When was the last time that you went outdoors? Probably not that long ago, right? Let me ask you another question. When was the last time that you shared a moment outdoors with your parents, grandparents, uncles, or aunties?
I love spending time in nature, but sometimes forget that our elder community members share a love for the outdoors too. That is why I am so thankful to work at ECOSS, where we lead in-language, guided nature trips with local immigrant communities.
On a cloudy Monday in late August, my colleague Ernest Mak, the Danny Woo Community Garden manager KaeLi Deng, and I picked up a community van in Skyway, and shuttled eight Chinese elder gardeners to Deception Pass State Park for the day.
As the van slowly drove through the old growth forests and onto the bridge, I asked the group, “Have y’all been here before? They all shook their heads.
The moment we were parked, the aunties made their way to the bridge with such enthusiasm and no fear of heights. After admiring all of the beautiful views from the bridge, it was time for the real deal of the day — the Lighthouse Point Trail, which offered the perfect balance between stunning views of the water and being surrounded by the calming forest.As we wandered among towering trees, I asked the elders whether they had previously had opportunities to go out and explore the surrounding areas near Seattle.
One of them said: “No, I’ve been so busy working for the last 30 years that I’ve been in Seattle, I don’t know how to drive, and my kids are busy with their own work, so no, not really. Now that I’m getting close to retirement, I’ll have more time and would love to explore.”
Her words made me quiet, but loud in my thoughts. These once-young and timid Chinese immigrants, who arrived 30 to 50 years ago, and worked hard their whole life to provide for their families, contributing to the growth of Seattle, were now finally able to slow down and prioritize themselves.
Now, however, they were experiencing new barriers like the lack of public transportation options to nearby nature, a lack of accessible in-language resources about destinations, and the sometimes exclusive atmosphere in the outdoor space.
We rarely associate immigrant elders with outdoor spaces and activities because we are taught to think that such endeavors are too difficult for everyone to participate in, even though that is far from the reality. Regardless of age, people should be able to enjoy nature, and there are always activities in which they could comfortably find pleasure. What’s more, our elders take on those trails with ease, almost like it goes downhill the whole way!
In addition to the barrier created by stereotypes of who goes outdoors, many older immigrants face the challenge of transportation access. Unlike the younger generations or second and third generation immigrants, our elders often didn’t have parents nearby to teach them how to drive. There was no driving school, and by the time they finally got around to learning, they may have felt apprehensive in the face of the unfamiliar. And, in a car-centric environment, the world becomes small.
The use of community van service on our trip was one solution to transportation inequities that elders experience.
ECOSS’ Transit to Nature programming helps to give folks like these elders the opportunity to learn about different options for getting outdoors, choosing their destinations, going together in community, and even learning how to request volunteer drivers.
Three months after our trip, I still remember every part of the trip as if it happened yesterday. The homemade food we shared, the smell of the sea and the wood, the familiar languages spoken, and the laughter surrounding us.
It’s a moment that you can share with your families and community members as well. Take them out when you can, and make the effort to visit them, because deep down, we miss our families and long for close relationships.
One of the elders brought homemade food and fruits along and started asking us all to eat. It felt like I was with my own grandmother. It made me want to go back home to see her and share food.
ECOSS is piloting an outdoor leadership program in 2024. If you have great community connections, and would like to learn more about leading outings, please contact Xiaoxi Liu (she/her/&o), outdoor access program manager at ECOSS, email: [email protected]. ECOSS’ Transit to Nature programming is supported by King County Parks, King County Metro, and The Wilderness Society.