My Blackness in Nature

I come from an athletic family. My sister was a high school track star and played basketball. My brother played basketball and soccer. My parents played basketball, soccer, and football in their high school glory days. I’ve never really been a physically active person, in middle school my extra-curricular activities were band, theater, art, and the mandatory gym classes. In high school I was still in theater and I was a student athletic trainer—which was really fun! I felt limited since most sports required you to run or jog and I wasn’t there yet. I tried the golf team for about three weeks and I quickly knew it wasn’t for me, but I’m glad I tried it. Before the accident I was an avid roller-blader.

As I grew older I learned how to snowboard and realized there were many things I could do that did not require me to run or that hurt me physically. In my early twenties I got a job at the outdoor center at my university where I was a ropes course facilitator, rock wall belayer, and managed the campus park. I was a recreational administration major and was having the best time of my life. I was able to gain outdoor experience as a backpacking guide for a few years, canoed the Rio Grande, facilitated a group of 200 participants in team building activities, and lead an adaptive rock climbing program for students with visual impairments. I loved these years in college. I entered a new realm of self-discovery which proved to me that I had zero limits…I could do anything! Modifications for my hobbies are easy to make and usually just require some planning ahead.

Too black for the white kids, too white for the black kids:
I knew that I stood out for loving the outdoor world. I was the only black employee at the outdoor center but there were tons that worked for the indoor recreation center that housed the intramural sports teams, the track, and gym. I would rent out gear to mainly non-black people which wasn’t out of the ordinary because I went to a PWI (no hate, I love Texas State!). I started getting comments from black people like: “that’s for white people”, “that’s too dangerous”, “you’re crazy”, “I am not going hiking…I’m black and black people are afraid of snakes”, “Why would I go somewhere with no AC”, “black people don’t do that”, “you’re different”, etc. This quickly became old and I was insulted because I was being judged for “acting white” by expressing my love for outdoor recreation. What always kills me is the “I don’t want to get darker” nonsense. Y’ALL! I would be walking around looking like a black leather boot if that meant I could just play outside all day. At the end of summer if I don’t have a Chaco strap tan line on my foot from my sandals, I didn’t get enough sun.

I grew up with some identity issues due to being raised in a predominately white town. If I was the only black kid in the class it was nothing new. Growing up my blackness was constantly questioned. In my grade school years it was: “You talk white” (I didn’t know we could speak in colors), “you listen to white people music”, “you dress white”, and “I’m blacker than you” (from a non-black person). Hearing these things on a regular basis caused some self-identity issues because the most criticism I’ve ever experienced came from black individuals, it was like their way of telling me in a round-about way that I don’t fit into their community because I wasn’t black enough. It be your own people sometimes (my mom didn’t understand this reference, if you are like my mom just know it is from a viral meme) lol. My mom didn’t let me speak a certain way, I had an extensive wardrobe that I took pride in and a diverse taste in music which still rings true today. I can bump Mumford & Sons, Shania Twain, Migos, Sister Nancy, and Maxwell in a single car ride on the way to the store. I had a pet snake once and everyone lost their freaking mind, I was exiled lol.

I never understood why my differences were automatically labeled “white” and why it was such a big deal to everybody else, but looking back at those times I am thankful. I’m different. There is absolutely no one like me and I love that. I love my unruly hair that can be manipulated in dozens of styles. I love my dark skin that gets even darker in the summer. I love my music playlist because I never get bored with the same beats. I love my fashion sense because I can’t even pinpoint my “style”. I love being outdoors because it makes me feel close to God. I love the way I speak because I plan on touching lives with my words. This sense of love I have for my blackness is deep because I decided a long time ago that no one was going to make me feel uncomfortable about who I am and what I like by being crammed into their box of what they think I should act like.

Bottom Line:
Outdoor recreation built my confidence and helped me realize how far I am willing to push myself physically and mentally. I have never felt as humbled as the first time I saw the Milky Way at Hill Country State Natural Area. It brought me to tears as I realized I’m tiny…and so are my problems, compared to the universe’s vastness. There have been several studies conducted to prove the natural healing powers the outdoors can offer for common ailments like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Generally speaking, we are influenced by our environments. I don’t get to go hiking nearly as much now but even just sitting outside in the sun makes me feel better. I feel grounded. Whether it’s at the beach, on a trail, in the desert, or under the stars I can easily focus on one thought at a time, and usually I am just thinking of the beauty in front of me. There is NOTHING like being on “nature standard time” when you break away from the schedules, meetings, appointments, etc. Time is so precious, get lost in it sometimes.

There is NO ONE like you either,
Kiara

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