Nature as Healer: Finding Comfort in the Chaos of the Wild
Written by 2020 Grounds Keeper, Ari "Maine" Leach
There are many who would say that being “outdoorsy” isn’t for them. Perhaps the idea of scaling a 5.12 rock face isn’t your idea of a fun weekend getaway. Maybe the thought of hiking endless miles with 30 pounds on your back makes your knees beg for mercy. That’s alright, and for most of the population in fact, quite normal. We seek out our natural experiences, our brushes with nature through less aggressive means, but that doesn’t lessen the impact those experiences have on us and on those around us as a consequence.
Just prior to Christmas of 2019, I found myself at my grandmother’s bedside, holding space along my mother and a close family friend so that my grandmother, the Clan Mother of my tribe, could make her journey from this world to the spirit world. This wasn’t necessarily something that I was prepared for, with the exception that I had recognized that she was old and starting to lose those last few functions that she had held close to her over the past few years.
When you experience significant loss, be it the loss of a strong and resilient family member or any other form of loss, there is a time of grief that naturally follows. For me, that time began prior to my grandmother’s passing, when I noticed, throughout the day of her death, how the world around me seemed to stand still. Not the world I was standing in, but the natural world around me. Birds had disappeared into the forest, lit upon branches and fallen silent. The fox that so frequently visited my mother’s yard was nowhere to be seen. Even the raven with the hole in its wing that flew over every day, croaking its greeting, seemed to be away, waiting.
The moments and days that followed Shining Star’s passing were anything but silent or still. Almost immediately after her death I went outside to try and breathe, something I hadn’t really done in days, not in any depth at least. The sky was on fire, alive with deep hues of pink, orange, auburn red and gold. I stood passive and let the sun wash over me as it dipped behind the trees, setting on the eve of a momentous day for my family.
Weeks later I found myself out on a frigid cold and icy morning, my 35th birthday to be exact, standing at the head of a trail that I had never hiked. I had taken myself to breakfast, sat quietly observing the other diners around me while sipping hot coffee and thinking about nothing in particular. When I headed off onto the trail, it was so cold and windy that I was forced to bundle my head to the point where only my eyes poked through my buff. After 10 minutes of walking, without much notice of anything, I came to a small vista overlooking the river that I live on here in Maine. The water was that shade of cold green-blue that only occurs when you know that 3 seconds of submersion would result in death. It was beautiful and terrifying to stand on that icy ledge overlooking a steep drop into the icy drink.
I turned to move on down the trail and heard a whistling from overhead. I pulled my buff down off my head to get a better look, saw nothing at first, then with a wave of grief that had been building over the past few weeks, fell to my knees as two Bald Eagles, one mature and one immature, danced over my head not 15 feet above me. I was overcome with sadness, loss, and happiness all at once and as the cold wind bit at the tears forming on my cheeks, I felt that the I was being held in some primal form of a cradle, a crib of ice and cold and everlasting comfort that only nature can provide.
I remained on the frozen ground, listening to the talk softly to one another as they moved through the sky and out of sight. When I regained some sense of myself, I stood and sighed aloud, breathing heavily, looking to the pale blue sky. I smiled to myself, to my grandmother, and thanked the Eagles for blessing me with their presence, bringing me back to the place that I’ve always felt the most at home, most comforted in times of struggle.
The rest of my hike was light underfoot, with several bird sightings, a nice downed pine tree providing some fatwood, and even several tracks to follow through the crusty snow. The reminder to look to nature when all else feels to heavy to handle is always there, sometimes we just need a bit of guidance to refocus our eyes and our hearts in order to let nature do the healing.