MEET: Simone Martin-Newberry
Age / Location / Passion
31 /Chicago, IL / Hiking
Also stoked about?
Camping, kayaking, gardening, generally being outside, social napping aka going to the beach
Favorite place to get outside?
Rocky Mountain National Park was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, but I also love visiting public parks in every city I travel to. Public lands exist in urban environments too, and I try to take advantage of them as often as possible.
Go to Gear?
Hiking sandals changed everything for me. I currently wear Shamma’s and I can barely remember my life before I bought them.
What’s your story?
I was raised in Southern California by my mother, an avid plant lover, indoor gardener, and writer who started teaching me scientific plant names as soon I was old enough to pronounce them. Over time, my interest in the outdoors began to branch off toward hiking, camping, and nature photography; but it all kind of stalled after moving out to Chicago for college. After over a decade here, I began to feel nature-starved.
Fast forward to the fall of 2015: the leaves had started to turn and I felt winter quickly approaching. I usually stiffen up at this time of year, resisting the changes of the season and becoming stagnant until spring. But that year, I felt inspired and I decided to write about the things I was seeing around me, the colors desaturating, the quieting down, the air cooling and picking up speed. I began to realize that nature is everywhere, even in winter, even in the middle of Chicago, a highly urbanized environment. This exercise in observation reignited my relationship with nature and eventually grew into my blog, Darker Than Green.
What’s something coming up this year that you’re stoked about?
I recently got back from a camping trip on Cayo Costa, a nine-mile long island off the west coast of Florida that you can only get to by boat. The plant life is amazing: a beautiful mix of pines, palms, cacti, and mangroves, all growing alongside one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. My favorite moment was standing at the edge of the water late at night, watching pink lightning spark up the sky far out on the horizon.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who care and make strong choices. Most of us are afraid of being earnest or vulnerable, so I feel drawn to people who push through the fear. Solo female thru-hikers. People who are willing to change their lives in order to pursue their goals. Poets, storytellers, artists. Master gardeners who started with empty, barren lots. Kids who love to dance, and are still young enough not to care what they look like when they’re dancing. Mothers (all of them, but especially my own).
What is Darker Than Green? What is it all about?
My website Darker than Green is the home for my essays about nature, all inspired by personal experiences here inside the city, and in spaces more traditionally recognized as ‘the outdoors’. The name Darker than Green represents the fact that my love of plants and nature is central, but that my identity as a black person will always color how I see the world. The name stands as a reminder that when I write about the earth, I’m also writing about my history, my heritage, the people who came before me, and how our relationships with nature go deeper than what may be visible on the surface.
And @unclesweaters, what’s this all about?
@unclesweaters is a crazy holdover name that I’ve had for so long it’s just a part of me now. It’s silly, and a reminder to try not to take social media too seriously.
You describe yourself as a nature lover, urban gardener + black woman. Tell us more.
I am as into gardening as I am into hiking and camping, which I think is rare. There seems to be a division between people who plant seeds and visit botanic gardens and the people who hike and visit national parks. I love it all. And I’m a black woman, which I think might make me a unicorn 🙂
Why is what you’re doing + sharing through Darker Than Green important?
I think it’s important for black people to reinsert themselves into the dialogue about nature and the environment. We’ve been living on and with this land for a long time, but history and generations of environmental injustice have weakened our ties to it. There’s this prevalent belief that nature is out there, far from the city, and that those are the places that are beautiful and worth protecting.
Let me say for the record that I love national parks, I love deep forest trails and snowy mountain peaks and wild natural environments, but I also love cities. I think there’s land and nature right here that should be celebrated and sustained, land where diverse populations are living and breathing every day. By writing my stories, I hope that I’m helping folks reconsider what they think nature is, what their relationship to it is, and what it could be.
When you’re not finding ways to get out + connect with plants and nature, what are you up to?
I’m a graphic designer and illustrator, so I’m usually working on new projects for clients or for myself. I recently started taking a ceramics/wheel throwing class, which is great! It’s not easy, but it’s fun to be in a class of adults who are all ok with not being experts at something. We’re all constantly making mistakes and we’re all ok with making mistakes, which is really refreshing.
What’s something that you’ve learned through a life lived in a city that you think is really important?
Perspective makes all the difference. It’s easy for city-dwellers to feel like we have to travel far to reconnect with the natural world. But I stopped feeling this way when I started actively working to reshape my understanding of what nature is. Now I see it everywhere, all the time, all around me. I still have a (constantly growing) list of new places I want to experience, but being more aware of the nature close to home has helped me see how much change and growth there is everyday here in the city.
What advice would you share with urban dwellers who are interested in connecting more with nature?
Start small. Pay closer attention to what’s growing near you. Learn about the native plants in your area and start looking for them. Change your opinion about weeds. Visit your local parks. Revisit them at different times of the year. Find out how to join a community garden. Put away your phone when you’re riding the bus. Always be looking around you. Keep a journal of what you see.
One Instagram account that you’re crazy about?
@unlikelyhikers reminds me that I’m part of an amazing, growing community of diverse outdoors people. I’m constantly inspired by their photos and stories, which beautifully reinforce the belief that connecting with nature can sound and feel and look so many different ways.
Last meal on earth, what would it be?
Macaroni and cheese, made just like my grandmother used to.
Thanks for sharing your story with us. Keep exploring + inspiring.
Stranded on Land