Asst. Features Editor
Elena Backus y Herrera holds a spark in her eye, like a small beacon of hope, when she remembers the nature of home.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 drove many behind closed doors, Backus y Herrera embraced the outdoors, amongst the mesquite and open fields of her family’s home in New Mexico.
It was there she spent a year and a half strengthening her bond to the natural world through constant engagement. Perhaps the sun recognized Backus y Herrera from the time she spent basking in it because she shone with radiance; her smile widened as she recalled how, during periods of lockdown, she refused to let even a Zoom display screen keep her soles from the earth. Sometimes, she would find herself going as far as attending class from her backyard, as a prominent inhabitant of the New Mexico plains.
Since Backus y Herrera’s return to L.A. County about three months ago, she has overcome a sort of environmental culture shock. She explained how Southern California harbored a separate environmental arrangement. “You’re congested and around people all the time,” Backus y Herrera’s hands cease their dancing to form stiff blockades, standing like the L.A. city limits as it cages in its people.
Here, it hardly matters to step outside of infrastructure because the concrete jungle lacks the substance of the open air. “You have to drive somewhere to actually get in nature,” lamented Backus y Herrera. Not to mention, the densely populated area forces Backus y Herrera to put her personal safety into larger consideration. After all, she is a young woman.
“It’s hard, being a woman, to go hiking by yourself. It’s a scary world out there, especially if you want to go see the sunset or do something fun like that,” said Backus y Herrera. She could not mask the concern in her voice. Suddenly, the trees, grass, and foliage that she longed for concealed unprecedented danger, and it was clear that nature is still out of reach for many — women in particular. Social factors impose cruel fixations on the consciousness of women that can distort the image of a serene hike into a lonely crime scene, an issue that Backus y Herrera sought to change with the creation of the Wild Women’s Club.
In some ways, Backus y Herrera seeks to return femininity to its rightful place: amidst nature. “It’s ‘Mother Nature.’ We call her that for a reason; everything comes from her. She is the ultimate mother, and I think that’s symbolic of femininity,” said Backus y Herrera. It’s in this way that Backus y Herrera provides women and femmes alike an opportunity to liberate themselves within the open air. “Who doesn’t want to be a wild woman? Let’s go run free in the wilderness together and have fun and be wild,” said Backus y Herrera.
On Wednesday, Sept. 8, the Club held its first meeting on the North Lawn, surrounded by the cedar trees. Women of Whittier College sat cross-legged in a circle, with flora decorated dreams, as they confronted yet another brutal reality of COVID-19. “Unfortunately, off-campus events aren’t allowed due to COVID protocol,” explained Backus y Herrera.
The Wild Women’s Club of Whittier College attends to the innate connections we feel to nature. With the provisions of a safe and energetic environment, women and femmes on campus can pursue mountainous opportunities.