September Reflection: On Reclaiming Space In Nature

The fall season comes with a slew of transitions. The summer is ending, autumn is here and already stores are filling up the aisles with Halloween alongside Christmas decor. This time of the year flies by which makes it a perfect time to slow all the way down. The one place I know I can find that solace is in nature so when the invitation came to stay in a tiny cabin overlooking what I can only describe as majestic mountains, I jumped on the opportunity.

As someone who loves what they do, I have the tendency to be a workaholic. I’ve had to teach myself to be more mindful of my time and energy. If the workload looks heavy, so will the rest that follows. I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot pour from an empty cup. So, now I rest hard. In a world that is constantly asking me to do more, I am choosing to do less and take it slow. Wild, right?

When I stepped into my tiny cabin to see a cell phone lockbox, I quickly stashed my phone away and went outside to stretch my legs while staring at the mountain that would welcome me each morning.

Prepping for my time off the grid, I made sure to download music to work to and any maps I would need for my hikes. Because aside from sleeping in, meditating, journaling outside, napping and dancing in this tiny cabin – I would be writing my little heart out. This would be the solo work retreat I’ve been daydreaming about. When I’m alone in a space like this, the real work flows through me seamlessly. Out here I feel grounded, safe and willing to go into unknown territory with my work. 

Plus, the mountain views are so damn inspiring I don’t want to blink for fear of missing out. 

Who knew the one place where I would go to reset physically would be where I would find the source for my connection to the spiritual? 

Looking back it makes sense, seeing as I compare every mountain I see to the ones in Peru. I used to think that Peru was the only place where I could connect to Pachamama until I gave the Palisades in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley in New York a good try. 

Grounding Session from Reclama’s Brujas Retreat in 2021 from one of her favorite parks, the Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey. (Photo by Estefany Marlen Gonzaga)

I almost didn’t create Reclama for fear of no one showing up but now 4 years later, I’ve led over 50 hikes, one-day retreats, weekend retreats, grounding sessions, and camping trips and served close to 700 women of color in the tri-state area. After years of covering stories out of the Latinx community, now I get to sit in community with them and help them reclaim their own stories and look to our ancestral and cultural roots as guidance. Given all the BIPOC community has had to endure, it’s easy to forget we are the director, editor and author of every chapter, but the safe spaces we create together out in nature help bring us back to what matters and our connection to it. 

The sacred space is called Reclama (reclaim in Spanish) because the journaling, nature, and community all help me reclaim myself time and time again. It’s a combination of what I’ve learned about the sacred land we occupy in the U.S., my spiritual self-care and the wisdom my Peruvian family has passed down to me about healing ourselves both inside and out. This space was always inside me but it took a solo cross-country roadtrip around the U.S. followed by a trip to Peru to realize that Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color don’t just belong in nature but our presence makes that space better. We don’t just know what we bring to the table, we are the table.

As of yet, Reclama has turned into a community, especially now with our virtual membership where we get together for the New and Full Moon to meditate, journal and heal in community. One perk during the pandemic was leading a virtual journaling session for 3rd and 4th graders. I was able to give teachers a break and got to learn from these fresh minds on the power of nature. Their reaction to the guidance, music and intention was just like adults when they journal – curious and kind. 

I’m grateful that I am surrounded by others in the BIPOC outdoor community space with like-minded missions because there’s strength in numbers. We’re living in a time where too many have lost their connection to Mother Nature and, with climate change at the forefront, it’s time to change that now. While there have been lots of positive changes in the outdoor space, there’s still room to improve. 

If I were given a magic wand whose sole power was to help diversify the outdoors, I would ask for: 

  • Sharing the true stories about the land we occupy and building a better relationship with Native Americans who have taken care of it.
  • Outdoor representation at every level from the new hires at the National Park Service to marketing and media representation in ads, commercials, and content.  
  • Breaking down barriers like access to transportation by creating free or discounted modes of transport like car rentals and such to take people to public spaces all over the city. Meaning making local parks even more accessible, welcoming and help make being outside the norm.
  • Offering Spanish translations that would cater to the second most spoken language in the country and could help bridge the gap between Latinos and the outdoors. Adding culturally relevant history or facts about the location that includes stories from diverse voices. 

Everyone should have the opportunity to feel safe and represented in the outdoors. 

I feel like 9 year old Cindy, who would play outside all day trying to build a treehouse and only go back home to make art and journal would be very happy right now. In fact, this is what I would say to younger Cindy about the work I do now, without giving it all away of course. 

  • 9 year old: Keep working on those things that make you happy…being outside, gathering friends, and, of course, the arts & crafts. It will all lead to where you need to be.  
  • 19 year old: It’s okay that you have no idea what you want to do in college. Writing will be a big part of your life so stay on top of it. Your voice matters and will matter even more later. 
  • 29 year old: You feel like you can’t go at life solo but you totally can. You will get lost on many hikes, travel the world with friends and get your heartbroken –  more than once. But that will all help you build the legacy you’ve always dreamed of. It’s possible and then some.