Monday, November 12, 2007

The Healing Hill

Saturday November 10, 2007

I usually go to Moose Hill alone. It’s not that I don’t like company, I do, but it just seems to work out that way. I’m not an early bird, but most people I know would likely prefer an extra hour or two in bed on a Saturday morning to dragging themselves out of the house before breakfast to climb a hill with an oddball who seems distracted by the most insignificant little things in the woods. I certainly treasure time alone to quietly observe the wonders around me and to lose myself in my thoughts, but I’ve often felt it could be fun and rewarding to share my trips with other nature lovers. I volunteered at the sanctuary to coordinate a “naturalist’s collaborative” of people who could explore these woods together and share knowledge, observations and experiences. I would love to have someone teach me something about, say, ferns and mosses while I share something about trees or birds. Like so many of my silly ideas, this one was not received with much enthusiasm.

This past Saturday was different. An old friend of mine is in pain. I don’t know what is hurting him exactly, but the anguish is obvious and he reached out to me. Many of us – perhaps most of us – have things in our past that we think are behind us and forgotten that are only lying dormant like an insidious virus, waiting to flare up at a moment of weakness. Others may have things more like a soul-eating bacterium, steadily nibbling away at our hearts. Some bear wounds, others harbor dark secrets. There are those who are so inherently toxic they don’t even notice that something is wrong, and there are those who know that something is wrong and wish desperately to be well. Clearly, my friend is struggling bravely and mightily to get well.

What do I know about easing mental anguish and helping someone who is suffering? Nothing, obviously. I have no training and no special insights. Much of my life has been devoted to avoiding conflict and challenge rather than confronting them. More than once, in times of crisis, I’ve been accused of being AWOL. When my friend called, about all I could offer was a walk on Moose Hill.

I loaded my backpack with my breakfast, a Thermos of coffee to share and my old down vest in case the weather turned cold and damp. My friend had a sandwich in his pocket. We walked up Moose Hill Parkway in the cool November air and I was happy and hopeful to see the predicted clouds were allowing a few rays of sunshine to peek through. Half way up the road we turned into the forest on the Vernal Pool Trail. We were headed for the Boulders, one of my regular breakfast spots. My favorite places on Moose Hill are not exactly secret, but I don’t give them up lightly. On this day, I was happy to share.

As we walked, and as we sat and ate, we talked. I tried to be a good listener. I tried not to read too much into every little thing that was said, but I also tried not to miss any significant messages. I wanted him to tell me everything he could and nothing he was not prepared to say. Things my friend said reminded me of some issues of my own and I talked about them thinking that, perhaps, his misery might enjoy some company. I tend to wallow in my own misery the way some people seem to embrace victimhood. It can be easier to blame others for our troubles rather than clearing up misunderstandings or examining our own faults. But this was not about me, so I hope I didn’t talk too much. Our time together may have helped me more than it helped him but I hope he found some comfort. I may never know.

After breakfast we continued on our way and, as always, Moose Hill offered some pleasant distractions. On the Vernal Pool Trail toward the visitor’s center we appreciated the glacial outwash features in the landscape. We saw a few spots where rutting bucks had scraped bare patches into the trail, and then saw a deer on the hoof loping through the oaks, white flag flying. We had a side-by-side comparison of ground pine Lycopodium and a real white pine seedling. In the parking lot we saw some recently-returning juncos to remind us that even a wintry New England seems warm to somebody, and to remind us that that winter is right around the corner.

At the visitor’s center, we crossed the road and went back into the woods to follow the Ovenbird Trail back down the hill toward home. We took a side trip over Hobbs Hill where I pointed out another favorite meditation spot. I thought about how this was where I went not long ago seeking some comfort for myself (See “Your Content Has Been Deleted,” March 26, 2007.). I promised myself that I would come back soon. For now, it seems that my moment of danger may be behind me and, in my own way, I would like to share some of my joy and gratitude with these woods. I only hope that someday soon my friend will be able to do the same.



At 9:01 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

I think your idea is a great one - I've often wished for someone to teach me things about the woods in an informal way like that. Really, I think it's something to be able to share a love for the outdoors with anyone and I hope your friend appreciated the way you were able to reach out to him - through your love for that place.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Larry said...

I would like to learn more about plants and trees.I think it might help me to find certain birds and it's just nice to know.


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