Written by Anna Shats
Delaware Valley University
The existence of life all around me possesses me towards fascination; when I see something I admire, I cannot sit still. I am constantly aching for movement, for a journey but not necessarily for an end. All my life I’ve had a passion for exploration and for working with my hands, which later evolved into academic pursuits of art and botany. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a need to be connected with the natural world and to share those experiences with others. My life has unfolded from that central theme, and the events that shaped me reinforce my desire to put my hands to the soil and toil. Many events and people have influenced me to follow my current path, but none have been quite as strong as my mother’s influence on me. Her self-confidence and constructive attitude, coupled with her love for creative thinking inspires me to forge my path in accordance with my skills and passions.
My mother had me outside with her at all times since I was very young, and I was proud of my tomboy interests in outdoor activities and exercise, building forts and catching bugs. The act of making something or being able to do something physically is when I feel the most alive, and my mother has always encouraged me to do so. When I was in kindergarten, my mother would sometimes take me to a nearby lake that she liked to paint. I distinctly remember watching how she applied her colors and I would do the same. Even though my paintings ended up being much more abstract, I knew that they delighted her. She would take both of our pictures home to dry and then she would hang them side-by-side on a wall in our apartment and I was immensely proud of myself. I looked forward to going with her and filling another spot on the wall with another painting, letting the wall turn from white to greenish-blue.
My mother was unusual in that she allowed me a great deal of freedom and independence in my daily life. My parents emigrated from the collapsing USSR with me in tow, and so they brought with them a fierce understanding of life’s harshness. They knew that as parents they would pass down their values, yet they wanted me to do well in an environment that was different than their own. Thus, they encouraged me early on to make friends with neighboring kids, so they knew I would fit in and be safe with them. My mother taught me to be patient and to listen and be sensitive to others. She would say that I could discern a person’s character by listening to their words and remembering their actions. She would also say to me that I would attract kind friends because I had a love for life and excitement, and an ability to change things around me.
As the Lady of the House, she maintained one strict rule that I would be home for lunch and most importantly for dinner when my dad would come home. I imagine that this is sort of an outdated, retro concept – that we should all eat together – yet my mum was wise in doing so. She did not hold my hand and guide me through all stages of my life, but she did not leave things to chance either. We would come together, as a family, because we all had things to share as a result of our time apart. We would share stories and listen to one another’s thoughts as my parents did with their parents, and afterwards we would indulge in TV or sometimes go out. Dinnertime was also when our family faced many challenges together, and as I got older this remained a constant source of comfort to me.
The summer before I started elementary school, my parents found a house with a yard that is now their current home. My parents decided to buy that particular house for several reasons, one of which was my mother’s desire to have a large garden like the one her grandparents had back home. In every aspect of her life, she wanted to have more control and more creative influence over her surroundings – a feeling that carried over to me. Over the course of many years, she built up her dream garden from scratch and I picked up many skills whilst working alongside her. Years down the line, when I lived and studied in Philadelphia I found myself feeling strangely out of place. I quickly realized how important it is to have trees and green spaces interspersed throughout – they act as an antidote to helplessness and empower us to view our environment as ever changing, fluid and malleable. Working alongside my mother, I enjoyed the smells of soil and sweat and I even enjoyed pulling weeds or raking leaves. The rewards were plentiful and the work felt good, and my appetite for the outdoors only grew from there.
When I was 13 or so, my mother told me stories of her youth and how she spent her summers hiking through the dense forests that surrounded her grandmother’s village. Her stories were immersive and she had a way of portraying her difficult childhood in a positive light – I felt a sense of secondhand nostalgia, a desire to have those same experiences. With that in mind, I began to wander into the woods beyond our yard until little by little I knew them like the back of my hand. During my first trip down to the creek that bisected that land, I startled a Great Blue Heron that flew overhead and into the trees. It was so close to me that I could hear the whistling of its flight feathers and I saw that it’s wingspan was as wide as I was tall. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to experience more of those moments and that the mystery of that forest had struck me as the forests of my mother’s youth affected her.