“Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still.”
Today, Megs and I went out into the Hundred Acre Park by the IMA to hike a bit and gather nettle. When Tim and Megan took me out there for the first time a few weeks ago we encountered huge swaths of the green, stinging plant which I avoided at all costs, because, as everyone knows, stinging nettle stings. And burns. And itches. Much to my stupefaction, Megan informed me that nettle has amazing health properties and can be made into tea, soups, tinctures, and creams. Who knew? Not me!
While we were hiking around the pond, I felt a soul-pervasive peace coupled with an intoxicating shiver of adventure. It’s a comforting feeling, familiar from childhood that is brought on nearly every time I interact with nature. My family lived in the country in Ohio, and as a child whenever I was bored, upset, frustrated, or experiencing any combination of negativity I would leave the house and head out back, intent on finding refuge in the woods.
There, I would sometimes watch the frogs play in the creek, pick wild green onions, or explore new places. Most often, though, I would venture past the tall pasture grass to my favorite place of refuge: a giant, dappled sycamore tree that spanned the creek and touched the sky. After climbing several branches that were as thick around as I was, I would reach my branch. There, I would stretch out, fully confident in the supportive, crooked embrace of my comforting tree. In the branches of that tree I read, pondered, journaled, ate, prayed, dreamed, and even slept on occasion.
As a young adult, I still feel the same repose outside. If I am hiking, kayaking, gardening, or merely lying on a lawn and watching the wind nuzzle individual blades of grass I feel tranquil and more fully myself. I’ve gloried in the growth of a plant in a garden and gone on walks and talked to trees. I sense that, as humans, we have the ability to have deep communion with nature…yet too often we are hindered by the belief that we’re shackled by chains of concrete or tied indoors to our electronics.
I fully believe that a person can do the same activity with vastly disparate results on the psyche depending on the environment. Have you ever spent an entire day inside, doing and accomplishing nothing, whereupon at the end of that day you felt despondent, weighed down, and even a bit tarnished? I have. If that entire day had been spent out of doors, I bet the end mood would be completely altered. At least, that is my personal experience—and seems to be Thoreau’s as well.