Alice Lyn talks to writer Amanda E. Machdo about seeing oneself as part of nature rather than apart from it, and how that can change our attitude toward travel and exploration.
Alice Lyn, host of WGVU’s Color Out Here, a TV show that reframes outdoor narratives for people of color. On this podcast she talks to outdoor experts of color about enjoying the outdoors safely.
Shaping Narratives is created by WGVU NPR in partnership with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Shaping Narratives.
Transcript: You're listening to shaping narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color brought to you by WGVU NPR and PBS in West Michigan in the partnership with the WK Kellogg Foundation. The voice of today's episode is Alice Lyn, host of WGVU’s color out here to show reshaping outdoor narratives for people of color. Raised in Brooklyn, New York and educated in Michigan's upper peninsula. Alice talks to national experts about how people of color can safely and creatively enjoy the outdoors
Amanda E. Machdo is a writer and facilitator who focuses on the intersections between race, Gender, travel and the outdoors, you can find her writing in publications like the Atlantic, the Washington post, slate, Harper's Bazaar, NBC news Vox the week outside REI co-op journal court's Sierra magazine, business insider, and so many others. Uh, in addition to her essay writing. Amanda also facilitates workshops on justice and anti-oppression for organizations around the world. As a traveler. Um, how had you previously connected to, to that definition of place and the multiple narratives of place before, before COVID happened?
Yeah. Um, well, I have just the first few weeks of quarantine, I finished the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmer. Um, and there was this quote from that book that really hit me really hard, which was, uh, about. Americans and settlers in the United States. And the quote was the problem with these new people is that they don't have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don't seem to know whether they're staying or not. Um, and when I read that quote really hit me hard, cause it really felt like my experience in the United States as a first generation American, as the daughter of immigrants, as someone who loves traveling and exploring, um, I really felt like that described me accurately as someone who never really put both feet on the shore. Never really knew whether I was staying or not. It was always kind of trying to figure out where to move to next. Um, and I think I excused that a lot by saying that, you know, through all those identities and my love for travel, I thought that was a normal. Uh, a normal way of being a way of living. But I think after reading her book, it made me also think about the problem that that point of view or that way of living is that you don't actually ever get to connect with the land that you're on. Right. And you don't build that kind of relationship, uh, with land and, you know, reading through like literature from other travelers in the last few years who, who kind of argue the same thing that. Traveling can also be kind of, it's like can become this addiction to novelty and this addiction to maybe not possessions or materialism, but to like new experiences constantly and how that can also would be problematic in its own way, because it. It kind of forces you to think of place as like this backdrop for your travel for your adventure. Um, but not, it doesn't allow you to connect to the place that you're actually. Um, so before COVID happened, I think I allowed myself to continue traveling that way. And I think when COVID happened, it's forced me to have to stay in one place and not travel anywhere.
Um, that forced me to have to also reconsider what my relationship to land actually was.
Awesome. Awesome response. Um, so since the, but of COVID and you know, sheltering in place, um, how has the inability to travel influenced the ways that you perceive the place that you've been living in these past few months that you've been kind of stuck in, um, or sheltering and since, yeah, since the spring.
Yeah, I think it's forced me to just notice, you know, I've had to. Be in the same place. See the same view outside my window. See, walk around the same block. So I notice things more often when I'm observing more, more clearly. Um, and even before COVIDt had happened, I facilitated a workshop with Pinar who's the cofounder of Queer Nature. Um, and they taught me this practice of introducing yourself to land. Whenever they first enter a space, they talk about why they're there are they, um, Thank it for allowing them to stay there before leaving. They say, thank you again and goodbye. Um, and I just love this practice, but hadn't really incorporated it into my life. And so COVID happened. That's when I realized like everyday I'm waking up with the same land, you know, being in their space. Um, And saying hi to it, as silly as that might sound, um, go get the relationship of it, right. I'm thanking land for allowing you to be there. Um, instead of taking it for granted, which I think I had done before, um, and as I said, just kind of like allowing it to just be like the backdrop of my adventures rather than actually building relationship. Um, So I had someone else I can facilitate with Jose Gonzalez. He talks about this a lot too, about how, the way we live now kind of sees nature as natural resources, right? Like what can it do for us? What can it provide for us? Um, but instead, Pinar’s exercise, turn nature and land into not a resource for you as a human, but as something that you're building a relationship with and you're then engaged with it in a different way. Um, so that's something I really tried to do more of. It's still a continuing practice. It's something I still forget often. Um, but I think by forcing my life to stay in one place for probably the first time in a really long time, um, COVID gave this gift of like, making me realize that there's already so much going on right in front of me that I asked of it more.
Awesome. Um, and I'm going to, uh, Uh, improvise real quick here. Um, totally you expand on that. Um, can you speak a little bit to, to just this sort of activities that you've done that have helped you, um, or, you know, kind of facilitated that this evolved relationship to the place that you've been sheltering in, um, and you know, distancing thing in, um, and. In addition to what kinds of activities, even if it's just a walk, um, what, what kinds of things have you noticed, um, for the first time maybe, um, or seen differently, uh, like specific things that you maybe just hadn't maybe hadn't stood out before.
Yeah. Um, I think for the first time it might sound silly, but I downloaded this app. On my phone that allows me to take pictures of the plants outside and find out what their names are and more details about. Um, um, and so I've started actually doing that. I realized that, you know, I've lived in this house, I'm living in now for two or three years, and I still don't know the names of the trees outside or the flowers outside, um, on my block too, there's like a certain purple flower that I just see all over the Bay area. Um, but never knew what exactly the name was or never really knew the history of that flower at all. Um, Now being forced to like, take the same walk on the same block and seeing the same flowers at the same time. Um, Yeah, it really gave me the time to realize that I want to learn more about the natural things that are living in my space and, you know, naming it is one way of doing that. But what I think is more important than the actual like scientific name or whatever name we gave it, is more just knowing. How to pay attention to it and how to differentiate it from everything else that's around it and know its history and know, um, why, why it's here in the Bay area. Why, why are we seeing these purple flowers everywhere? When do they bloom things like that? I think helped helped me build a relationship to land that I don't think I had beforehand. Um, I think also lately because of climate change and, and realizing how difficult things are getting, um, I think I've started building that relationship with land as well. Like sometimes when I do come out as exercise of going on a hike and starting the hike by insurance and myself and saying, thank you. Sometimes I feel compelled with them to say sorry. And feel compelled to say like something as a human, who is part of this, system's really damaging nature around us. Um, sometimes I make that part of the exercise too, before I hike, or when I come back from hiking. Um, kind of talking to the land and making some commitments to myself that I'm going to do more to protect it and to take care of it. Um, I'm to continue within myself realizing how much I can easily disconnect from it and how much I want to change that.
Awesome. Um, thank you for sharing. Would you say that you're this again, kind of. Changing or evolving relationship that you have to place as been kind of, uh, I guess improving, or I don't know if improving is the right word, um, enhancing or driving your, your desire to, um, protect and steward the planet. Um, More. So do you feel like that relationship to places is there's intersection there with kind of, um, natural, the stewardship of natural resources and, um, and protecting our planet more?
Absolutely. So, yeah, I think so. Um, I mean, my entrance into the environmentalist movement without me really passionate, activated by it was first just enjoying hiking and outdoor spaces in general. And realizing that if I enjoy these things, I need to be protecting them. And that kind of was my entrance point entry point into, into the movement. Um, but now I think the new realization that I'm coming towards and these last few months is that even the hiking itself, you know, is a problematic viewing of nature, right? That nature is there to just provide you these beautiful views or these beautiful experiences. Um, But not necessarily to provide a relationship with it. And I think that's what I, my new thinking on it that I'm really trying to explore more now is that if we're going to protect land, it's not only protecting it so that it can provide us with these beautiful experiences, but protecting it because it's something we need to be connected with in and of itself. Um, There's this book that Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz wrote, it was an indigenous people's history of the United States. Um, and she used this term in that book that I keep thinking about as well, which I've never heard about before, which was U.S. populist imperialism. And it's this idea that, um, us imperialism is also driven by this idea that invading foreign land is rooted in this like heroic, adventurous intention. And reading that made you realize that a lot of my travels kind of had a little bit of that. I don't think I knew that consciously, but I do think in my life growing up in the United States, there was this idea that traveling and hiking and exploring is. By nature, heroic and adventurous and the intentions are always great.
And there's nothing that could be problematic about that. Um, and I think now I'm trying to, I'm trying to question that more. I'm trying to think about how that has become a part of our culture here in the U.S. and how, in some ways that prevents us from connecting to land in the, in the ways that I think we, now we need to.
Yeah. I think, um, That's great. And I've definitely been trying to internalize, um, just the messaging to myself, uh, every day, but, you know, humans are nature. It's not humans and nature. Um, and yeah, I, I just said start to reprogram my brain to unlearn, um, the ways that environmentalism, the U.S. environmentalist movement has kind of taught me to perceive nature as something other than an outside of myself. Um, and that's that, you know, makes it an it right as to your point about, you know, anybody and speak to us, but the it versus, um, someone, um, and reanimating, you know, giving animacy to to, to, um, to, to, to nature, to rocks, to trees, to insects, to animals, um, as opposed to referring them to them as it, uh, I think is helping me to kind of reprogram. So yeah, I appreciate that.
Yeah. I feel all of that. I also think that in that I think. Yeah, there's also this encouragement to kind of be rootless and to kind of be, um, Yeah, just always exploring and always adventuring and always, you know, traveling to the new frontier. That's such a part of American mythology.
Um, and I think growing up, I didn't really realize the harm in that. I just really liked it. I loved it. Encouraged exploration, adventure. And that was the part of me that I always really loved. Yeah. And I think now I'm trying to figure out how to balance that because I don't think that means that travel and exploration is inherently bad or negative or harmful, but. Like you said, the ways that the ways that we've talked about how we connect with land and how we explore and how we adventure and think. I haven't been at odds with like the ways that we protect nature up until this point.
Shaping Narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color is brought to you in partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. Want to hear more Shaping Narratives episodes download and subscribe at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe if you get a chance, it helps us to know you're listening. Shaping Narratives is produced by WGVU PBS and NPR in West Michigan through the facilities of the Meijer public broadcast center in the service of Grand Valley State University. Matt Gruppen processed all the audio, Joe Bielecki edits each episode, Vance Orr designed our graphics and manages our Web presence, Phil Lanes is our director of content. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the hosts and their guests and do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU or Grand Valley State University.