Born-again ‘nature freak’

By Lauren Vincent

I used to be an urban elitist.

From a very young age, I rejected any geographical location that wasn’t metropolitan. I grew up in a miniature city with a 20-minute bus ride into downtown Boston, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to be in the heart of the action. I wanted to live in a brownstone in Beacon Hill or the Back Bay, and nothing else would do.

I was against the idea of coming to the University of Massachusetts because, as I saw it, it was in the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t in or near a major city, I did not want to inhabit it. I really liked the school, but I wanted it to be in Boston. I didn’t want to live next to cornfields and farms. I didn’t care that there was pretty foliage and mountains in the distance, I’d rather have looked at skyscrapers and taxis, listening to sirens and horns as I fell asleep.

I still love the feeling of the city and it would still be my ideal place to live. I love Boston especially, because it feels like home. But I’ve since learned to appreciate the beauty of rural New England in a way I never thought I would.

It’s spring now, that weird combination of the end of winter and an early taste of summer, and we can finally be outside by choice. We can even lay out in the sun on those weird almost 90-degree days and go inside because it’s too hot, not too cold. The trees are starting to look less barren and there are flowers popping up all around us.

For spring break, I drove to Louisiana to do service work. I’d never traveled further than Washington D.C. other than in a plane, so I got to see the changes driving southbound. The land got gradually flatter, and there were less and less trees. It was different, but I didn’t really pay much attention because that’s what I expected.

It wasn’t until we were driving back up north that I took notice of my surroundings. When we hit New York, everything started looking familiar and the familiarity was what struck me. I realized I’d sort of been living in a New England box and taking my surroundings for granted. Before, if you asked me if I thought the pine trees and the hills were pretty, I’d have blown it off and probably not even answered you.

In the weeks since, I’ve been looking out the windows of my car and actually seeing what’s outside. I was going over the Calvin Coolidge Bridge from Northampton yesterday and realized there are mountains on both sides – and they’re gorgeous. I felt ridiculous. What had I been doing before? Probably changing the radio station or texting, completely ignoring the beauty of nature.

As a college student, I get stressed out often and sometimes close my eyes and imagine I’m somewhere secluded and quiet, like on a beach in the Bahamas or even in a log cabin in the middle of a forest in Maine. I did this even when I shrugged off the concept of nature and held on tight to my dreams of a big city. I never thought about how nice it was to get away from one and escape into somewhere where there’s more land than people. Even now, I can look out my window and see mountains in the distance and realize that there’s more to the world than my current problems.  

I’ve been trying to reduce my carbon footprint for a while now, but on the more practical side of preserving the environment for future generations and being sustainable for economic reasons. It just made sense to me to protect our resources. I never really said “I love the Earth,” or considered myself “at one with nature.” I simply didn’t want to be irresponsible toward others. Obviously that’s still a big motivation for “going green,” but now I don’t want to be irresponsible toward the Earth, either. I don’t want to destroy the beauty around us, now that I’m finally realizing that it’s there.  I can’t believe how long it took me to open my eyes, but I’m glad I finally did.

I’m grateful that I didn’t write off living so far outside a big city. I’ve come to realize that Amherst does not have anything less to offer than Boston. And it offers a different kind of scenery, one that I’m just now excited to view. I’m a born-again New England lover and nature freak, and I’m proud of the transformation.

Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

On the way back to Massachusetts from Spring Break, Lauren Vincent realized how much she had come to appreciate New England's natural wonders