Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and other escaped slaves and underground railroad leaders knew something about the outdoors that we modern African-Americans are failing to realize. Whatever hazards may be in the marshes and woods, there is a greater peril to our souls to stay where we are and a greater freedom if we are willing to go through them. Too often I get fearful responses from my kind when I try to promote doing something as simple as going to a well furnished state park, not to mention roughing it somewhere like the Appalachian Trail. “I don’t like bugs. There are too many snakes. I might fall in the water. What about tigers (alas, I am not making that up)?” Our ancestors who ran away from slavery may have had such fears. But, they sought something better.
Please look at where we are in society. Our rate of illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and others are among (if not) the highest of any ethnic group. We frequently suffer from poor diets and lack of physical activity. Multi-channel television, video games, and cell phones are too often our main sources of entertainment. Perhaps our modern technology, trying to make ends meet, and racist society can be blamed for some things. But, it is our responsibility to make up our minds to leave sedentary lifestyle plantations behind as there is something to be gained by making outdoor activity a part of our lives.
Obviously, we will gain better health. Working up a sweat in the gym is good. But, a hike on a mountain or along a beach is far better since the mind can relax from competition and the body takes in fresh air. Perhaps some university has done or will do a study to prove that exercise outdoors is superior to indoors. But, I think it makes sense that as natural beings, we are better off in natural surroundings.
Outdoor activity gives us the knowledge to overcome fear. Sure snakes exist. But, most are non venomous and even those with venom avoid contact with people. Paddling a canoe or kayak allows us to explore places where motorboats can’t. Knowing proper techniques and being aware of water conditions make this an enjoyable pursuit. As far as tigers are concerned, avoid hiking in their cages at the circus or the zoo. The natural world has a lot to teach us.
With the right education, interest, and skills; outdoor activity may also lead to a career. I came to York River State Park looking for a summer job to make a little money until substitute teaching picked up again. But, I came armed with a degree in Agricultural Education, years of public speaking, a couple of photography awards, a love for flat water kayaking, and my own blog. I still had to work my way up. But, I did it. Parks, wilderness areas, and other employers are looking for people with something to enhance their operation. Adding knowledge about mountain bikes or even a few scouting badges may lead to an open door passed over by people who are “scared of drowning in all that water.”
The one instance of racism I have encountered came from people who watched me instead of participated with me (I got “N-bombed” by a couple of knuckleheads on a distant shore as I was kayaking in my own home town). Other than that, It seems to me that shared interest means more than race among people who love the outdoors. Organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club or the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club open their membership and friendship to anyone willing to lace up boots and hike. Even when I am alone and not in my ranger uniform, it has not been difficult for me to make a pleasurable acquaintance on a trail or in the water. Be yourself and respect others. The respect will be returned. And if it isn’t, it’s their loss, not yours.
This month, (no this year) pay some respect to those who had to traverse woods and rivers to find freedom. Excercise your freedom to enjoy those same woods and rivers. Overcome your fears and learn what nature has to offer. By doing so, you will make yourself a part of an interesting and fun-filled family of humans that enjoy the outdoors. I am so happy to be here and you will be too.
Thanks to a warmer than normal winter, why not participate in bird watching this weekend? http://www.virginiaoutdoors.com/article/more/3521
Know the rules of the road on the trails. http://www.virginiaoutdoors.com/article/more/3508