March 5, 2017

World : The Privilege of Nature

Growing up, my family didn't travel.  I grew up in the Bay Area, and I never went to Tahoe or Yosemite.  We didn't travel to the snow to ski during the winter, or visit national parks in the summer. I didn't grow up comfortable in the elements.  I don't know how to drive in snow; water scares me even after learning to swim late in life.

My parents managed one small business or another over the course of my childhood and adolescence, the main being a wine and liquor store (ironic to anyone who knows about the capacity of one beer to make me pass out and/or develop hives).  Because they ran it from opening to closing, there was little time for anything else.  My dad gave himself an hour at night after work to watch television, and a few hours on Sunday morning to go to church and eat the one meal a week that he didn't eat standing at work.  My mom cooked the day's meals for everyone in the morning, went to another job during the day, and helped my dad at the store in the evenings.

When I consider what all this sacrifice gave my brothers and me, I see it in terms of how much choice and freedom it gave us.  Not so much what I ended up doing, but the fact that I feel I have agency in the paths I take.  The ability to decide what I want to do with my life, how to spend my time in work and my personal time.  I can't remember the exact time that I realized how much privilege there is in the ability to choose and decide and control my life, but once that revelation came, its presence is often my strongest feeling.

It's especially strong in beautiful natural environments that I get to experience, that my parents 1) never experienced and 2) don't really understand why I want to experience them.  When I tell them about climbing and running and hiking, they worry I'm getting too much sun.  "That can't be good for you, that much sun."

I think about what an important force nature has become in my life, and how luxurious this is compared to my parents' lives.  And each moment I get to spend outside, I remember I get to have this because of all their hours working in the confines of a liquor store.  I remember there are so many people who don't have that choice, who don't even think about having that choice, who don't even know that is a choice, who even if given that choice may not have been given everything else that goes into accepting that choice.

This past weekend, we went to Yosemite, traveling to 6000 feet above sea level.  I've been there in every other season--fall, spring, and summer--and this was the first time I'd seen it in the winter.  It was amazing to see familiar structures take on a glaze of white, or disappear behind hazy weather.  To traipse across untouched snow and step deep into it, seeing visibly that you were the first to move there.  To feel that you're a visitor to a place that has a defined structure and beauty independent of you.

Similar to learning to swim when I was in my late twenties, venturing into a new environment like snow makes me hyperaware of the elements, whether it's fluid water or packed snow.  Everything feels so fresh, new and crisp to skin and touch.  I especially loved Yosemite in winter, because it was quiet and relatively empty, and in the breath-consuming endeavor of high-stepping in snow, I could be more attentive to the sounds of our disrupting the snow and the smells of the still air.

We spent Saturday crossing white landscapes and eating lunch at the edge of this:

A storm started on Saturday night into Sunday morning, and we woke to a new coat of white.  Since it was tough to hike in these conditions, we headed back to the Bay Area and hiked in Mount Diablo instead.  

Having snowshoed the day before, and having dug our cars out of snow that morning, it was a little surreal to so quickly transition to this lush green and mud brown.  

In times like these, I feel overwhelmed by how much we have available to us.  And by how much of this wasn't available to the me of childhood.  It was there in physical proximity.  But there was no time to go, no means to stay, no space to value what's reasonably conisdered extraneous in a life navigated by bare necessities.

The ability to have this extra, and to consider this extra so essential to my life now, is the most amazing privilege.

There's something about the vastness, versatility, and otherworldliness of nature that makes me feel like we're given so much more than we can ever comprehend.  And this awareness makes it so much natural to give yourself, even against all the barriers the world puts up.  It's so much easier to go to work, and be patient (which is one of my goals for 2017).  Most people don't get to see this; so many experience the opposite.  Our patients fight each day for the known necessities, and we've been given these luxuries so that we can fight for them too.

When we have all this, all that we do seems smaller and yet somehow more important to continue.  I have to keep trying to match this gift, knowing I never can re-create the same depths and heights of these natural dimensions, trusting that when we achieve any expansion of life for others, we honor the gift of choice.  I choose to go outside, and to return.


  1. Lol, somehow I don't think mom and dad would have gone to Yosemite even if they had the time... though I thought we did go once to Tahoe and once to Yosemite, but maybe that was before your time on earth.

    1. I know, that's part of the privilege of being exposed to these things!

  2. Wow. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and for making me take a step back and really think about the privilege that I enjoy in my own life. It's so easy to forget how lucky we are when we are surrounded by people as privileged as ourselves. I think we often associate privilege with physical objects, but it is so true that free time and even something as simple (yet complex) as nature, should be viewed as precious.

    PS those photos are breathtaking!

    1. Thanks Nicole! I always love seeing your photos of running in beautiful SoCal. It's so awesome, and important for health, to be close to that.


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