I’m a country girl. I was born in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and grew up on a solar-powered farm in the midst of Ontarian wilderness. As a kid, I spent entire summers with my brothers getting lost (and found again) following animal tracks through the woods. Family vacations consisted of camping, hiking or canoe trips, and meeting bears on the way to the bus stop was not unusual. We didn’t have any neighbours, and I went to a rural school where most of my peers were also farmers, so until I finally left the country to go to a large-city university, I thought my lifestyle, and connection to nature, were the norm.
Moving to Ottawa changed everything, both in emphasizing how important the environment was to me, and it making evident the different relationships that people have with the natural world. While initially exciting, the noise, concrete, and busy-ness of the city quickly became overwhelming, and I returned home the summer after first year desperate for any job that would let me stay outdoors. For the next three summers, I was a park naturalist at a Provincial Park, leading programs and guided hikes – essentially sharing nature facts with campers up from the GTA. Environmental education quickly became my passion.
I was most fascinated by the kids that came to our programs: primarily inner-city or suburban children with little knowledge about the natural world (many of them had never seen a woodpecker before, and couldn’t distinguish between a fox and beaver pelt) but who absolutely, absolutely, thrived in this setting. They were inquisitive but cautious, though over the course of their stay at the park would begin to interact with their natural surroundings with more confidence and ease.
Each year, I’d return to school in Ottawa more critical of the absence of nature within the urban sphere. As someone uprooted and transplanted into the city, I felt the loss to my own health and wellness. But through my work at the park, as I watched city kids blossom in the wild outdoors, I could see how clearly they could benefit from more green-space as well.
Which brings me to Ecology Ottawa. Though there are a number of different campaigns, each is directed at making the city more environmentally-friendly, and reconnecting our communities to the natural environment. These local initiatives include depaving, planting trees, petitioning for renewable energy and green redevelopment: all programs that strive to provide Ottawa neighbourhoods with the health benefits of nature while also mitigating the effects of human activity on climate change.
I wish I’d been involved with Ecology Ottawa when I first moved to the city, but I’m glad I am now. In my experience, developing a relationship with nature can be incredibly life-giving and rewarding, in both rural or urban areas, so my hope is that by the time I leave Ottawa, I’ll have helped to make the city a little greener. Perhaps more importantly, I hope to have helped community members establish the connection they want with their natural surroundings.