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Voices of L.A. Nature: Mari Moreno

Welcome to our new series, "Voices of L.A. Nature," where we'll hear stories from a diverse range of Angelenos about their relationships with nature in L.A.

Mari Moreno sitting on a rock in the hills over Los Angeles

Welcome to our new series, "Voices of L.A. Nature," where we'll hear stories from a diverse range of Angelenos about their relationships with nature in L.A. This month we're celebrating LGBTQ Heritage month, with three interviews from the community. Stay tuned throughout the year, for more Voices of L.A. Nature!

Mari Moreno has a deep, personal connection to nature. They rate themself a 10/10 on the, "I love nature scale!" Mari was born and grew up here in Los Angeles. Keep reading to find out more about their relationship to, and adventures through the amazing nature of L.A.!

How has your love of nature changed over time?

It increases daily, I fall more and more in love with Nature each day and moment. I feel as if it is a constant awareness that needs to be nurtured.

Mari Moreno at the beach
Mari Moreno communing with the ocean at the beach.
Mari Moreno

Can you tell us a little bit about your job/career?

My background includes master level training in Social Work. I graduated with a concentration in working with older adults and their families. I am currently closing up a 6 month break and have been focusing on inward and outward exploration. My next work will be focused on providing support to people who are actively dying and their loved ones. My practice will consist of my social work training and experience and spiritual practices I have been learning.

Do you incorporate nature into your daily life? In what ways/why?

Yes. I usually take a daily morning walk with my dog, hike as often as possible, visit water as often as possible and pray outside every morning at home.

Can you share a memory/story of where and how you played as a kid?

I have a huge family with many cousins. We all grew up together and would play outdoors at either of my grandmothers’ homes. One of my fondest memories is playing baseball at my childhood home at a family party. The land there is home to many horses and animals, so the land is relatively large. Not as large as a baseball field by any means, but large enough to use to hit a ball lightly and run some bases. One of the bases was marked at one of my favorite trees that continues to be at the house and produces olives. I can still feel the happiness I felt being with everyone and running the bases, with the sun shining down upon us. We all played, the adults, the kids and others watched us and laughed with us. I just remember being so happy at that moment. I must have been about 8 or 9.

Did you grow up in Los Angeles?

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Sylmar, CA. My childhood home remains in Sylmar. My grandparents homes were in Northridge and San Fernando. I spent a lot of time at all these homes because we are very family oriented. I now live in Highland Park.

What nature places did you explore/experience as a kid in L.A.?

I grew up going to the beach, but mainly just being outdoors where I grew up consisted of a lot of grassy areas to run around. I would go to summer camps for a few years, and here we would go to different beaches and Castaic Lake often. My paternal grandmother would take us to San Fernando Park often as well. Both my grandmothers grew many plants, flowers and trees, so my love for all of these was nourished there.

What were some of the first nature spaces you explored when you got to Highland Park?

Ernest E. Debs Park. Debs provides a place where I can run to if my heart is overwhelmed. I also have precious moments with some of my closest friends there. We walk, hike and share some of our most intimate moments, troubles, successes with each other there. 

Datura plant in bloom
Datura plant about to bloom
Mari Moreno

How have your perceptions of Los Angeles nature changed?

At first, I definitely was not as aware and in communion, and in love, as I am with nature then as I am now. I was younger, started undergrad at CSULA, very into the queer party scene and I probably didn’t know much about LA nature. Now however, I still become so surprised, mesmerized and in love with the nature here. All I have to do is open my eyes and heart here daily and I see that I am surrounded by many trees, birds, insects, flowers, plants, where I live, and I am situated off the 210, 134 and going into the mountains is only about 10-20 minutes away. LA also has numerous parks to explore, sit at and walk around.

What is your favorite nature space to visit in L.A.? What do you do there, and why do you go?

This is a hard one to answer. I continue to love Debs Park and continue to explore the San Gabriel trails around me. I feel Switzer Falls is taking up a lot of space in my heart right now. It is located off the Angeles Crest Highway. I love the beaches and any bodies of water as well. My favorite beach is Ventura, however this is outside LA County, but not too far out. I love to hike and explore, I speak with the trees, the flowers, birds, all that is alive. I express gratitude to everything. I go to get away from the static and energy of the city. I go to be with myself and nature usually. Sometimes I go with others, but usually I go alone. It is a time to speak with Mother Earth, Creator and ask questions and for guidance. I go to these places, into Nature to regain homeostasis. A lot of the times, it changes my homeostasis and carves out new streams within my heart and consciousness.

Mari Moreno by the water
Courtesy of Mari Moreno

The main reason for (Debs Park) being my favorite place is due to the convenient location of the park. It is so close to home and the city, yet once I go deeper in, the city's energy, the noise is gone. I feel a separation between the outside world and can commune with the trees, with the birds flying above me, the small lake that is passed along the trails. The lake reflects all the trees surrounding it and it is one of the most beautiful optical illusions I have experienced. I have had sacred time alone sitting in front of the lake, while my back faces the city. I have experienced sacred time with a few others, one person being one of the most influential people in my life, who has taught me so much of the medicine of the water. 

The lake reflects whatever moment I am in when I am around it. 

The birds I usually see are crows and falcons roaming over, sharing their medicine. 

After the heavy rainy season we just experienced, the wild flowers were so abundant, so tall and bright, it was like a new place, with new medicine to offer, it was enchanting. 

There is a large grass park area there before the trail off of Monterey Rd. The areas can be used for picnics, grounding with my shoes off.  I even attended a previous professional training there. I even had a shared birthday party about 6 years back. We were honored with mariachis passing through, broke open a pinata, and shared a beautiful time, with some of my favorite people. 

I cannot name all the beautiful trees, flowers, bushes, birds and other animals that live at Debs, but I can describe the comfort I feel when I walk through its different trails. Oh, I did actually see a bobcat there one day as I drove up to the hill. It stayed by my car for a good few minutes, I told it that I loved it and that I was grateful for its presence. A car started rolling up behind mine and the bobcat took off. That was one of the many great experiences at Debs Park. 

It has gotten more crowded since there has been a huge influx of new people moving into Highland Park and the surrounding area. It used to upset me. Now, I try my best to consider that they too are present to enjoy all that Mother Earth has allowed us to receive. 

Now I go with an open heart, I pray, I offer tobacco and continue to enjoy one of my favorite places in Nature, in LA. The medicine of Debs keeps me going in the concrete and noise that fills LA. I am forever grateful for it.

What is your favorite plant/animal/fungus/slime mold/other organism in Los Angeles?

I love all flowers and weed flowers, trees own my heart. I am not well versed on the names of all that is alive, but seeing and experiencing flowers and trees fills my heart up like nothing else.

Do you have a funny story about a nature experience you had in L.A.?

I was hiking on park of the Gabrielino Trail by JPL one day. I heard an animal in the bushes walking parallel with me. I never saw what it was and actually got too scared to continue, so I turned around and headed back. Despite being scared at the time and wanting to go on, I can laugh at the experience now.

Mari Moreno in the woods
photo: Nyrie Gharibian

How do you think we can make access to nature in LA more accessible for everyone? What are some of the biggest barriers?

Providing more information, more images to create more awareness of the beauty and benefits of being in nature. I believe we have to continue to uncover and decolonize and separate from the capitalistic mind frame that does not promote more leisure time, spirituality and access to nature. Nature is everywhere, even in the deep concrete jungles of LA there is the existence of nature; trees, insects, birds, animals, plants and weeds growing through the concrete. Indigenous peoples of this land knew about all the benefits of nature. My ancestors, and all peoples’ ancestors had much deeper and daily relationships with nature than what is practiced now. More access could include funding in schools to incorporate more play and learning in nature, and funding for field trips. Especially for the underserved communities where access can be much less due to location and exposure.

Follow Mari on Instagram: @marimoreliving