By Susan Sabatino
My husband and I are nature junkies.
But city living is in my blood. I grew up in a large town in England, lived in London during my college years, and now live just outside of Washington, D.C. I love the hustle and bustle of a city, the diversity of the people who live there, and the proximity of everything – shops, restaurants and entertainment.
Still, I need nature, too. It has always been part of my life – whether it was working amongst sheep on a farm during lambing season, milking cows on a dairy farm or hiking the trails and cycling the scenic country roads.
Unfortunately, getting my nature fix has become harder and harder for me over the years. I have a progressive disability that makes walking on anything but a flat surface very difficult. Obviously, that presents a challenge for all but the most tame “hiking.” You might think I would have been forced to let go of my nature addiction, but the opposite has happened. I’m more determined than ever to be outside. I need it. The disability has really helped me to understand just how much I need nature, and how important getting outdoors is to my mental health.
A few years ago my husband and I decided to set a goal to visit as many of our country’s National Parks as we can. So far we’ve visited 13, from the subtropical wilderness of the Everglades to the mysterious, ethereal hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. We don’t take on challenging hikes, don’t don our boots, and we don’t strap on a backpack and head up the steep hills over rocky terrain. No, we may not be able to enjoy the parks as those who are fully able can, but we can still experience the natural beauty of these places.
We’ve seen the parks from driving tours, like the Trail Ridge Road that winds through Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve stayed in a cabin tucked back in the deep woods of the Appalachians in the Great Smoky Mountains and watched the sunrise from a beautiful spot near the parking lot for the Zion National Park Human History Museum. We hike accessible paths. The ones through the meadows at Yosemite are a personal favorite. And we also spend time just sitting in nature – looking at the scenery together, reading a book or just talking.
My husband gets his exercise fix by running in nature, or by finding a beautiful spot where I can sit while he takes on a more strenuous hike – snapping pictures along the way and sharing them with me when he returns so I feel like I’ve experienced the climb. We also seek alternative modes of transport –hitching a ride on a mule in Bryce Canyon National Park, and mounting a horse in Yellowstone National Park helped me cover terrain that I could never do on my own two legs!
Sometimes it can be frustrating for both of us – for me being in nature can slap my inabilities in my face. For him he wants to share those hikes with someone, and go that little bit further than I can. But what’s the alternative? Not to experience nature at all? Not possible – we’re addicted!