Northwest Girl Living in a Field of Corn

In mid-August of 2017, I began one of the biggest adventures of IMG_3451my life. I packed everything I possibly could into the back of a 2009 Toyota RAV4 and drove the 2,081 miles from Seattle to my new home in St. Louis, Missouri. The decision to move to St. Louis was an impulsive one (as most of my best decisions are). It took me until halfway through my senior year at Gonzaga University to realize that I wanted to use the knowledge I had gained from my Human Physiology degree to predict outcomes and better understand the “why” behind the healthcare issues that plague our world rather than throwing drugs at every problem. So, in December, I applied to St. Louis University’s MS in Health Data Science program, and before I knew it, I was on my way.

In the midst of all these rash decisions I was making, I experienced another big change. During my second semester of senior year, I decided to take Dr. Henning’s Environmental Ethics course to fulfil my last few philosophy credits. This class changed me. I went in thinking that I cared about the environment, and I came out not being able to separate a single part of my life from my passion to care for the planet. What surprised me the most is that my faith grew a new limb. Some seem to view religion and environmental protection as mutually exclusive values, but my faith was invigorated by this new desire to praise God through respect for His creation.


The summer after I graduated, I lived out my care for the world like I never had before. I took extra time to stare at the mountains, I cried when the smoke from wild fires filled the streets near my home, and I wrote emails to companies (Halo Top) asking them to please use less packaging because I really liked their products and didn’t want to stop using them (or rather, eating them). I only ate meat if it was free range and grass fed and I refused to drive when I didn’t have to, walking all around the city to buy my groceries and taking the bus to my volunteer “job”. I was a new me.

IMG_2978One of my biggest fears moving to St. Louis was that I would stop caring. I had a perception of the Midwest as the center of gas-guzzling, garbage-producing, corporate America, and I didn’t want that to change the new values I had gained. As it turned out, I ended  up loving the Midwest. Sure the mountains weren’t quite as big, and the air wasn’t quite as fresh… But St. Louis had its own special, humble beauty, and each person I met was so nice to me. The love and acceptance I felt as I became a part of the St. Louis community left me feeling like I was in the right place at the right time.


So, my perceptions of the Midwest were a bit off, but my fears were not. I let my care for God’s creation fall by the wayside. Without easy access to a method of composting, I started to produce more trash. Surrounded by midwestern-style food and midwestern-style food-eating friends, I gave up on my grass-fed free-range only diet. And without much access to buses, I drove long distances to grocery shop and visit friends. I didn’t completely stop caring about the planet, but I didn’t go out of my way to treat it well, like I had before.

Last week, my roommate and I went to a “Tap Into Faith” event at a local brewery. An incredible woman with peace sign earrings and naturally grey hair was the speaker that night. She introduced herself as a spiritual director and she said so many wonderful things and gave us the advice we needed to hear. At one point, she mentioned appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation, and immediately I felt a pang of guilt realizing that I had lost this passionate part of me that cared so much for the earth. St. Louis had given me this warm and loving community of friends that were, for once in my life, similar to me. It had given me opportunities left and right to challenge me and grow in my faith. But somehow in the midst of all of that, I had lost that new faith limb.

IMG_3343 (Edited)So now I am faced with a challenge – to stay true to my values even if they don’t fall within the norm. It’s a challenge that feels very familiar, but presents itself in a new and exciting way. I need to re-invigorate my passion and my faith by finding new ways to protect the planet. Whether it’s incorporating my weekly grocery store trip into my long walks or bike rides, doing away with plastic produce bags, or baking my own energy bars to reduce my waste, I will find new ways to invite change in my own life and inspire those around me to do the same.



  1. Love this and love you! Your passion and creativity will move mountains (even in St. Louis!) Do what you do best – to be you in your heart and be true to all you believe in! We are all granted a few deviations, but often those are the ones that provide a real-time perspective. And so happy that you made the trek to your newest home, and find love and support there just as you do at “home”. May the next few years be even more awesome and inspirational!

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  2. As someone from the Midwest, I can absolutely relate to this post. I consider my mom and myself one of the few “hippies” in Illinois. It is definitely a challenge to maintain environmentally friendly habits when surrounded by people that live on a diet of “meat and potatoes” (plus corn!!) and do not care about recycling. Its funny because I moved out west to find my “people” in regards to caring about the environment, but you are able to incorporate that within you daily activities in the Midwest. It is really up to every individual to hold themselves accountable and then, hopefully, inspire others to change their patterns as well. Be careful in Saint Louis – it’s a dangerous city! (But if you haven’t checked out the children’s museum, it is an absolute must see!!)

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  3. Your post was very interesting to read! While I do not have the extra challenge of living in the Midwest, I still found myself relating to the post. I often feel like I need to incorporate my love for the environment in more areas of my life and commit to the things you mentioned: biking longer distances, not using plastic bags, etc. It was interesting to read since I have often thought about the same issues within my daily-life. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Elana: I really related to your post’s overriding theme of attaining, misplacing, and rediscovering your environmental principles. I may not be from the PNW or Midwest (San Diego is home) but I don’t believe location is the common denominator in this story; rather, it is the search for, and struggle to maintain, one’s environmental ethic. I too, am in Professor Henning’s class and am undergoing what seems like a similar transformation. I too, am concerned that once I leave the course, I may revert back into my old, non-ecofriendly habits. I have made some changes to my lifestyle here in Spokane that I am quite happy about. However, living in Los Angeles this summer on a meager income may make my efforts to sustain these changes less fruitful. I have looked at the situation and seen some areas I can maintain my efforts and some that I cannot. I will use your story as motivation and encouragement this summer! I wish you the best of luck in your continued efforts in the Midwest!

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  5. Elena,
    Thank you for sharing your post grad experience and challenges in actively pursuing your self ethic. I think what stood out to me the most is your comment in aligning your spirituality and mentality with the environment – two things salient to your life. The connection encourages the overall strife to better yourself and impact. I find that these two things are incredibly salient to me, and through the Environmental Ethics course I am currently taking as you had, I think I can soon align them to my own life as well. I recognize the difficulty in being an active advocate in communities that don’t quite allow the possibly to do so effortlessly. The best of luck to you and all of us as we continue to cross that hurdle.

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  6. Hi Elena! I really connected with your article, especially with environmental ethics coming from my spiritual/religious background and seeing the Earth as a reflection of God. I also feel the same sense of apathy toward the environment here in Spokane, compared to my hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even though I was unsuccessful in convincing my housemates and landlord that compost would be a worthwhile investment, I’ve tried to make changes in my life to eliminate waste. It was encouraging recently when I saw a Facebook video of four things you can do to eliminate waste and realized I had already done all four (switching to reusable produce bags, makeup wipes, laundry dryer balls, and metal straws). Changing the structural barriers like inaccessible municipal compost and changing people’s hearts and minds are apt long-term goals, but we can always start with ourselves to make and normalize small, sustainable habits that add up to a larger impact.

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  7. Elena,

    As a midwestern (central Illinois) born and raised female, I really connected with your article. I understand the struggle of staying true to your values even when you are in a location that challenges those values. When I was growing up in Illinois we never questioned our actions. Our everyday lives revolved around your own personal wants and pleasures without ever considering the consequences. When I moved to Spokane and started embrassing the culture at GU I realized I wanted to change. I wanted to be a a person who could change their actions to positively affect the earth. It’s hard, I have to stand up for what I believe is right for me, even to friends and family. These friends and family members call me names (jokingly) but act in their own way and I have accepted them for who they are. I just need them to accept me. Keep being true to what you believe and remember we all fall off the horse time to time.

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  8. As a rising senior at Gonzaga, your post made me think about several things. Born and raised in Seattle, I love being constantly surrounded by trees, water, and mountains. Similar to you, I love how environmentally conscious people are there.This post is making me consider how I should open my eyes to the idea of living in other areas that might not be as environmentally conscious. Perhaps it would be a way to spread environmental awareness, just as you are working to bring back an environmental focus into your life and inspire others. I also realize through this post that I do not have an excuse not to be persistent on finding ways to better my own life style. In Dr. Henning’s Environmental Ethics class we recently reflected on our efforts at reducing our carbon footprint. I did not make any improvements in the two month project, and wrote in my reflection that I did not have enough time in college to seriously change habits. Life will always be busy but if I am truly passionate about improving the environment’s health, I will be able to find time to change small habits and when more time is available, I can focus on bigger changes that will impact others as well. Thank you for your inspirational post that made me think about my own life!


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