Black To Nature

Photo Credit: Our Beautiful World & Universe

Some years ago while hiking through Muir Woods with some friends, the subject of camping came up. After they each shared fond memories of outdoor experiences from childhood on, they turned to me. They were surprised to hear that I had never gone camping, and at the time had no interest in doing so. They wanted to know why I felt that way. If I were to just give it a try, I would see what I was missing. How could I explain to them that there was so much more to my reticence to be in the outdoors than just my lack of prior experience?

In African mystical traditions, the forest is the abode of the Spirit. It is where we go to pray, to heal, to plug into the Universe. We are connected to the Earth, and the Earth is connected to us. Yet, in modern times very few African-Americans venture out into the deep forest. Indeed, we seem to have a predominantly urban culture.

What happened?

For many African-Americans living in the South during slavery and the Jim Crow era, the deep woods was where one did not venture alone. Beatings and lynching were known to take place in the forests where no one could hear you scream. To feel relatively safe, one stayed in town.
My parents were of the generation that migrated from the South to the large Northern cities in huge numbers after the Second World War. There would be no looking back to spending time in the woods. As a child I learned to regard the forest not as a safe haven, but as a dark, menacing place in which evil could befall an unsuspecting soul.

Like most black families in the 60’s and 70’s, we had no concept of a “family vacation”. Resources were scarce, and anyway, where would we go that we knew we would be welcomed? The cumulative effect of these experiences has not only rendered the community inexperienced at knowing how to pitch a tent, but without any collective memory of what we have in fact lost.

It is no mystery that there is so much dysfunction in the urban community. It is the inevitable result of being cut off from Spirit. In the absence of a connection to the Earth, there is little respect for taking care of it. With no connection to our Ancestors, there is no sense of place and little regard for our community. With few creative outlets available, drugs and hyper-sexuality are the only ways our youth know how to reach out to something bigger than them.
It is up to us to show them how to connect to the Universe and become whole. Let us start by reclaiming our place in our sacred forests.