But I’m a City Kid?

Marion Leary
4 min readSep 25, 2023


Birding in Sault Ste Marie, MI; Hiking in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA; Hammocking in Charlottesville, VA

The nurture part of the “nature vs. nurture” debate postulates that one’s environment and experiences can contribute to a person’s identity as much as one's genes. My environment certainly has. Growing up in the gritty city of Philadelphia has definitely defined who I am — to an extent. For the first part of my life, I often only thought of myself as a “city kid” and, therefore, rarely engaged in the environment outside of the city streets. In fact, when I was in my late teens, I volunteered at a camp in rural New Jersey for kids with HIV/AIDS. The camp director knew that I was so out of my comfort zone, being a city kid, that she decided it would be helpful to play the sounds of the city (traffic and cars beeping) through the speakers on the first night to make me feel more at ease.

Yet, almost 30 years later, it is the experiences with nature that nurture me most. I can’t remember the last time I went on a vacation or a weekend outing that wasn’t designed around connecting with nature, and I am so grateful for that.

Over the years, I have repeatedly been pushed out of my comfort zone. And because I have leaned in, I have been able to explore some of the least popular and populated spots scattered throughout these lands to some of the most. Being deep in a forest or on a remote, isolated beach has allowed me to breathe more deeply and my nervous system to relax more fully, something that isn’t possible in a city (I love cities, but it's true). Something that once scared me, and to a certain extent still does, now draws me to it in a way I didn't think possible before.

Solely by being open to being outside - literally and figuratively — outside in nature and outside of my comfort zone — has allowed me to explore the extremes of nature up close and personal. From witnessing waterfalls so magnificently magical, it is like walking into a CGI’d sci-fi film from another world. To hiking through forests that must literally have been the inspiration for enchanted forests in any number of fairytales. To scampering around places where the geology and rock formations are so unreal that it seems like you have emerged out of a portal onto a different planet. You must connect holistically with these restorative parts of nature to understand their draw.

Lower Falls Creek trail, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA

Experiencing all of this has also led me to appreciate not only nature in a different way but people in a different way. People are just nicer on the trail. I am just nicer on the trail. That is likely associated with the decrease in stress and the number of other humans in my vicinity. As an East coaster living in a major, urban city, I cherish my time away from the masses — more and more, if I am being honest, yet that inner city kid is ever present, uncomfortable the further away from civilization it gets.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, OR

That is why, while hiking, I am oddly comforted when I catch a glimpse of another human an hour or two into a hike. I worry about so many things when out enjoying nature — bears, bees, snakes, injury, illness, getting lost, heat, cold, all of the elements, really. I don’t worry as much in the city, even though the risks are potentially greater. You can take the kid out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the kid!

Though it once seemed like my nature was as just a city kid, the more time I have spent being nurtured by the flora and fauna, bathing in the spirit of forests, and partaking in all the outdoors have to offer has changed me. These places are awe-inspiring and soul-rejuvenating. It always resets what I think I can and can’t do mentally and physically — and who I am as a person. Exhausted but invigorated, pushing myself up hills and through forests and canyons is a feeling better than any I’ve known doing almost anything else. There is no exercise or activity that can compare with that feeling of a big, long, difficult hike or a quiet, meditative walk alone in the woods. Or the rewards that come at the other end, experiences you can only see, smell, hear, and engage with by going a little further and a bit more off the beaten trail, by trekking out of the city and into nature.

Support National Parks: National Park Foundation, National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association



Marion Leary

Science geek. Passionate abt Philly, resuscitation, social media, scicomm, innovation, art, & helping others. http://marionleary.strikingly.com