I was 5 years old when I saw a small garter snake slithering through the backyard of my grandmother’s house. It noticing me getting closer disappeared into its hole. I ran inside grabbed an encyclopedia off my grandmother’s bookshelf and ran back outside plopped myself down beside the hole and began to look through the snake section of the encyclopedia. I was not fearful of it, I wanted to know what it was. This need to know and understand nature captivated my childhood imagination and these discoveries brought with them a pure joy. I would go on walks with my grandmother in the woods collecting objects to learn what they were. I would go hunting and fishing with my dad, in fact on my 10th birthday I caught a 3lb bass which my grandmother cooked for me. Within a few years this love for fishing and for nature would be replaced with reading Seventeen magazine and filling a Caboodles with lip glosses and starter makeup. As I grew I continued to admire nature but became increasingly disconnected from it.
Then just like any red blooded American college student, the fascination of enterprise and making money took precedence. I moved to New York to pursue my dreams of working at a national magazine and I got my wish by working at Us Weekly. Soon I would dream of publishing my own magazine and got my wish with MyScoop. There was a passion and spirit in MyScoop’s creation that soon was clouded by the pursuit of money over the pursuit of happiness. I was striving for a standard of living not quality of life. My husband and I loved the outdoors still, but hiking, snorkeling, fishing – these were all hobbies not priorities. The priority each day was materialistic- to strive for more.
I believe we can create our own hell and the first step in doing this is the pursuit of money, which is undoubtedly choosing greed over wisdom. When I say ‘our own hell’ I do not mean that your life will be drenched with awfulness, instead your life’s priorities will lead you to constantly believe happiness is just around the corner if you can only reach ‘this goal’ or buy ‘this new object’, then as soon as that goal or object is accomplished that happiness that dangled like a lure on a hook is now cast further out with a new goal to reach and new object to buy. When we pursue money over happiness we choose a shallow and complex life over a deep and simple one, which makes us miserable and bored and discontent inside. There of course can be thrills and moments of temporary joy, but that permanence of a peaceful heart and true happiness is alluded.
We live in a society that puts great emphasis on the pursuit of materialism all in the name of good economics. But if we examine our current society we see avarice in everything from homes to cars to vacations, we see people more rude and hateful than ever, we see people so into their iphones they do not even connect with the people sitting right by them, we see people with more mental health issues than ever before, we see people disconnected further than ever from the land, and we see this constant need for bigger, better, faster. After every new ‘breakthrough’ in modern technology or new app I find myself wondering, “Now why is this going to make my life better?” Author E.F. Schumacher writes in the book Small is Beautiful:
I would like to remind you that the Taj Mahal was built without electricity, cement, and steel and that all the cathedrals of Europe were built without them. It is a fixation in the mind that unless you have the latest and greatest you can’t do anything at all, and this is the thing that has to be overcome.
Our entire society is focused on the standard of living and this standard of living is defined by how much we consume. Whoever consumes more in this world is winning the race right? But what about our well-being, our true happiness? Is our end goal to gain more and more material possessions or is our end goal to live a beautiful life? If our end goal is to live a beautiful life then our aim should be to maximize our well-being while minimizing our consumption. Gandhi said,
Earth provides enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.
Could our secret to a deep and simple, beautiful life be found in God’s earth? In the past year we have traveled to a place called Gulf County Florida. Here in the towns of Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas, I have found a love and peace like no other place I have traveled. Two things that really struck me since our very first trip to the area – the people are so friendly, authentic, and happy and they are very in tune with nature. I have never heard one person we have met from the area say one negative thing, they don’t talk about possessions, and they are always smiling. The area offers an abundance of wildlife from bay scallops, shrimp, Tupelo honey, sea turtles, bald eagles, alligators, and of course fish. Each person we have met that lives in this area can speak about the nature of the area in great detail. It also is one of the most laid back places imaginable, if you wear the same thing twice no one will even notice. This little paradise on earth may also be the happiest place on earth and it isn’t because the people are extremely wealthy and enterprise is thriving in excess, it is because of their connection with nature, with the land and sea. They are a representation that small is beautiful. Their economy is based upon nature, from tourism to shrimping to the exportation of Tupelo honey. Nature is their most important commodity and they understand the balance between nature and man. They treat the entire area as their home and they have wisdom on everything the land and sea provide, from the fish to the bees.
Perhaps we should realize that our home isn’t just bricks and mortar, it is the earth – the earth that bore us, the earth that we hunt and gather on, the earth that we hold gatherings and raise our family on. Then we will begin to understand that we are stewards of this earth. We will realize that we are responsible for taking care of the earth and understanding its balance, just like man was called to do in the very beginning of human existence. That connection with nature is a deep and simple one that is far more satisfying than any new car and far more healing than any therapy session. Just think about the way you feel when you witness a breathtaking sunset, when you stand at the edge of the ocean with saltwater rushing over your toes, when you discover a nest of baby birds, when you see the autumn leaves on fire with color against a mountainside, when you feel the wind through your hair horseback riding, or when you hear the crack of a twig in a silent forest and spy a whitetail deer, these moments resonate in our soul and feel spiritual for a reason.
In the sun-aged face of a farmer or fisherman you will find authenticity, goodhearted laughter, the voice of a storyteller, and a soulful depth in their eyes that seems to have roots deep into the earth. Just like each of us they were born of this earth and will return to it, but unlike so many of us they live their life with the land and sea running through their veins never disconnecting from the importance of nature in this life. You have heard people say, “Oh I’m not an outdoors person.” Well the truth is we are all outdoors people because we came from nature, and just like we know every street in a city and how to get there we should also know nature and its pathways.
The other night I found myself on a freshwater lake in Florida. The water was pitch black with cypress stumps illuminated by a spotlight. We were hunting for alligators and much like when I was 5 years old I was getting an education on these reptiles and their ecosystem. I didn’t have an encyclopedia but I had a guide who was an avid hunter and someone so in tune with nature he could tell you about every creature and its importance to this lake. Sitting there in the silence with the night sky above, I have never seen so many stars, it was like the freckled face of a red-headed child – there were more stars than there was space in between the stars. There was a soulful connection that night with nature and an understanding of its balance. The more we strive to understand our earth, to enjoy it, to harvest from it, to replenish it, and to respect it, the more we will find that peace that alludes us when we choose to seek a standard of living over quality of life.
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