On Where To Belong...

Much of my life I have been anxious about where I belong. Not within society, but in a very literal sense. Geographically, I’ve always wanted to be close to nature. In the sea, mountains or even desert, nothing could touch me but grace + something much larger, much more unfathomable, than me. Rather than idolize celebrated people like actors or models, I took solace in reading about seekers + adventurers like Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams and Thoreau. No one in our modern, insatiable world filled with instant gratification could hold a candle to their purest of desires. In college, Chris McCandless sat in front of his “Magic Bus” as the background of my laptop, and despite his unfortunate demise I somehow thought he had it all right by getting out into the wild + casting societal norms to the wind.


As my awareness about my vision-loss became more keen, I found myself painfully sad that I wouldn't be like my heroes. Even in tears because all I wanted was to go into the forest, survive on my own, pitch a tent in the dark + look up at stars I knew I could not see. Forget the the need to drive or move in the dark. Hiking in the day, with magnified glare, many roots + rocks to trip on, is often risky. How could I possibly be a Thoreau? Yet I'd continue to read his words with twinkling eyes + a pounding heart.


But as my awareness about my vision loss became more keen, I found myself sad that I couldn’t be an adventurer like my heros. Sometimes even in tears because all I wanted to do was walk off into the forest and survive on my own, pitching a tent in the dark and looking up at stars I knew I couldn't see. The need to be self-sufficient boiled up in me at all times, and it would overflow with a sudden rush of emotion. In the back of my mind I knew I could never live this way. I couldn’t drive, and always needed company in the dark. Hiking in the day, with magnified glare and many roots and rocks to stumble upon, was even a risky activity to do alone. One summer in college I tried to live at my then-boyfriend’s house in rural Vermont. It wasn’t long until I began to feel trapped after dark. Even though he was around to drive, there was something about knowing that I couldn’t do it myself that rode me up the wall. I have always been fiercely independent and opinionated and, I’ll admit, stubborn. So when I couldn’t step out the front door without stepping into a black abyss, I had to get out of dodge. But it made me sad. I wanted to pick berries and build bonfires every day. I wanted to crunch through leaves and discover lost cabins and watering holes. I’ll never really know if I crave solitude in nature the way I think I do, or if I crave it only because it’s the greener grass I cannot reach on my own. As a reaction to my summer in Vermont, the following year I took great academic interest in urban planning, with an emphasis on transportation. (insert from essay) It doesn’t take a genius to see that I was so fed up with not being able to transport myself from one place to another, that when I learned how much our towns and cities were designed with no consideration for people like myself and, of course, handicapped individuals, I got involved in an on-campus plan for mobility, and after school went onto work for both private and non-for-profit groups seeking to make streets safer and more accessible for all, especially those on foot or bike. In the years that followed I made it a point to work within walking or biking distance from where I lived, in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont, Socially, I accredited my opting for bicycle over car to the environmentalist in me. But I came to discover that the City posed an equal number of threats to me as any rural setting. While I wasn’t as trapped, I was in a constantly heightened state of stress. There were too many people to bump into and things to trip over. Too many dogs, garbage bags, kids running around and rushed people who don’t care when you say “sorry” after stepping on their toes. I had this rude awakening when I was rushing to catch my bus after work one day and caught the edge of an open cellar door, causing me to fall into it and create a gash in my hip. I got myself out of the cellar opening and didn’t feel the pain at first because I was so fixed on the sting of embarrassment. You’d think after falling in front of hundreds of people by this point in my life that I’d be accustomed to a certain level of bashful unease, but the eyes of people who don’t know my story speak new words with each instance. Is she drunk? Is she stupid? What’s her problem?


I'll never know if my desire for a naturalist life is part of my true nature, or if it's just another piece of the internal battle I have with independence. Is it the self-sufficiency I crave just fighting against what's possible + what isn't? As is my typical response : "who's to say?" It's not a question with an answer, not a story with an ending. So I'll keep wondering + picking up sticks to build my house in the woods someday.


(This post is expanded upon an Instagram post from April 21, 2017. Follow me on Instagram at @martelcatalano)

Martel Catalano