REI Member since: 2015
Favorite activities: Hiking, traveling
As a lifelong city dweller, Simone sees nature all around her. Rooftop gardens, plant conservatories, urban green spaces and trails—so many corners of Chicago are thrumming with natural life, and Simone makes it her mission to explore them. She writes about her “constant search for foliage” and posts photographs on her blog, Darker Than Green. Simone’s stories are about “looking closer, breathing deeper, going slower, and finding constant beauty and value in our surroundings.”
1. Why is “outside” important?
Being outside gives me the opportunity to experience something new, to challenge myself, to interact with the wild and natural world around me, and to expand my perspective of what it means to be alive and part of an interconnected environment. I think nature and the city are very different, but also very similar: They’re both incredibly complex ecosystems where there’s constant competition and cooperation, growth and destruction, expansion and evolution. Being outside helps me to better understand my place in all of this.
2. Who inspires you to get outside? In whom are you fostering a love for the outdoors?
I’m inspired by strong solo female backpackers, thru-hikers and trail leaders. I’m also inspired by urban farmers, front stoop vegetable growers and green-roof gardeners: people creating and maintaining green space in the city. I think getting outside is the important part—not necessarily where or how you do it. In my writing, I try to harness the feelings and thoughts that I experience when I spend time in nature. I hope to foster a deeper appreciation for the outdoors in my readers, especially those who don’t consider themselves “outdoor people.” I’d love to inspire and empower them to rethink their relationship with nature.
3. What is your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?
After living in Chicago for over a decade, last year I finally bit the bullet and decided to invest in a good three-season raincoat. I got a bright red Patagonia Torrentshell jacket that I broke in on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. All the Colorado travel guidebooks said a good rain jacket would be essential during summer hikes in the mountains since rainstorms can pop up at any time. Turns out they were right! When we got to the alpine lake at the end of our trail, the clouds rolled in and my jacket kept me nice and dry.
4. What does being an REI Co-op member mean to you?
REI is more than just a place to buy gear. I love having an REI membership because it allows me access to a variety of amazing excursions. I’ve done a couple of local REI outings and it’s been really fun to get out and see parts of the Midwest I wouldn’t normally have easy access to. I’ve also really enjoyed meeting other REI members on these trips. Everyone is always so interesting and hilarious and open to adventure.
5. What other adventures are on your bucket list?
Singapore and its string of connected public parks has been at the top of my list for a while. I’m pretty obsessed with Australia and its incredible variety of endemic plant life. There are also so many places I’d love to visit here in the United States: all the parks in Utah; Mount Rainier, the Olympic Peninsula and North Cascades in Washington; Waimea Canyon and the Nā Pali Coast on Kauai. The list goes on!
6. What advice do you have for other city-dwellers who want more nature in their lives?
I think the idea that the cities we live in are separate from and not part of nature is incorrect. There is nature everywhere. It may be easy to overlook, especially when we get caught up in the everyday grind of urban life, but things are green and growing all around us, all the time. Lately I’ve started dedicating one day each weekend to local nature exploration. I open my maps app in search of a green spot that I’ve never been to, make my choice, and then spend the day there walking around and taking photos. This is an excellent way to see parts of your city you may not be familiar with, and dedicate some time to being outside and gaining a new perspective. If you’re like me and live in a place with brutal winters, I can’t recommend indoor plant conservatories enough. Being somewhere warm and green, even for just a few hours, is so important in the middle of a freezing, gray February.
7. As a writer, what stories about wild outdoor spaces have inspired or challenged you the most?
I love fiction, but lately I’ve found myself more drawn to ecocritical essays, especially those written by women and people of color. “Desegregating Wilderness,” written by Jourdan Imani Keith and published in Orion magazine, really stands out, and it perfectly articulates many of the themes I grapple with in my own writing. If you’re interested in poetry, I highly recommend Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Camille T. Dungy’s beautiful anthology of nature poems written by African American writers. I’ve definitely been
inspired by some of the most popular nature writers like Gary Snyder and Edward Abbey, but as my reading list grows, I aim to include writers from as many different backgrounds as possible. The land is vast and diverse, and so are we. I want the books and stories I read to reflect that.
Looking for more inspiration? Read other REI Member Portraits here.
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