My dad came to visit last week, and while he was here we watched the documentary Charged. First of all, if you haven’t seen it, I totally recommend it. It explores loss from a really different circumstance than mine, but it was a perspective that I was whole-heartedly grateful to take in. Beyond the story itself was the backdrop of the film- Montana. My home state.
Visits from my dad make me miss home as it is- so seeing gorgeous shots of the magnificent state I call home left me gutted. The subject of the documentary is an incredibly adventurous young guy, who has seen a lot of this earth. When they asked him what place he thought was the most beautiful in the world, he didn’t hesitate to insist that it’s Montana. Welllll ya girl couldn’t keep the tears at bay at that point; my dad laughed and tossed me the handkerchief he always carries in his back pocket. My chest tightened with an odd mixture of pride and joy and deep sadness from the separation I have felt from that land.
That sounds super weird and John Steinbeck-y… “the land.” 😂
But I mean it, there is something you can’t put your finger on about the way being in the mountains makes you feel. It’s the feeling of… realizing how small and insignificant you are, compared to the earth, while also realizing how lucky you are to be even just a small part of it.
The next day, after my Dad left, I got to thinking. Why do I miss Montana so much? It’s just a bunch of dirt and plants and air, like any other place. Did I miss it so much…. because it had alleviated my grief? Taken some of the burden off my heart? I recalled listening once to John O’Donahue speak so lyrically about the importance of beauty in one’s life. I wondered if my grief had been a little bit easier to bear, surrounded by such inspiration and connection to nature. I sometimes think that being in nature will be the closest thing I will ever get to God here on earth. I feel the energy pulsing through everything we know.
I thought about the grandest moments I’ve experienced in nature, seeing the sun rise over a lake in the northern Rockies, or sitting beneath a sky full of shooting stars while watching wildfires blaze over a hillside. (I’m serious, Montana is unreal.) I thought about how, in these moments, my heart seemed to swell and grow lighter- yet also like I was connecting so much more deeply to myself and the breadth of my life experiences up until that very moment. The contradiction between this lightness and weight forms a wide and expansive moment. It’s such a surreal feeling that I’ve sometimes started to cry.
THEN I thought about the least grand moments. Like the time I (reluctantly) drug myself to one of the metro parks here in Nashville in the rain because I hadn’t taken my mutt, Huck, out for a good walk in far too long and couldn’t stand the guilt any longer. I was cranky about it all through the car ride there. Hell, I was cranky in the parking lot. As I made the climb up to the main trail, the muscles in my face that had been all tensed up from scowling started to relax. I appreciated how satisfyingly cool the rain drops felt on my face. I laughed at my dog trying to shake himself dry every two minutes. Even my worst experience ended up making my day better.
I could tell you of a hundred instances when being in nature alleviated my grief- but that could turn into a book. And I’m not alone in my discovery. Go read Wild. Listen to John O’Donahue. Watch Charged. Or, like, go searching for other examples if you don’t like my taste in entertainment, I don’t care. Better yet, go find it out for yourself.
If you take this suggestion, I encourage you to leave your headphones in the car. Take your phone with you, that’s a safety measure, but try not to use it. If you’re having a particularly lonely day or one where you fear your thoughts a little, then go ahead and put on a podcast or some music. Hear familiar voices that make you feel like you could be walking with a buddy. Hey, that’s an idea, walk with a buddy! I understand the struggle of not usually having a buddy to walk with, though, so a podcast can work great for days you need company. I encourage you to take your headphones out of your ears at least once, though. Just the bare minimum. When you’re three minutes away from your car. Pay attention to the birds singing, or the creek water trickling along. The leaves rustling, or even just the wind blowing past your ear. Your blood pressure will drop, your shoulders will relax, your tensed up jaw will loosen a little.
You don’t need access to a national park, even just a neighborhood stroll will help. I will admit, though, that it was much easier to do in Montana, which may be the cause of my homesickness. There are thousands trails to explore, mountains to climb, and views to take in. I’ve been a little spoiled, and now Nashville seems a less grand in comparison. But for now I am appreciating what I have: a couple of metro parks where I can walk my dog- rain or shine.
So what are your favorite ways to get out in nature? I’m obviously a big hiker, but there are so many ways to get out in the fresh air! I’d love some more recommendations.