Connecting with Nature

  • By:  Theresa Lynn Walker

Four years ago, Terra Pascarosa found herself at the summit of Mt. Shasta in northern California, a breathtaking 14,179 feet in the sky. As part of her work researching environmental causes of breast cancer, she considers the Climb Against the Odds one of the most rewarding moments of her career in environmental work. Besides raising money for a cause she cared about, she made it to the top and remembers it as a spiritual place. 

“When I felt that sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with my fellow climbers, I knew that I was doing something that made a difference,” Terra said.

Throughout most of her life, Terra has contributed her time and energy to many causes, especially environmental organizations. Currently she’s an active member of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, which strives to build healthy communities and conserve our natural environment. Terra is just one of many women locally and around the world who work hard to make our world a cleaner, safer, more pleasant place. Let’s meet Terra and two other Sierra Club members—Fran Adams and Phyllis Neumann—who serve as an inspiration to the Tidewater community.


Grassroots Level

Terra is the Latin word for “earth,” and Terra Pascarosa lives up to her name. She was raised on a 76-acre farm near Blacksburg, where she constantly spent her days outside. Her parents, devotees of organic foods and products, planted the seeds of environmentalism in Terra during her childhood. Knowing she felt a connection with nature, she moved to Montana for a short time during college to work as a horseback riding guide. While there, she explored many mountains and national parks, deepening her appreciation for the great outdoors.

“Living in Montana was such an amazing experience,” Terra reflected. “It put me even more in tune with nature and with myself, and I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to protecting the earth for years to come. Protecting the environment is truly my passion.” 

Terra has indeed made environmentalism her life’s work. At age 38, she runs her own business, TerraScapes Environmental Consulting. Established in 2009, the firm specializes in environmental advocacy, event planning, eco-consulting, and sustainable landscaping. In addition to managing her business, Terra stays busy with volunteer work through the Sierra Club, where she is on the executive committee. She also devotes time to Lynnhaven River Now in its ongoing effort to clean the Lynnhaven River, and she helps with Grasses for the Masses, an initiative of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that helps reestablish healthy grass populations in the bay.

“Nature is like my church,” Terra explained. “It is a sense of calm and reflection. Being outside inspires me. It’s where I find most of my energy. I cherish the outdoors and want to spend my time helping future generations experience these simple pleasures.”

Her desire to preserve the planet went into overdrive after the birth of her son in 2012. She calls Brady her inspiration. She wants to make sure he is afforded the same opportunities to spend time enjoying nature. They live in the Chick’s Beach area, and one way they bond is doing outside activities together.

“He finds so much energy and excitement in exploring the outdoors,” Terra said. “Having a little one changes how you see the world. It’s like I get to see it all over again through his eyes. He is just everything to me.”

Terra has sometimes thought about moving back west, but she sees such a need for an environmental push in Hampton Roads. Our area is rich with drastically different landscapes, such as beaches, farms, rivers, and swampland. Many in this area live active lifestyles, and if they were informed of the issues, Terra believes more people would get involved in conservation efforts.

“Politically, this is such a conservative state with backwards environmental laws,” Terra said. “For example, it is still illegal to put solar panels on condominiums. There was a law to tax hybrid cars more because they didn’t use as much gas. These laws are major road blocks, and we need more clean energy initiatives across the board.”

Everyone can help in small ways, Terra says, such as recycling and composting in our homes, planting species that are native to this area, and eliminating the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Terra recommends that people buy local and fresh foods to feed their families, which makes an impact economically by allowing us to save money and support small businesses.

“Environmental conservation is about everyone pitching in a little bit every day to make a difference,” Terra said. “People need to know how they can help, which is why information is important. We need to make people more aware at a grassroots level. Everyone may differ a little on the issues, but I think we can all agree that no one wants to see a dirty bay.”


Able To Breathe

Phyllis Neumann works full time as a veterinarian. But her main passion is connecting with nature and conserving the environment. She is a member of both the Sierra Club and the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, or TATC, whose mission is to maintain a section of the Appalachian Trail. Through the TATC, she also does several volunteer projects in state, county, and city parks. 

“The feeling of being outside is like being able to breathe,” Phyllis explained. “When I’m inside, being productive at work or cleaning or whatever it may be, there is always a slight feeling of claustrophobia. I feel restricted. When I get outside, it’s like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. It’s emancipation. I feel free.”

Phyllis grew up outdoors in the rural suburbs of New York. She fondly remembers playing in the woods with her sisters, wandering miles away from her house to explore new areas. She thinks one of the biggest problems the environmental community faces is getting children to be outside more. In a world of ever-growing technology, it is less common now than it was 40 years ago for children to experience nature as Phyllis did. Many activities for children are indoors, such as playing video games or browsing the Internet.

“When I was a kid, you got on your bike and stayed out until the street lights came on,” Phyllis said. “Today, a whole generation is growing up that doesn’t know what it’s like to play outside. To understand why the environment is worth protecting, you should first know how to appreciate it. In trying to promote good conservation principles, we are going to lose a whole generation.”

One thing she admires about the TATC is that they make efforts to teach children about the environment at an early age by piquing their interests with fun, family-oriented activities such as kite-flying sessions or overnight trips to the Outer Banks. By planting seeds through outdoor adventures like these, children will develop a sense of ownership in and responsibility for the environment later in life.

Now, at 55 years old, Phyllis values the chance to give back to the environment that she learned to appreciate as a child. Through the TATC, she also completes several volunteer projects throughout the state each year, such as park and bay cleanups, and attends social functions, hikes, and paddling trips. 

One way she gives back to the TATC is through the annual Chocolate Hike, which she started 12 years ago. It’s a three- to five-mile hike open to the public held every February. 

“Growing up in New York in February, the weather is horrible,” Phyllis said. “It was always a miserable month. In Virginia, it’s a lot better, but sometimes we have dreary days here, too. I wanted to create my own special thing to give back to the club because they had done so much for me.”

She noticed there were no hikes in February and started what originally was intended as a Valentine’s Day hike because the holiday seemed like an opportune time to spend with loved ones. The first year, a few people brought chocolate candy. The next year, Phyllis was inspired to ask everyone to bake something chocolate for the event. Since the first hike in 2002, the event has now turned into something many locals look forward to, with almost 70 hikers in attendance last year. 

“It’s a feeding frenzy,” Phyllis said. “We eat right before the hike starts, and I’m the judge, so I have to taste a little bit of everything. Then we do our hike, and we are eating along the way. It is very light and humorous—always such a good time.”


A Beacon of Change

Fran Adams is a beacon of inspiration for anyone looking to become involved in protecting the environment. At 81, she stays more active than many people much younger than she. Fran has served as secretary for the Sierra Club for the past 30 years.

“The Sierra Club really has two parts to it: the political, activism side and the part that goes out and enjoys the environment,” Fran explained. “I’m more on the enjoying side of things.”

She helps plan social activities within the club and leads group outings. Just last month, Fran and about 15 others visited Fisherman Island on the Eastern Shore to participate in an annual cleanup.  

Fran is also an avid bicyclist, riding around 7,000 miles a year. In 2002, she biked across the country, and she plans to complete her “birthday ride” in Florida later this year, where she will bike 81 miles straight. One of her future goals is to travel to Europe and bike across Germany or France.

“Bike riding for me is a form of meditation,” Fran said. “Sometimes I just want to close my eyes, but that’s not a good idea! I don’t want to zone out, but it would be so easy because I feel so peaceful being outside in the moment.”

Fran describes three different types of bicyclists in the local community. There are competitive racers, long-distance riders, and neighborhood riders. All levels could use one thing—better paths along which to bike. There are not enough safe routes for bikers locally. In many places, there are two-lane roads with heavy traffic and no bike paths or sidewalks in the event one may need to take a break. Fran actively tries to raise awareness for this issue because if more people biked, the air would be less polluted and the air would be cleaner.

“When you are feeling down or even physically ill, biking gives you the motivation to get better and get back out there,” Fran explained. “I can’t imagine not being so active. I guess I’ve always been quite goal-oriented, and my goals now are to protect the world I love so much.”

Terra, Phyllis, and Fran are at three different ages and stages in their lives, but are equally committed to promoting a healthier environment. Their inspiring stories are proof that—no matter what your situation in life—you can help make the world a better, cleaner place to live. 

Theresa Lynn Walker is a graduate of Virginia Wesleyan College. 

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