Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Needing Nature


Freezing rain.  Stuck in the house.  Had to get my  nature fix today by enjoying two wonderfully illustrated books that inspire sweet thoughts of spring:  "The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the spirit of the deciduous forest" by Rick Darke, and "Native Plants of the Northeast: A guide for gardening and conservation" by Donald Leopold.  Lots of ideas here for enhancing my own backyard nature preserve.  And just looking at the photos I can smell the woods.

Where comes this craving to be out in the woods in all weathers (except freezing rain)?   It started when I was just a small kid, maybe 8 or 9, growing up in a boatyard on a lake in Michigan, with a dad who had lots of chores for me and who wasn't all that nice about getting me to do them.  But he had taught me how to paddle.  And there was a creek that ran between our lake and another, the banks lined with marshes and forest.  And canoes were there for the taking.  I soon learned that two turns of the creek carried me beyond the sound of my dad shouting about unfinished work.   So the woods and the waterways became my refuge, my place to get lost on purpose.

And so they still are.   For 15 years I worked as a nursing assistant for Hospice, traveling the county to care for people in their own homes, people dying of every illness the human flesh can fail by.  And I couldn't fix it.  Each day I had to walk into the heart of suffering.  And stay there.   Friends asked me, "How can you stand it?"  One way was to go to the river, push off in my little canoe (a 10' Hornbeck  Black Jack, weighing 12 pounds), and as soon as I felt that smooth silken water beneath me and smelled the sweet scent of mossy banks, I sensed that all was well, that all was well indeed.   I felt like I could just lie back in the palm of God's hand, that death and change were just part of the plan, and that all would be well, indeed. 

It's funny.  I thought I'd enjoy such nature magazines as "Outside" and "Backpacker," but when I leafed  through a few issues, I found the articles were mostly about surviving nature -- enduring thousands of mosquito bites, falling off cliffs, freezing in the mountains, struggling across deserts, that sort of thing: Nature as something that had to be challenged or overcome.  
Not for  me. 

3 comments:

Ms. N said...

Congratulations on your recent retirement, Jackie!

NatureGirl said...

It takes a special soul to work Hospice - my hat's off to you.

It's a pity not more people appreciate the healing power of nature. If more people can encounter passages like this, then perhaps more people will learn how important natural areas are.

Dr. Leopold was my dendrology professor at college. I was in his first class as a new prof. at ESF. And now he's published and has a following. How time passes!

corin said...

a definite connection between nature and healing of the mind after doing difficult work. Great post.