I grew up on the San Juan Islands in a beachside cottage. We had our own garden, big trees to climb and swing from, flowers and fruit everywhere, and a deck where we could enjoy the sunshine. We moved around as well, but we generally always had outdoor spaces, and the most consecutive time was spent in the cottage, among the lavender bushes and sea breezes. It was heaven for me, and I loved my nature-kissed childhood. Things aren’t quite the same as an adult.
Since moving out, I’ve exclusively lived in apartments. They’re more affordable, and as a writer who is also a full time student, that is extremely crucial for me, as it is for most people. I missed living on the land and having a lot of gardening space (as well as simply having my own yard). As the years have gone on, however, I have learned to incorporate those same, Earth-bound feelings into my apartment life. It took a while, but I’m at a place now where I don’t feel distant from the planet simply because I’m in a third-floor apartment. An apartment isn’t a detachment from the natural world. It’s just a change of living space, and if more people learned how to adopt that mindset, the Earth would feel more accessible to more people. So, here are some practices that I incorporate into my life to retain my bond with the natural world as an apartment dweller:
I keep in mind the geography of where I live
In my current case, that means understanding that while I live in an apartment, I also live in the mountains. I live in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s absolutely jaw-dropping. We so often attach places to assumed living conditions. For example, when I tell people I live in the mountains, they assume I live in a cabin and probably have a Jeep. Life isn’t so stereotypical, so while I live in the middle of beautiful mountains, I also live in an apartment. So I keep that in mind, and embrace it. I learn about the region, the culture, the native plants and animals, and I learn about the Indigenous people of the region (my area happens to be the land of the Yesan). This knowledge helps me feel more connected to the mountains and to the natural landscapes, so that I don’t feel that a change of housing severs my grasp on them. I feel a part of it all.
I explore the natural landscapes around me
Being in the mountains means that I have a lot of insanely great hikes all around me. So I take advantage of that. I go on hikes with my partner when we have free time, but when we have less free time or only an hour, I take lots of walks. I live by a big forest and river, so I take swims in the rivers (when it’s warmer weather) and explore the forest. I like to bring my homework or my book to the river banks, to feel closer to the Earth as I get things done. I take breaks to watch the herons and ducks and turtles play, and being someone who has always felt really tied to water, having my feet dipped in the river as I study helps me feel calm. When I get back to my apartment, I feel refreshed and still connected to the nature around me.
I decorate my apartment with nature
Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of sea glass, shells, stones, crystals, and dried flowers. I’ve always collected those things, so now in my mid-twenties, I have quite a bit. Rather than keeping them in a box, I decorate my apartment with them to feel closer to nature and honor my seaside roots as well. I put jars filled with color-coordinated sea glass all over my apartment. I put shells in shadowboxes and on windowsills, and I have stones and crystals in crystal bowls and my plants. I also have hung up my dried flowers all around the apartment. As a kid, my mom hung up lavender upside down all around our cottage. It made it smell so good, and it’s so nostalgic to me now, so I do the same thing. I also have started making art from things that I forage outside in the forest. I painted a reused glass jug with green, and stuck some forest sticks in the top to make a beautiful, nature sculpture (it looks very “modern cabin in the Pacific Northwest”). I have dried fruit and pine needles, and used twine and sticks to make wall hangings. All around my third floor apartment, there is nature. It smells like flowers and the forest, and the treasures from the sea scattered everywhere help me stay in touch with the ocean. My apartment has become an homage to the natural world, and I love it. I even have started to order in-season bouquets from The Quiet Botanist here on the East Coast, because I love to dry them and put them in vases all around.
I keep the windows open as much as possible
Every morning, I stand by the open window and inhale deeply, and ground myself. I like to close my eyes and feel the forest breezes drift up to the window, and getting in touch with the world as soon as I wake up helps me keep up my relationship with nature. If you had a friend who you never took the time for, you’d never know what was going on with them, and you’d lose the bond. Nature is the same way, so every morning we sort of catch up in this way. I also sleep with the windows open almost every night, no matter the weather outside. If it’s freezing (as it is currently), I pile on the blankets and I make sure I am warm enough, but I still keep it open. I like to feel the breezes on my face, and hear the creek and river babbling right outside. There are a lot of loud birds in the forest, so I also like to listen to them talk to each other as I fall asleep. Having fresh air in my lungs increases my feelings of wellness, but it also decreases the buffer between me and the nature outside. When the windows are open all day, I dress for the weather, and it’s like I’m outside, in my third-floor apartment.
I eat vegan and in season
I am a vegan, which means that I eat food that literally comes from the Earth. Every meal and snack feels like I’m reconnecting with it. I also really try to eat as local and in season as much as possible, though that’s not always accessible for me, living somewhere with cold seasons. I do my best though, and that’s helped me feel connected the planet as well. When I make food in my apartment (and I cook a lot), it feels like I’m honoring the Earth and getting in touch with it.
I spend time on my balcony
Not everyone has a balcony, but we do, and I try to spend as much time as possible out there. I do my virtual classes, read, eat, paint, and do yoga out there when the winds aren’t too strong. It feels good to get some sunshine, and rain, and just enjoy nature. I like to watch the birds and put seeds out for them as well, trying to identify the local bird species as they fly up to me. I also really love to stargaze on the balcony, since there aren’t many lights where we live. It’s so peaceful, and I have always loved learning about the stars. I sometimes put in headphones to listen to music as I do so, but most nights I just like to breathe it all in. It’s so relaxing, that my partner has often found me asleep out there in the middle of the night—once even in the rain. Nature is so soothing, and clearly my body responds to that strongly.
I forage—even if it’s just pine needles from the parking lot
I’m lucky to have nature right outside, but I also gather pine cones and needles from the pine trees that sit along the parking lot. I use them for fire starters when we camp, potpourri, and body care (I check the species of the trees first). I also gather acorns, roses, bark, and certain berries out there. I do get weird looks from people when I’m on the pavement in the parking lot putting pine needles into my basket, but that’s okay. It’s worth it to have bits of nature inside my apartment.
I paint the wild and hang it up
I’m a professional artist, and with the exception of a few pet portrait commissions, I always paint nature as my subject. It’s what I’ve always been drawn to artistically, and it’s relaxing. When I paint for myself, I do that same thing. I paint my favorite places, wild places I’ve traveled to, and the nature around our apartment. I do it on canvas, so that I can then hang it up and decorate our apartment with nature art. It’s not only made our apartment look like a tribute to the wild, but it’s also made it extremely colorful. I love it so much. The process of painting nature also helps me feel connected to it, and appreciate it, so when I do it inside I still feel like I’m tied to the Earth.
I take baths with water from nature
About once a month or so, I like to take a nature bath and do some water magic. That means that I use water that I’ve gathered or infused. Sometimes I use my moon water or sun water, and sometimes I put in some water that I saved from the ocean or the river. I make sure to have containers with me when I go to bodies of water, but when I don’t have anymore of that (which currently, I don’t), I just make moon and sun water. It’s always fascinated me to learn about the phases of the moon and the symbolism, so I especially like to bring that into it. I also like to throw in local blooms and foraged nature things. It helps me feel refreshed and in touch with Earth.
I go earthing
Even if it just means checking the mail barefoot, I try to go earthing everyday when possible. Sometimes I just take my tea outside to the grass near the parking lot and drink it there for a few minutes barefoot, and sometimes I go barefoot into the forest. It depends on how much time I have, but no matter when or how I do it, it helps me feel connected to the Earth.
I watch the sunrise when I can, and the sunset every night
This has been something I’ve tried to do since I was a kid, but in recent years I’ve been more serious about it. Even if it’s just for a few moments, watching the sun and sky helps me ground myself and feel connected the nature. Living on the third floor makes where I live a great spot for it, so I embrace that every day.
I do my best to live as sustainably as possible
This may seem obvious, but living as zero waste and natural as possible has really helped me feel connected the the natural world- even in an apartment. I know I’m helping the planet, but I also know that I’m bonding with it by learning what is good or not good for it. Having an apartment filled with efforts to live in accordance with that helps make nature feel closer.
While all of us in this space would probably love to live in the wilderness, that’s not always accessible for everyone. This doesn’t mean that those who can’t do that are less in touch with the natural world. It just means that we have to bring the natural world to us, rather than the other way around, and that’s just as Earth centered.
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Photo: Emily Degn