I never used to think of myself as an “outdoorsy” person. And to an extent, I’m not.

While I’m grateful for the experience of childhood camping trips my parents made us do, I have no interest in repeating them. I love indoor plumbing and electricity and supportive mattresses too much. I’m also afraid of both heights and depths, which takes out a lot of outdoor activity. But two things have changed my mind.

The first is a drag queen on Instagram known as Pattie Gonia (a play on “Patagonia,” the outdoor retailer and a part of South America known for its natural beauty). Pattie takes a lot of selfies hiking in heels, which technically I don’t think you’re supposed to do without a lot of practice first, but she looks amazing. Her aims are twofold: the first, to make environmentalism and appreciation of Mother Nature (aka, “Mother Natch”) glamorous and gay, and second, to make “the outdoors” a friendly, welcoming place for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. Pattie Gonia often points out that you don’t need to buy a ton of equipment and backpack through the wildest national parks to be outdoorsy. If you’re outside, you’re outdoorsy, even if it’s just a gentle amble on the local park trail. Especially if it’s just a gentle amble down the local park trail.

The second thing to change my mind is, of course, my beloved dog Janey. I have come to the conclusion that I am happiest when I am out in the field with Janey. Her presence makes me slow down and pay attention to the wild around me. And she just looks so happy to be outside. I like to let her out the back door and watch her sprint up and down the yard at top speed. I know dogs don’t technically smile, but she definitely looks like she’s smiling. In fact, Janey literally points at things. I had her DNA tested, and she doesn’t have any pointer breed in her, but she aims her nose and cocks her front paw when she sees something exciting (usually a bird or small mammal).

My family has three acres of land in Buxton. It’s not any of the parts of Maine that make the postcards – not the rocky coastline or the mountains or the many beautiful lakes that dot our state. It’s trees, and a field, and some scrubby bits. There is a pond that we have access to, but it’s more like a swamp that got a bit full of itself. But if you look closely, it’s the most beautiful place in the world. Especially at night, when the colors don’t matter and the stars look like a kindergartner spilled a bowl of celestial glitter all over the sky. I can never live in a place where I can’t see stars. Even right now in mud season, when everything is brown and pale green. Just this evening we saw a flock of wild turkeys gobbling by. (One almost got stuck trying to go through a fence. I thought I was going to have to intervene.)

There are three enormous balsam firs marking our property line with the neighbors. While they seem like trees to us, they are clearly the bird equivalent of luxury high-rise condos. Those things are absolutely stuffed with birds – mostly black-capped chickadees, which are, of course, the state bird of Maine. I was watching them fly in and out of the branches while Janey dug a hole approximately the size of a Prius in the soft ground and I found myself thinking that I should get a small pair of binoculars to take on our walks, since my eyesight isn’t all that great. Is this how birders get you?

Speaking of birds, we have a trio of turkey vultures in our neighborhood. I’ve never seen them here before. I wonder if this is a fluke of nature, or a consequence of climate change-driven animal migration. I pondered this after I almost had a heart attack when I saw them swooping over the yard.

Fortunately, they aren’t hunters – they eat carrion. Unfortunately, Janey keeps insisting on rolling in dead stuff and stuff that smells like dead stuff. She’s too big for one vulture to pick up, but three working together could probably manage her. Despite spending her formative years in an urban environment (Tijuana), Janey has the good sense to be scared of the buzzards.

When she first saw them circling over the field, she froze for about fifteen seconds, and then sprinted straight back into the house. She has a surprising amount of common sense; knowing when to make a tactical retreat must have been a valuable survival skill on the streets. Of course, her independent attitude has led us both into trouble. Just this afternoon I pulled a thorn out of my face, since the “Princess of Buxton” decided to chase the scent of groundhog into a raspberry thicket. As much as I like being in nature, I don’t think I want it in me.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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