“It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hillary”
I’ve walked in nature my entire life. I’ve hiked, and camped in woods, deserts, jungles, alpine mountains, swamps, boreal forests, and caves. I’ve lived, overnight, in snow, thunderstorms, ungodly heat, wind, and cold. Mosquitos have eaten me alive, and bears have walked through my campsite while I lay in my hammock. I’ve been alone for days, with no cell phone service, and I’ve slept surrounded by 100 other people in the trees, each with their own stories.
I must have built a thousand fires, and stared at them for hours, each one like a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’ve laid on my back in a blueberry heath in West Virginia and watched stars frame the Milky Way, on nights so clear and cold that you hold your breath, because you don’t want the condensation of your own breathing to cloud the view.
I’ve also parked the car at a city owned garage in downtown, and walked through the concrete jungle. There are trees there just the same. Snow still falls in cities, and weeds still grow in cracks. The architecture is different, with even the most elaborate buildings paling in comparison to the beauty of a simple cliff face. Although nature is there, and is not nearly the same, it still has its benefits.
I wandered off into the woods, usually alone, quite often before Megan died. I always had a pinch of guilt for doing so. My wife was sitting at home, with a horrible disease and a young daughter, and here I was disconnecting for a day or two to go to nature. She never told me to not go, never actually contributing to this guilt, but it was still there just the same.
The first time I left her for a weekend, I actually had an anxiety attack of sorts. I panicked, not knowing what or how she was doing, and having no phone service to speak of. I cut that weekend short, hiked out a day early, and went home. The only thing that brought me back from a full-blown panic attack was the trees. I sat down, panting, and looked up at the canopy. Somehow, those fluttering leaves calmed me to the point of a meditative state, and I fell asleep on the ground beside the fire, my tent functioning as nothing more than a gear shed that night. Even after my years in the Marine Corps, there were still factors that intimidated me about being in the wilderness, although they may not have been the most common.
Nature does not heal us. It surrounds us, from large alpine valleys to a small weed growing in a sidewalk crack. It is ever and always present, but it does not heal us. What nature does is allows us to heal ourselves. It does not forgive, and it does not bend to our will. You can’t hand a credit card to a tree and ask it to provide shade or shelter you from a thunderstorm. A cold breeze does not care if you are a widow, parent, millionaire, atheist, or christian, it will chill you just the same. In nature…true, wild nature, you are on your own, with your own thoughts.
There is no better place to process your own stresses, ideas, losses, and problems. It challenges us to know ourselves, to know our own capabilities, and to know appreciation for things that were not constructed by humans. Straight lines do not exist in nature, and it is beautiful. Grief does not exist, at least in human form out there. A deer may lose its fawn to a coyote one year, and the very next, it’s having another offspring without any of the triggers, remorse, or worries that we carry. A tree felled by a windstorm cares little about the other trees it takes down with it, and those other trees will simply bend their trunks and roots around obstacles to continue growing.
It is in nature that I find solace, serenity, and contentment, and I want to share this with anyone that feels a need for that. I have always had a desire to shepherd those that are intimidated, depressed, or frankly just confused into the back of beyond to see all of the benefits found from walking through the world. Between my own growth since Megan’s death, Sarah’s encouragement and innate desire to be in nature, and my writing and interacting with other widows, it feels as if the time is quickly approaching that I begin providing my experiences and knowledge to others in more of an official capacity.
Perhaps my calling is not to push people into nature, but rather, to pull them into it with me.