I like hearing about people’s breath-taken-away-by-nature moments. For my mom, these moments have frequently been sparked by a first tulip prying apart winter’s icy fingers. For my dad, it’s usually caused by a landscape of scraggly sagebrush in the suffocating sun. For my husband, it’s an eons-old dinosaur track, and for my brother, it’s the powder at the top of Sundance. Each person I know has different favorites, and their favorites change year by year—sometimes minute by minute.
When I think of the myriad of “wow” moments I’ve experienced and watched others experience, it’s abundantly clear that there is no evident winner in the “most beautiful thing on Earth” contest. Nature provides so much to love—and of an endlessly diverse selection of vistas, life forms, and phenomena. It’s ludicrous to suggest that there could be one “best” thing.
Just as there is no best thing to love in nature, there is no best way to love nature. A person does not, in fact, have to wear Chacos to love nature. They don’t have to be able to row a boat, set up a tent, or name the mountain range in their backyard. They don’t have to watch Planet Earth or stick a “Protect Bears Ears” sign in their lawn. But then again, they might do all of those things.
My family never camped, skied, boated, rafted, or any of the other stereotypical outdoors adventures. From a limited perspective, we weren’t very into nature. But actually, my family owned multiple acres of untamed land, and my childhood was spent roaming our hill, ice-skating on ponds, and throwing cattails at my siblings. In my house, hearing “come and look at this sunset, you won’t believe it!” was a regular occurrence, and gardening was a mandatory activity.
Few people would guess my briefcase-toting father was an avid nature lover, but I can attest that he nearly drove the car off the road on multiple occasions because he was so busy staring at the view. My mom literally stops to smell every flower she sees, and now I do, too. Admittedly I can’t name a single species of flower, but I can scroll through dozens of photos of flowers (all of which I’ve smelled) in just the last month.
Few people would label my hometown a nature-loving community. The economy of Roosevelt, Utah, depends on oil. When oil prices go up, Roosevelt drills and thrives. When the demand for oil decreases, Roosevelt’s prosperity—and population—decreases. Recycling doesn’t exist out there—too expensive. Yet despite these conservation no-nos, sorting Roosevelt into the “environment-hating” box doesn’t acknowledge the full spectrum of ways to love nature. Sure, I didn’t recycle into those bright blue bins, and yet out of necessity, I and others reused items because the closest mall was over two hours away. A dress might be reincarnated into a shirt, which was reincarnated into a scarf, which was reincarnated into doll clothes, which was reincarnated into cleaning rags. Yogurt containers also lived multiple lives—as Tupperware, paintbrush holders, and science projects. Since teenagers couldn’t go to a mall very easily, they might hang out by exploring the little-known Fantasy Canyon 30 minutes away, watching a scary movie projected in a cave, or learning to ride horses. Roosevelt’s economy was dependent on oil, true, but the whole town could be biked in less than ten minutes, and a daily commute of more than seven minutes didn’t exist.
Nature, as with everything, is complicated. A brilliant red sunset isn’t just beautiful—it can also be a sign of the huge wildfire out west. Oceans are symbols of relaxation and tranquility yet have the power to destroy entire cities in a matter of minutes. Loving nature is also complicated; often there are negative sides. Skiers speak of the closeness they feel to nature on the slopes but are less inclined to bring up the chopped trees and erosion that make this closeness possible. Hiking in the Grand Canyon is a favorite for many nature-lovers, but how many hours in a gas-powered vehicle did they have to drive to get there? Dirt biking allows riders to drink in more nature than possible on foot but rips up nature in a way feet don’t. Nature, conservation, people, life—they’re all beautifully diverse and incredibly complicated. There are no “bests;” there are no easy answers. Being inspired by the desert doesn’t mean you can’t be awed by the ocean, nor does acknowledging your baked skin mean you can’t love sunny days. It’s okay to ski, drive, and dirt bike, and it’s okay to simultaneously acknowledge the detrimental effects of those activities. I don’t have solutions to the complicated issues of nature, but I’ve learned from nature that we should be unafraid to recognize the complexity.
Barbara Gillespie Ramos grew up roaming the red hills of Roosevelt, Utah. She moved to Salt Lake to attend the University of Utah, where she is studying English and psychology. For Barbara, nature provides a way to recharge and reconnect. She finds ways to be outside as much as possible, and would choose watching a sunset over watching a movie any day.