Into the wild

Human Nature

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I can’t believe I’m a senior in college already.

It’s shocking and terrifying and exhausting but exciting to think about, and I usually just try to avoid thinking about it altogether.

I came to UC Berkeley as a scared 18-year-old, a declared molecular environmental biology major. Today, I am a scared 21-year-old, and I’m almost done with my degree — yet I still have no clue what the future will hold.

Maybe I should have “shopped around” a bit more in the major department. I didn’t waver from environmental biology, and I kind of regret not trying more new things earlier on during my time in college.

I initially chose my major because I like learning about the environment and I like animals, and I have genuinely enjoyed most of the classes that I have taken. However, it’s a very general major, and I’m struggling to feel focused. Even after three years, I don’t know what my concentration, or area of interest, will be yet.

In many ways, I feel no closer to materializing my childhood aspirations than I did prior to starting college. I thought I would have a plan at this point: a set of concrete, achievable steps I could take to actualize my dreams of becoming a wildlife conservationist.

At the same time, though, I have a tendency to fixate on the distant future and not give the present — or the near future — enough credit. I am grateful to have one more year in college, and I hope to learn a lot in the two semesters I have left.

But I also can’t help looking back. The spring semester of my freshman year is probably my favorite semester to date: I felt secure and happy in the few close friendships I had made the previous semester, I was taking an exciting class on insects and it was my first spring in the Bay Area. I felt content knowing that I was just starting out at UC Berkeley and that, by virtue of being a freshman, I wasn’t expected to know anything about the future.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. After freshman year, it sometimes felt like I was being moved along, numb to the fleeting immensity of the experiences I was having because of the constant stream of pressure, stress and exhaustion. Some of those feelings remain, especially as the future that once seemed so distant just a few years ago is now just a couple of seasons away.

But maybe I’m being overly dramatic.

After all, when does anyone know where life is going to take them next? Why does the end of college scare me so much?

Maybe it’s because I fear the gaping emptiness and loneliness that I associate with post-college life. How will I make friends? I am already pretty bad at it. How will I support myself? I am pretty bad at that, too. How will I find a sense of stability and belonging when the structure of college life is forever ripped away?

OK, now I am really being dramatic.

But, in any case, the truth remains: I was scared to start college, and now I am scared to leave it. I am scared to attempt to navigate adulthood and the murky waters of job listservs, networking (what even is networking?) and interviews. I am scared to start the final act of growing up, laying down baby roots, planting seeds in unknown grounds.

I desperately want to orient myself well and put myself on the right path. But maybe all of this fear and uncertainty is just a sign that I need to go for a walk — the literal kind that physically forces me into the outdoors and reminds me of just how tiny and insignificant (in a good way) my life is compared to the enormity of the Earth.

Sometimes when I go for a walk on the Fire Trails behind Memorial Stadium, I’m able to see just how small the city is. The Campanile is reduced to the size of a Q-tip, and all of campus seems so tucked away, a tiny cluster of buildings set beneath the hazy, foggy horizon of the Bay.

These walks help ground me in reality and remind me of the present, and as the future looms closer and closer, I have enjoyed intentionally moving more slowly through the world around me.

Going outside in any capacity — for a walk through the neighborhood, a quick scuttle between classes, a hike, a camping trip — gets me out of my own head. It helps me process things that I feel confused or scared about, allowing me to see things that I otherwise wouldn’t. And realizing that nature will always be there, at least to some extent no matter where I go, is deeply comforting.

Despite everything, I don’t regret my major, and I look forward to all that I hope to learn and experience during the course of my last year at UC Berkeley. I have loved and always will love learning about the other animals and the natural world around me.

And I know with certainty that I will always love nature and all of the critters and contentment I find in it. Nature is one thing in my life that I can say will stay with me forever, long after I’ve put down roots and progressed down my chosen path. And for that I am grateful.

Lia Keener writes the Thursday column on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.