Emmy-nominated host, producer, writer, and public speaker Baratunde Thurston is back with more outdoor excursions. So get ready for brand new faces, places, and spaces as he charts out new territory for Season 2 of the PBS series ‘America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston.’
In honor of the season premiere, Thurston spoke with BGN about meeting fascinating people and connecting deeply with nature.
You’ve traveled around to many states. Who are some of the most interesting people you’ve met thus far during your travels?
I would say Reverend Antoine Nixon in southeast Georgia is very interesting. This is a brother who grew up right next to the Okefenokee swamp, visited once as a kid, and then forgot about it. He rediscovered it at the Juneteenth celebration a few years ago, learned that the swamp was in danger, and learned how important it is to the lives and livelihood of the people around him. He became a pastor, came back home, and has made it his mission. I think he would say it’s also God’s mission for him to help save the swamp, save creation, and save some of the people in the process.
What types of people do you hope to meet moving forward?
In terms of the America outdoors universe, I want to keep meeting people who are deeply connected to nature and in ways that are beyond expectations of what that connection might look like. I’ve learned that there are folks whose connections have many reasons for it. It can be a family legacy, food, play, joy; it can be therapeutic, and it can heal and help you recover from something. So I would be very glad if I just met more folks like the ones that I’ve already met but different.
Can you tell me a little bit about this upcoming season?
So we are continuing our journey across this country to tell the stories of people with this deep connection to nature. This season what is somewhat different is we have more stories of healing. There is mental health–related healing, physical healing, and there is healing from collective trauma. They’re all under the same umbrella of finding healing through nature. In many cases, we find healing and ourselves by helping nature heal. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s emerged everywhere we’ve been in all six episodes. Also, in this season there are more children, there are animals, and there is more food.
Did you have any interesting learnings or findings during your exploration?
I did. The most interesting learning was a very painful truth about this country’s history. I’m well-versed in America. I’ve been here for many decades and was born here. I was surprised to learn about a very large race massacre that took place in Elaine, Arkansas, I never heard of. So that simple discovery, just learning that was a shock. I was surprised by the people there today, and the leadership there today is dealing with it. I met the mayor of the town where this happened. She’s a descendant of the victims of that massacre. She’s the first Black mayor of the town, the first woman mayor of the town, and she has plans. I met up with her about those plans. This involved the outdoors and people who were biking through a new trail that led to that town stopping, spending their money, and making sure that the beneficiaries of all the economic activity were the same folks who were excluded from all the activities because of that massacre. So I didn’t expect to learn a story of such historical significance.
Did you learn anything new about yourself in the process?
I learned many things about myself. I learned that I missed the connection to nature more than I understood it. In my adult life, I’ve drifted from a lot of time outdoors. I’ve forsaken it for time in front of screens in many cases. The show gave me an excuse to get back out there and explore that connection in so many ways. And so something has been rekindled in me that’s new. I learned that I am pretty good with a shotgun. I really like being inspired by folks who are working through some difficulty and finding a way through it. It just makes me human. I think there are so many stories that I’ve encountered, so many people with stories that gave me hope that we can enter the future better when it comes to climate change and when it comes to racial divisions.
What do you hope that the general public takes away from these outdoor experiences?
I hope that people are moved to find a version of what I get to experience on the show in their own community. I don’t expect everybody to paraglide and horseback ride and freedive and rock climb all in a week. There are moderate and modest ways to access some of what I’m hoping I’m helping unlock. I want to find a version of a connection to the planet that works for you and your community, and nurture that, cultivate that, and grow that.
You’ve visited many riveting spaces like Death Valley, Idaho, and Appalachia. What was one of your most enjoyable places to visit?
There are different reasons for different places. I think the single episode that most captured my imagination and inspiration was Oregon. Oregon was so much. It was emotionally intense. It was physically beautiful. It was almost spiritually aligned in terms of everyone I met there and all the places that I went there. They had something in common even though the spots were super different. Somehow Oregon felt cohesive in a way where I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I definitely want to go back without cameras.
Stay tuned for more outdoor adventures. Season 2 of America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston airs weekly through October 11 on PBS.
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Beverly is a Technical Writer by profession who enjoys all things celebrity news and pop culture.