A wheelchair emerges from a desert rock, surrounded by cactus and pink flowers.
Sand, snow and dirt: Disabled people belong here too
Pieta Bouma takes photos of her empty wheelchair in nature as a reminder that while she's reliant on it, she must also trust nature and the people around her.
Sand, snow and dirt: Disabled people belong here tooPieta Bouma0:00|0:00
Mother nature is the ultimate healing force, the mother of all of us and the cradle of life on this earth. In Aotearoa New Zealand especially, many of us have a strong sense of connection to the land and the environment.
As disabled people, we’re often excluded from the most intrepid ways of accessing nature, a shame as we often need healing from the physical and mental wounds inflicted by living in an inaccessible and demanding world.
My own journey back into nature since paralysing myself 4 years ago has been an act of resilience and resistance that brings out the rebel spirit in me, and feeling immersed in nature's loving embrace always feels like coming home. We are all on our own healing journey, disabled or not, but when your body is medicalised it often feels like the healing journey must take place within clinical, disinfected walls and painful bureaucratic processes. To embrace the dirt and messiness of the natural world heals the soul and the mind, especially when the joy is shared with whānau.
Image description: An empty wheelchair sat on the beach with a yellow kayak in the foreground.
I have started taking photos of my empty wheelchair left behind on a wharf, in a paddock, on the beach or a ski-field to remind myself that as reliant and emotionally attached as I am to my wheelchair, my existence is not tied to it.
My wheelchair feels like an extension of my body, my greatest enabler and a comfort. When I leave it behind and I physically distance myself from that, I surrender myself to trust the people I am with and to the forces of mother nature. It is a spiritual experience that reaffirms a part of me I often also grieve - the part of me that used to be capable of doing these things myself.
I felt particularly empowered seeing a line up of wheelchairs waiting in the snow for their owners to come back from the slopes at the adaptive ski festival at the Remarkables. It felt like a statement - disabled people belong here too.
Leaving my wheelchair while I went out on horseback was a particular gift. To have mobility and (some) autonomy over where I went granted by such a powerful creature reminded me of my own power outside of the wheelchair I rely on.
Image description: Empty wheelchairs in the snow on a ski-field.
I was surprised to find myself in tears at the end of Outward Bound recently when asked to share with our crew what the experience had meant to us as we accepted our badge. I cried as I told them that having all of the difficulties of organising adventures in the outdoors taken care of for me and simply having to show up on the day, I remembered that that was where I belonged.
Above even the deep bonds made, the personal growth and the challenging myself - these kind people and their efforts for inclusivity had reminded me that nature is merciful and where my soul belongs. The tears came from a deep gratitude for the nature that sustains our life here on earth, a deep gratitude for all of the people who will help make it accessible to me and a deep grief for the earth as she suffers through the ongoing environmental crisis.
I remind myself we only protect what we love, and so we must continue to fall in love with nature and borrow from her energy in order to have the energy to fight for her. I would love to remind you all to stay connected to the grounding forces of the trees and the ground beneath us, the sound of the trees in the wind and the changing of the seasons in whichever way feels achievable to you. We all belong in nature and we all have so much to gain from staying connected to it; in fact, the future of all of us relies on it.