When My Mind is Free: Guest Blog by Fresh Tracks Leader Kimberly Pikok

This blog was originally published by the Arete Project and is being republished on the Fresh Tracks blog with permission from the author.

What is my relationship with the natural world?

When I began the program, my relationship with the natural world and nature meant leadership, skill building, and a valuable resource for food, water, and fun, but as I sit on this large rock outside of the institute this morning, my relationship with nature felt much deeper. As I sat on this rock, I looked to the left of me, to the right of me, behind me, in front, and above. I hear birds singing, I see the tide coming in, tall grass blowing, seaweed drying in the sun, the sun on my back, the wind chilling my skin and to my bones, and my music playing quietly as I observe my surroundings. As I take in what’s around me, I closely pay attention to the song that’s playing. It’s one of my favorite songs, it’s Drift Away by Dobie Gray. The lyrics, even though the meaning to me at that moment isn’t the actual meaning of the song, thoughts rushed through my head as I assessed the lyrics.

IMG_4992-768x512.jpg

“Day after day I’m more confused. Yet I look through the light in pouring rain. Know that it’s a game that I hate to lose and I’m feeling the strain, ain’t it a shame.” These lyrics first spoke out to me because I feel like I’ve had some of those moments here. I’ve been thinking about these past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about how helpless and sad I’ve been. Some moments I felt like I wasn’t capable of doing certain tasks like lifting things that is 10 times my size, kayaking, speaking my thoughts, and getting out of my comfort zone in activities, but on top of all of those horrendous thoughts, I sprained my ankle doing what I struggle with the most, walking. Looking back at those lyrics, there were times I felt like I wasn’t even trying to look for the light, because looking for light meant seeking hope, meant feeling confident in my abilities, it meant feeling like I belonged, and none of those feelings came to me, looking back at those lyrics, I never had a chance of winning because I was so far from a “finish line” or “winning.”

However, the next lyrics in the song, “Give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” I applied those lyrics for my “thirst” for  nature and always wanting to be outside, or helping the crew with projects. Nature, the outdoors, and always giving people a helping hand always made me feel better, and during my time of boredness and aches, I craved those activities even more. But I realized that when you’re hurt, physically and emotionally, the craving of wanting to do something becomes burdensome because I knew I couldn’t participate or satisfy my need for nature and the outdoors.. Even though I was going through a mental breakdown because of my sprained ankle and feeling helpless; the people surrounding me, the environment everyone creates, the conversation we make, and the reassurance everyone provided lifted my spirits and made me think positively. If it was not for this magnificent group of people and their personalities and presence, who knows what would be running through my head now.

Somehow my brain then jumped to the question as to why I decided to sit on a rock for 45 minutes alone with my thoughts and nature. What brought me on this random journey today? Was it the weather? Was is the need to reflect?  Was it the built up urge I had to be outside? Was it because I finally felt like I could kind of walk? Was it because I had nothing better to do? Maybe it was because I was seeking something deeper with nature and the natural world, a relationship that needed strength and inspiration. I couldn’t tell you any answers because I do not know myself what exactly happened, but what I could tell you after this time of reflection is what this program has taught me thus far. Regardless of your academic background, where you live, and how much experience you have, you can have a relationship with the natural world. You don’t have to think scientifically or think about literature and art to have a relationship with what is around us now. To me, I think, that is not what it takes. Even though I do believe literature, art, and science is a tool, I believe you don’t need to have those backgrounds or interests to have a relationship with nature. Science, arts, and literature is another way to connect with nature, but to me, I think regardless of your way of thinking and seeing things, it is up to you to strive for that relationship in the natural world. The natural world and nature will accept you regardless of your academics and abilities. Show respect, be in awe, embrace your surroundings. As I sit here thinking about my relationship with the natural world, I believe your relationship begins with a good spot on the ground, on a rock, on the dock, or anywhere that it’s just you and nature. It begins with the idea of embracing what’s around you. It begins with thoughts, questions, and the need for adventure or peace. The relationship begins when you sit, look, listen, and reflect. So I guess my true relationship with nature has just begun.

Kimberly Pikok is from Barrow, Alaska. She is a student at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks where she majors in Wildlife Biology and Conservation. She has participated in multiple Fresh Tracks experiences, including the 2016 pilot.