By Fonda Williams, Greenhouse Program alumna; Stacey Vigallon, Director of Environmental Education

Our guest author for this issue’s Interpreting Nature column is Fonda Williams. Fonda is a Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program pioneer: she was one of our very first interns (2008-2009 school year) and completed her research on prickly pear cactus at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park before it was even officially open to the public. She is an avid reader and writer as well as a supporter of urban nature. In the paragraphs below, Fonda reviews J. Drew Lanham’s 2016 memoir, The Home Place, through the lens of her experience growing up in Los Angeles.

Fonda Williams Greenhouse Intern 2008 2008

Fonda Williams at work as a Greenhouse Intern during the 2008-2009 school year.

I never felt as if it was normal for a black kid to be a nature explorer. I was born into concrete and rubble, this seeming to be my only environmental experience and contact. But as I came of age, I was exposed to more than my inner city expectations. I learned there were more species of birds than gulls and pigeons and that I can either be destructive or supportive of the ecosystem that surrounded me. I was one of few able to knock down the concrete barrier that stopped me from developing a mutually beneficial relationship with Mother Nature. Although reactions will differ based on the reader, I am only disclosing my own interaction with this book. Even with my own slight inclination to nature, this memoir overwhelms my senses. The Home Place, by J. Drew Lanham, is a touching, provoking, overwhelming, and uncomfortably honest love affair of a person of color with nature.

Fonda Williams GreenhouseProgram Alumna reviews TheHomePlace interpretingnature book web

Greenhouse Program alumna, Fonda Williams reviews The Home Place, by J. Drew Lanham (2016).

“But that first place I knew as home will always be locked within (pg. 33).” This statement resonates as the memoir portrays the uncommon relationship of a black man with nature, an ideal that can be extended to any person of color. To nurture a love with nature as a black person can possibly ferment a feeling of misplacement, not the love itself, but proclaiming it as a part of the black identity. Stereotypically, when the idea of nature is brought up it isn’t typically perceived with the image of a black person, and even more rare, a black man. So begins the journey of understanding how a young black child grew to love all that Mother Earth has to offer.

Eloquently written with heavy metaphorical depictions of the outdoors, Mr. Lanham’s writing is a lovely, mapped discovery of the author’s world and a display of his connection with it. The reader synchronizes with the author’s internal compass in an elaborate and entertaining direction to understanding Mr. Lanham’s found love of the great outdoors. It’s a good read for both novices and veterans of nature, just keep Google at hand as you will be researching the grand references to geology, geography, zoology, and more in the book. It is a thrilling time lapse of technology, nature, and mankind from the colorful perspective of the writer’s life. I’d suggest it for lovers of both words and nature.

Mr. Lanham creates a familiarity with a community that may feel out of place for being a lover of nature. The fact that the writer introduced this reading as a love “affair” gives insight into his own personal belief that the black person and nature are not an incompatible fit. I believe this is the writer’s attempt to reach out to a particular group of people of color who may be shunning their passion for nature because of a societal stereotype. He is addressing the issue to give it a platform in an effort to show others that they are not the only nature lovers out there that come from a particular background. As the author intertwines his upbringing with the presentation, introductions, and intimacy of being with nature he allows his readers to pushes for self-acceptance.

That push for self-acceptance allows people of color to feel more confident in their pursuit of the love of nature. And, with this comes the environmental knowledge and moral responsibility that Mother Earth so desperately needs in this current time period. From my personal experience, it is not that people of color are not interested in the environment, but that they feel that to do so would out cast them from the general public they live within. But, to love nature is not something to be shunned or stereotyped or to be enjoyed by a just particular group over the other. Lack of introduction and understanding is a big hindrance in a developing a relationship between nature and people of color. That is what Mr. Lanham seems to be set out to do: to introduce his own relationship, create familiarity with his target audience, and attempt to get them to understand that a love with nature is a fundamental discovery of oneself.