Nature is a powerful healing source
As the doldrums of Indiana winter close in, my sixth experience to date, I find it inevitable to reflect on the warmth and liveliness of summer months. Snow is falling as I write this. Snow, which once served as a celebratory event during my time in the Rocky Mountains, an ingredient for outdoor recreation, is now an obstacle that stands in the way of the only egress from my home. I am watching it fall and slowly, quietly blanket all that is dead and dormant, while in the back of my mind summoning the patience that will get me through until spring arrives with all of its excitement. I am reflecting on the events of the year that just passed. I am reflecting on my life. I am reflecting on my time working in the garden at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.
The year 2016 was a bittersweet one for me. It brought with it turmoil and a general awakening of cultural differences exasperated by social media. It brought with it a new leader of the free world resulting in my own fear for this country and human civilization as I’ve known it. It brought with it a collection of deaths of icons that almost seems to be an outlier. And as usual, it brought with it the deaths of millions of individuals as every year does; however, this year in particular, three of those individuals were close to me. Two passed away at the end of a long life, surrounded by loved ones; one passed away in the second decade of life, alone with a needle and a spoon.
During this year, I overcame personal roadblocks that had previously seemed unachievable, and as a result, I gained a refreshing perspective on my life and those who are a part of it. I walked away from a 16-year career of environmental consulting — a move that seemed to shock people with its unpredictability, including myself. I focused my daily efforts on seeking out a higher quality of life. And amidst all of this, I accepted a position at the White Violet Center working in the garden from June until November.
During the summer, while employed at the White Violet Center, my wife and I took our young children of 2- and 4-years-old to see a documentary on the United States of America’s National Parks. The film reminded me that during the conception and subsequent birth of our National Parks, John Muir had urged President Theodore Roosevelt to escape to nature because of its “healing powers.”
The notion of the healing power of nature is something I feel I have always been inherently aware of; however, hearing the quote from John Muir brought this idea to the surface of my thoughts and since then, I have found myself observing nature through this lens. Because I was also consumed with the aforementioned bitter-sweetness of 2016, the timing of this reminder was nothing short of serendipitous.
As I progressed through summer, evaluating my own existence and experiencing a somewhat reawakening of life, I received news of the tragic death I previously mentioned. The news shook me to my core, and has left a wake in my extended family the likes of which I have never seen. In addition to the confusion and sadness of this news, I was also reminded, quite starkly, of my own mortality. As to be expected, I found solace outside in nature.
On one particular day after learning of the tragic death, I spent several hours by myself on Sugar Creek, waving a 5-weight fly rod in the air, casting gaudy creations of hair and feathers and tinsel to macro-habitats where small-mouth bass might be hanging out. Amidst the usual comforts of Sugar Creek — the babble of water, the songs of birds, the wind through the trees, the smell of detritus, the occasional interaction with a fish — I dealt with the loss. Tears, laughter, anger, and my own cognizant observation of nature as a healing power. The notion of this healing power became more evident than ever. It didn’t stop at Sugar Creek. It spilled over into my then daily routine, which involved gardening at the White Violet Center. The idea was omnipresent in my mind as I became intertwined with the garden ecosystem. Tilling, weeding, watering, planting — all of the things necessary to create the most ideal environment for the crops we planned to harvest. These tasks were much more than a means to harvest. They were educational, they served as a distraction from my own pain at times, they allowed me to reflect on my life and the life of loved ones, and they provided a new platform to view nature as a healing power. Whereas immersing myself in nature as an observer proved to be as healing as I had always known it, putting myself directly within the process of seed to harvest offered a new perspective.
On one particular Sunday, I went to the garden to catch up on some tasks that needed completed. It was relatively cool that morning, and very pleasant. A nice reprieve from the summer heat and humidity. I became immersed in the task at hand, which involved tilling the soil within a high tunnel. When I completed the task, I stood back and looked at the freshly tilled soil. It so happened at that moment the bells at St. Mary-of-the-Woods began ringing. They rang everyday when I worked during the week, but this was a new song. I listened in admiration as the bells rang. In addition to the bells, I could hear the sounds of insects and birds, all together making up a cacophony of noise. But the cacophony was composed of a number of individual melodies, all with their own rhythms which were truly quite harmonious. I was overcome with joy and basked in the moment. I found myself so very thankful to be alive, and so very appreciative of my life. It was a climactic event. It was a comforting event. It was during that moment I was again reminded of this healing notion of nature, but also I realized the significance of the role the garden had come to play in all of this.
I enjoyed every day I spent in the garden, even when the heat and humidity pushed the limits of health. There literally were no bad days. Working in the garden was my job, but it truly was so much more than that. I was surrounded by great people, I forged new friendships, I experienced the wisdom of the Sisters of Providence, I experienced the youth of the interns, I got my hands dirty, I helped provide healthy food to others and I spent a lot of time laughing. I contributed to the continuation of a wonderful place, and in return, I received healing. It was in the garden that I dealt with the loss of loved ones, rediscovered the quality of life, and for lack of better terms, recalibrated my soul. I have no question that I will look back and recognize the five months I spent there as a pivotal period in my life. Indeed, nature is a powerful healing force, and the garden at the White Violet Center is undoubtedly a magical place.