We’re diving deeper into the national parks with a spotlight on the people who connect with them internally whether that’s through a career, a lifestyle, a passion, or simply being a local.
Hillarie Maddox is a writer and rewilding guide who focuses on helping others ground themselves in nature. She states, “My writing focuses on seeing ourselves as a part of nature, to reduce barriers to accessing it, and removing the separation we make between people and nature. I also focus on the healing (individual and collective) that takes place when we cultivate a deeper connection to nature, particularly for BIPOC people. I am trying to raise my kids with this understanding, as well.”
This is also very important for us at Parks Project. Leading into the summer season, we’d love to re-connect our community with feeling the Earth breathe and taking a moment to understand alongside Hillarie what it means to connect with mother nature, as a community, and also, with our next generation. If you’re in the Washington area you may be able to sign up for one of her outdoor experiences to connect with nature on a deeper level. Check out her website and Instagram for more information.
In 2020, Hillarie left the city with her family to move to an island off the coast of Washington where she has spent time learning how to further connect with the environment around her. A lot can come up in the conversation of change here like our connection to nature and living off the grid. For Hillarie, there's a focus on connecting our children to nature and creating this open space for comfort when we put our hands in the dirt. Let’s get into it...
Q: When leaving the city and moving to a nature focused area amidst the pandemic, trusting in your path, and moving away from your roots, what was your biggest fear and how have you turned that fear into reason?
A: At first, I feared stepping away from the comforts of city life and everything that I thought made my life good. I had an impressive career, enjoyed eating at the latest and greatest restaurants, and indulged in endless same-day shipping. I thought the comforts defined me and I had a hard time seeing who I was without them.
After (slowly) learning to make do with a simple life, I realized that my true fear was shedding an old identity that was really quite superficial. Nature became a mentor and a mirror reflecting back to me all the ways that I was living out of alignment with my values. She was teaching the truth about myself and my place in the world.
I now have a very personal relationship with Mama Nature that has brought me a new level of peace and clarity about my life. She has challenged me to redefine myself and my success on my own terms. She has helped me embrace my true vision and voice, and now I encourage others to find their nature in order to do the same.
Q: In what way did nature inspire this change in your life?
A: Nature has completely changed the way I live and how I prioritize my life. Here are just a few ways:
Taking personal responsibility: Country living has made visible the life-sustaining processes that were invisible in the city. Our water comes from a well that is replenished with rain, our waste goes into a septic system under our front garden, and we have to do all of our own composting and recycling. It has made me extremely aware that everything is connected and that my actions absolutely do matter.
Reclaiming earth wisdom with my kids: As a descendant of farmers and enslaved people, I grieve the wisdom I’ve lost in pursuit of our modern lifestyles. I decided to homeschool my kids through nature-based learning so they grow up knowing how to be stewards of this place. I want them to respect this earth and know that it can provide everything we need if we are willing to be collaborators.
Moving from sustainability to regenerative living: In my past life, I tried to live “sustainably” by buying certain products. Now I understand that sustainability is not enough because it is still rooted in consumption. Now, I focus on a regenerative lifestyle that prioritizes making do with what I have, borrowing from friends / neighbors, or doing without something all together.
Q: Would you be able to give some insight on the experiences you host for folks to inspire them to get outside and connect with nature? In what way can we continue to spread your message?
A: Mama Nature became a space for deep healing for me when I realized how much she showered me in love for being my fullest self—and she asked nothing of me. I created Rewilding Experiences for other women of color who rarely have safe spaces to experience this kind of unconditional love and acceptance.
Experiences are based in beautiful PNW settings and use the wisdom of nature to guide us back home to ourselves through gentle yoga, sound baths, meditation, and discussion. I am currently creating an online Rewilding Experience to invite more people to reconnect with nature in everyday ways.
Q: As a parent, what’s a tip for folks on connecting your child to the outdoors at a young age? How do you see the next generation growing alongside this idea?
A: Lean into your kiddo’s natural curiosity and move at their pace. We live in a world that often sees nature as something to fear and avoid. When we allow our kids to lead and ask questions, we can all discover the forgotten beauty that is all around us. If we can encourage that sense of wonder, I believe we will have a generation of children who can see beyond the fear and embrace the limitless creative potential of our own nature.
Q: What have been some of your favorite activities to help drive a purpose for grounding yourself in nature?
A: Gardening and forest walks always give me new perspectives and ground me in the moment. Gardening is a collaborative process where I get to co-create with Mama Nature. Sometimes it goes well and other times a “failure” is a gentle reminder that there is no such thing as perfection.
Forest walks are moments of pure wonder where I get to observe nature doing her thing throughout the seasons—and she always has something surprising to share. I love learning to appreciate the subtle changes and seeing patterns emerge over different spans of time.
Q: What was your initial connection to the outdoor space and where is it that you feel the most joy?
A: When we first moved out here, I didn’t want to be outside because it felt uncomfortable and overwhelming. But one spring morning, the sun burst through the clouds and there was a halo of bird song all around. It was this undeniable feeling of love and belonging that I will never forget.
Now I feel that same joy when I am out in my garden and the birds come in close to me because they trust me. I am just as much a part of their world as they are mine, and that brings me so much joy.
Q: Do you have a favorite national park? If so, which one and why?
A: My favorite experience was at Glacier Park. I will never forget driving up Going-to-the-Sun Road and feeling like we were in such a sacred place. Everything felt big, but it also felt like we were being held by it all. Touching the Weeping Wall with my kiddo was so special, and it reminded me that our emotions are reflections of the natural world around us.
Q: In what way does our mission of ‘leaving it better than you found it’ play a role in your life? What are the best ways to turn this from a reminder to a natural action in our every day?
A: This is a daily and lifelong practice for me after realizing that I was taking so much from the earth without giving anything in return. When I realized the damage that comes from this mentality, I can’t help but feel a deep obligation to contribute beauty through my actions. I create beauty when I add to my compost, tend to my garden, and when I treat other people with kindness and love. After all, we are nature, too.