I missed my blog update last week. The opportunity to visit a friend presented itself, and I took the chance to travel. We hadn’t seen each other in years and the time to catch up was long overdue, and in the process, I got to see Chattanooga, TN. I had never been there before, and I made some unique observations that I thought I might share this week.

As an Orlando native, I find my connection to nature is often lacking. From my experience, you’re forced to put in a little more effort to find those green and wild spots in Orlando. The closest beach is about an hour away, nature trails are on the outskirts of the Greater Orlando area, and even local parks are quaint amongst the suburbs. I often find myself left wanting. Flatland and excesses of brush between pine and palmetto trees don’t seem to meet my nature needs. And don’t get me started on the mosquitos. But also, don’t get me wrong, Florida has some amazing natural wonders. Beautiful beaches and some with bioluminescent tours are nothing short of fascinating. Long trails take travelers through the wilderness of natural Florida. Even locally, we have sweet spots, like Mead Gardens in Winter Park or Leu Gardens for extensively maintained flora and fauna. Though these places are lovely, they are diamonds in the rough of suburbia, in my opinion.

But I find I am always enthralled with cities I visit that have such a strong connection to the nature around them. I certainly found that in Chattanooga. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by small mountains, the area cooperated with the earth. Houses were built on stilts into the sides of hills, and even the downtown area seemed unimposing on the land around it.

If you’ve been following the weather lately, you might know that Tennessee was in a state of emergency due to excessive rain. Flooding and landslides resulted from day upon day of steady drizzles. It was cold and wet when we arrived, and the city seemed to reflect it. Pedestrians were few and far between, outdoor activities were limited, and indoor attractions were bustling. We visited the aquarium the day after we got there, and it seemed to be bursting at the seams with families escaping the gloomy weather. My husband and I also visited caverns in one of the mountains, which must have still been too damp for the locals, as we were the only two people on the tour.

But we were so fortunate to have sun on the final day of our visit, and the town practically rejoiced. Birds sang louder that morning, light gleamed through trees into open windows, the air was still cool and crisp. We wasted little time before we got out to adventure and we were not the only ones. Even though the hiking trail we visited was still wet and muddy, we joined quite a few other families and groups to hike down to some extraordinary views. I’d imagine the residents had visited the trail before. The path seemed popular and well worn, but that didn’t stop members of the community from making their way out to visit again.

After our hiking excursion, we walked from my friend’s house to the downtown area to grab lunch. The streets were full of fellow pedestrians, walking on a large center bridge across the Tennessee River, dedicated exclusively to foot traffic. We walked right past the aquarium we had visited a few days prior, and it could have been a different location. Where there had been stragglers hurrying to get out of the rain, we found people sitting in the sunlight, some enjoying picnics they brought from home outside, and others wandering local shops and restaurants like us.

It was beautiful to observe the collective emergence of an entire city from its respective cave, and it gave me a lesson in my connection with nature. I don’t need malls or theme parks or money to meet this need, I need time and patience and willingness to look for those tranquil spaces in Orlando. They are here, and waiting, and brimming with life– I only have to find them.

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