I went to–PaleoFX 2012. It was there that I met Darryl Edwards, one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen. I was instantly drawn to his enthusiasm and upbeat energy. And the accent, oh my god, we won’t talk about that.
Darryl’s gig was that he played. Outdoors. He used real, functional movements, in a way that made you giggle and laugh–and not that forced, artificial laugh that usually happens when someone tries to make you have fun. He had an animal nature that instinctively called to me. This was a man that could keep me safe from a saber-tooth tiger.
I didn’t believe I could let go and belly laugh while exerting myself in front of a bunch of people who looked like underwear models. The globogyms I’d frequented for years certainly didn’t condone behavior like that. Normally I wouldn’t have gone to something like this, but something about Darryl made me want to do as he said. Right away. Like a drill instructor.
The first thing Darryl did was take us outside. That was new and novel. I realized I hadn’t seen anything green in over three days, other than the artificial lime green color that just so happens to appear in almost every advertising campaign to show us just how green that company is and how much they loooove the world. That fake lime color–and the potted plants in the hotel lobby. Once outside, Darryl made us take off our shoes and stand on the grass. I asked him why. He explained that when the soles of your feet make direct contact with the earth, your body is much more aware of what is going on. And that it makes memories.
That moment–my toes wiggling in the cold, green grass, the wind blowing gently, and the sun shining down on my face–is what sticks with me the most. I felt connected to the earth and to the people around me.
And to this day, Darryl remains one of the most influential people in my life.
For the last year I’ve been disconnected from nature. One hundred percent, absolutely, unequivocally disconnected. In December 2012, we moved from Northern California, a climate I was very much enamored with and didn’t want to leave, to Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve never been to the desert before, unless you can consider the sand dunes along the Aegean Sea in Turkey a desert. Everyone told me the desert has a ‘beauty’ that will grow on me. Perhaps it does. I wouldn’t know, because upon arrival in Arizona, I was immediately slapped downtown in the concrete jungle of the business/industrial part of town, then subsequently dumped into the suburbs of Generica, curtains closed on the near identical houses, each a slightly different shade of beige to compliment everything else around them. Beige rocks, dirt, and lawns. Beige sidewalks. Beige insects that will crawl into your bed and sting you in the night, giving you a stroke or killing your child. It was like Mother Nature ran out of crayons and was on her period at the same time.
Oh ya, Arizona messed me up. It got to the point where I couldn’t let my kids go out to play by themselves. I got tired of saying, “Watch out for rattlesnakes!” as my toddler careened down a rocky path, surrounded by jumping Cholla cactuses and the occasional coyote. Or “Check under that rock for Barq scorpions!” every time they wanted to play in the garden. Which was actually just a desert wasteland, full of dead, beige weeds and lots of beige dirt. And beige mother fucking scorpions.
I hovered. I felt I had to hover. Nature was not my friend anymore.
I couldn’t take my shoes off and walk in the grass. It was dead and full of prickly things. And spray painted green, with some sort of poison/fertilizer that turned it that fake lime color. I really wish I was kidding.
It wasn’t possible to walk anywhere except around my beige subdivision, unless I wanted to be away for several hours, two screaming toddlers in tow. There wasn’t even a corner store or a gas station nearby. I had to drive absolutely everywhere, and each trip was at least thirty minutes. In California I had walked everywhere. To the grocery store and home, carrying 80 pounds of produce and feeling like the best Gatherer ever. A 30-minute walk in the Mission District of San Francisco was nothing, as I hunted for the best place to eat and dodged potential threats from homeless people. I went weeks without driving, but I somehow got out of the house everyday.
It didn’t help that everyone I knew in Arizona lived an hour away, that our new base had zero resources for spouses, that I didn’t have a traditional job that got me out of the house, or that I couldn’t handle my two children on their own in public. Or that my house was 4000 sq ft and pretty damn comfortable. I started staying home. A lot. And I started getting squirrelly.
That memory with my toes in the grass is a reminder of what I need the most. To reconnect with nature and people. To be one with the earth once more, and connected to my surrounded. The longer I was in Arizona, the more I felt disconnected from life in general. Every rhythm my body needed to feel grounded was removed. Every primal advantage I had as a human animal was wasted. It really started to show, in physical and emotional ways that I didn’t expect to be so abrupt. How do some people live like this their whole lives? It took me out in just over one year.
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to meet Evan Brand. He believes that our connection to nature is critical for mental health. Evan found that he started to experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, and general disconnection from society in as little as a week away from nature. Working the graveyard shift at a UPS warehouse to pay for college didn’t help. Once he quit there and moved to Kentucky, he instantly felt better. His new job? Planting trees and building hiking trails.
I talked to Evan at PaleoFX about what I was going through and he suggested a float tank, which I’ll be trying out soon. But he stressed that reconnecting to nature was a critical first step. “A single week of going to work, coming home, cooking, eating, getting on the computer and the general routine that we all do will make us isolated, depressed, and live without purpose,” he said.
A single week?!? Christ, I had been doing that for over a year, except that I wasn’t even getting out of the house to go to work. It was time for triage.
(Evan taught me something else during PaleoFX that he isn’t even aware of: the value of a good hug. I’ll be talking about this more in the bonding section.)
I’m back in Northern California right now, sitting in a 5th wheel, wondering at the goodness of the Universe (and my father-in-law), which just dropped a free Shiatsu session with a holistic therapist on me. The only sounds from outside are the birds; the only color I can see is green. Inside I’m surrounded by wood, and simplicity. The silence is deafening.
Just staring at the garden is like experiencing culture shock. So many shades of green–not just that fake lime I’m used to seeing–are staring me in the face. Each leaf is different with shapes and variations of every permutation, not photoshopped in any way whatsoever. I’m going to have to get used to it again, but I don’t think it’ll take long. I’m already feeling calmer.
My next stop is Canada–Vancouver Island to be exact. There is no where greener. I could probably spend the rest of my life exploring its coves, trails, and forests and I may. But first I’m heading back down to the states to begin my tour. Once I’ve dropped off the kids, I need to start with tranquility. Something I know I can find at Harbin Hot Springs, in Middletown, California.