My summer vacation for most of my life has involved some time in the mountains of Montana. I can remember as far back as my grade school years that the last few miles, driving up into the mountains to the dude ranch where we stayed, would clear my head in every manner. I could literally feel my spirits lift and my whole being lighten as we drew near to these mountains. And that feeling persists even today, fifty years later, when I drive into my family cabin just over the ridge from that same dude ranch. I need go no further than my front porch, watching and listening to the birds, hearing the creek just below, sometimes seeing deer, or bears, or moose go by. It is rejuvenating.
I’ve heard it said, and given the advice myself to spend time in nature to heal stress and revive energy. It almost seems too easy – take a walk in a park, go play with a dog, take a hike in the mountains, hang out at the beach and collect stones. It seems that many people associate the healing power with the exercise of walking, hiking, etc., but I know it is something much more fundamental: we are creatures of nature, although we do our best to cover up that fact with clocks and calendars and appointments and all the cultural and physical trappings of our lives. But our bodies remember, and as long as we have bodies, we need to remind the rest of ourselves from time to time where they/we come from.
This truth became most real for me as an adult when I started to go on weeklong backpacking trips. Spending more that a day or two at walking speed, getting up when the sun finally peeked into the tent; going to bed when it was too dark to even play cards by candlelight; eating when hunger and a nice place to stop coincided; living with only the bare necessities that we were willing to carry; living as basic a life as practical for spoiled modern folk. Something about this experience would bring me back, time and again, to the knowledge that at the most fundamental level, I am simply another creation of nature who sometimes gets caught up in dramas and tragedies and comedies of jobs and finances and society that gets layered over the top of what I really am on this planet. And what I really am (what any of us really are) is impossible to describe; it can only, in truth, be experienced.
One of my favorite poets, Rainier Maria Rilke, puts it this way in his “Letters to a Young Poet”:
“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can become great and immeasurable. If you will love what seems to be insignificant ….then everything will become easier, more harmonious, and somehow more conciliatory, not for your intellect – that will most likely remain behind, astonished – but for your innermost consciousness, your awakeness, and your inner knowing.”
That awakeness and inner knowing is in this body, this creation of nature. And it is what understands my connection with nature, what is nourished by it, and what keeps me alive, in every sense of the world. When I get home to the city, the healing moments will come when the moon shines in my windows at night, or I look out and see the trees that surround my apartment, or I take a trip to the dog park just to watch and perhaps get jumped on. But for now as for some time in every summer I can remember, I will continue to soak up the healing in the great solitude of the mountains.