“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” -John Muir
In capturing the essence of nature’s power to heal and restore us, poets have gotten it right for centuries. In the early 1800s, Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; little we see in Nature that is ours…” My two favorite contemporary poets, David Whyte and Mary Oliver, often pen verses that speak to our affinity with and benefit from the natural world. In “How I Go to the Woods”, Oliver ends with the poignant line, “If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.” Similarly, in one of Whyte’s haunting poems, “Sweet Darkness”, he eloquently reflects on the nurturing cloak of nocturnal solitude: “Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love.”
In mid January, I spent a relaxing week in the Smoky Mountains of NC, and returned to Dallas acutely mindful of the rejuvenating and balancing power of the natural world. High places with a natural water source such as a lake, stream, or river routinely evoke in me a calming and peaceful spiritual connection to the world. While in North Carolina, I had the opportunity to witness both sunrise and sunset over the beautiful mountaintops. I hiked to a waterfall one day. I awoke to the silence of the woods each morning—not the absence of sound, but rather the voices of nature. In contrast to the distracting, often annoying din of urban life, the voices of birds, the burbling of the stream, and the peripatetic swirling of mountaintop winds drew me into communion with my surroundings. In the natural world, the sound of silence is potential; it’s pregnant stillness.
Opportunities for both grand and intimate connection were omnipresent. The majestic splendor of sunrise and sunset contrasted with exquisite intimacy in crouching on a forest floor to examine an unfurling newborn fern or marveling at the variegated petals of a delicate wildflower. Witnessing the gentle arrival of dawn each day over treetops evoked the opening line from one of Mary Oliver’s newest poems, “I Wake Close to Morning”: “Why do people keep asking to see God’s identity papers when the darkness opening into morning is more than enough?”
For those of you who need scientific studies beyond your own energized, nurtured, connected feelings when you spend time in nature, check out an article by Jill Suttie, syndicated from Greater Good, “How Nature can make you Kinder and Happier,” which appeared in DailyGood.org on March 20, 2016.
Escaping to wilderness reconnects us with our essence, our hopes, and our dreams. Time in the woods changes perspective by reframing priorities. It serves to place each of us in the grander scheme. And in so doing, it humbles us while simultaneously filling a need to be part of a greater whole.
I recommend some time in the woods—or at least in a quiet spot of nature where you might regain equilibrium and a sense of healthy renewed perspective. Doctor’s orders!
SL Hines, MD