Words By: Emily Martin

Photos By: Francois Lebeau

How can we expand the culture of the outdoors to be more inclusive and diverse? How do we create opportunities for people to come to nature as they are? How can we encourage confidence in all individuals that they are welcome without altering core components of themselves? How do we make nature a safe and welcoming space for everyone?

Shelma’s community makes her feel safe. Safe to be not only who she is right now, but to experiment with who she might want to be. Safe to feel free. A deeper connection. A nurtured relationship with nature through increased time outside. Safe to find Outer Peace.

But opening the door to Outer Peace, to reclaiming connection with nature, doesn’t mean shutting the door on other connections. For Shelma, Outer Peace is rooted in community connection. Her passion for the outdoors is tied to the people she shares it with. Being totally present in that space and time. Sharing in the emotion together. Nature wouldn’t be as meaningful without her community.

We depend on this human connection to sustain and uplift us. Just as nature’s ecosystems and organisms depend on each other to survive. We are all intertwined.

Why then are nature and humanity often viewed as separate? A delineation made between the outdoors and our man-made habitats?

To Shelma, our lives don’t exist in silos. Nature, community, society and mental health are all interconnected. And when we visit the areas out of human touch, we receive a gentle reminder that this isn’t a human-centric world. We find true perspective. Easily forgotten when we remain continuously ensconced by people and products of human creation.

Climbing is what connected Shelma to this discovery. The first time she was 600 feet high on a wall in the middle of nowhere was the first time she truly felt a part of the landscape. Instead of driving to sit and view an abstract version of nature from afar, she got outside. She lived it. Breathed it.

Our definition of nature has been defined by what we see in travel brochures, TV shows or adverts. We misguidedly believe that this is the only way to be outside and if we don’t fit this ideal then we don’t dare venture. We remain boxed in by perceptions. We view a David Attenborough narrated version of nature while shying away from embracing it. However, everybody needs the outdoors to be healthy. COVID-19 has taught us that. Our health and wellbeing hinges on being part of the environment around us. Being connected to nature.

But is nature truly accessible to everyone?

Shelma questions how there can be mainstream conversations around access to nature being in jeopardy when there any many people already facing barriers. Race, disabilities, finances, safety. They all play an excluding role and need to be at the forefront of our quest to understanding access.

Shelma believes that nature has the power to enhance different aspects of who we are. When we choose to step away from the pull of society and constant technological stimulation and instead embrace nature’s silence, we feel light. We feel uplifted. We discover how much of our energy is taken up by this stimulation. And we choose to disconnect, while at the same time connecting in a wholly new way. It is in these moments that we can welcome discovery.

Nature also has the power to give and take simultaneously. Fear entangled with freedom. While “being really high on a wall can feel freeing. It can also feel a little bit like a trap because you have to get off the wall at some point.” But it’s this fear that ultimately makes the freedom so much more rewarding. If we push a little harder, climb a little higher, break down a barrier, stretch our limits. That’s where we discover our true strength.

Nature tests us and it also teaches us. The confidence we gain from overcoming our limits transcends into other areas of our lives, empowering us with the knowledge and confidence to go further. A catalyst for us to continue to grow.

A catalyst for us to embrace Outer Peace.