2021 is here. The year the world magically returns to normal – Covid goes away, politicians get along, the country unites, and racial injustice is reconciled. If only it were that easy. Like many of you, I’ve struggled through the emotional “Covidcoaster”. One moment feeling connected, and a moment later disconnected. Hopeful, then utterly pissed off. Moments of clarity, then there’s confusion. At times I embrace the beauty of the moment (carpe diem), and then I turn apathetic, waiting for the world to get better.
In times of confusion, disconnection, and apathy I find myself reflecting back to moments of clarity that I’ve had over the past two years seeking to understand these moments. Why can one moment seem so clear and the next so confusing? The common denominators of these moments of positivity are simple – they involve intentionality, empathy, and focus on people and environments that I care deeply for. They are moments of connection and inspiration with nature and each other. Here are a few of those moments.
Wanderlusting in Madisonville
I am consumed with wanderlust – having thoughts like “if I could just get out to Yosemite I would appreciate the beauty of nature.” “If I could see the giant sequoias I would be awestruck by how small I am and have the perspective to live a more enriching life”. In 2019 and 2020 I’ve spent a lot of time at home in my front yard. In 2019 due to a planned sabbatical and in 2020 due of Covid. I live on a beautiful piece of land overlooking undisturbed woods in a pocket of Madisonville many don’t know exists. Over the past two years, as the seasons change, I find myself getting lost just watching it. I have 30-40 pictures on my phone of the scene below. The simple beauty of undisturbed woods and the trees through the changing seasons brings me inspiration and mindfulness daily. While I very much want to see the giant sequoias, I know there is beauty right here in wild Madisonville, and I’m learning to appreciate that.
In July of 2019 I spent a few days on Kelleys Island hanging with Nate Cornett on his beautiful 32 foot sailboat. Two moments stuck with me from that trip. Late our first night there we were hanging on the front of the docked sailboat staring out over the water, looking at the moon and stars, watching the masts gently ebb and flow in the water while the boat did the same. Enjoying the moment while drinking bourbon, Nate says to me “Everything is alive and it is beautiful.” I connected with his sentiment instantly. It was just as simple as being present in this living environment, in which we were just a piece of it – not the dominant force, but just a part of it. I felt empathy with nature, which is fundamental to connection. The second moment came at 5:30 AM the following morning. I was sleeping closer to the front of the boat with the door open and I awoke to several swallows perched on the boat chirping and singing very loudly. Many times, on little sleep with a headache at 5:30am, this would have been a nuisance to me. However, this simple experience felt different. I welcomed it and was delighted when it also happened again the next morning. Just being present can change my whole mindset and how I prepare for a day. Being present with nature is far more rewarding than exerting power over nature – even if it’s just a mindset shift. It’s also relevant to how we view human relationships in an age of increasing disconnection.
Slowing down to connect
Another moment that inspired my connection with nature was Forest Bathing (shinrin-yoku) with our MadTree Director Team in late September 2019. A few months earlier I read a book about Forest Bathing and was intrigued by it. Before we kicked off a two day working session at Norris Lake, the team traveled to Cove Lake State Park to meet with a certified Forest Bathing guide. In Japanese, “shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bath. Forest bathing is essentially immersing oneself in the forest and soaking in the atmosphere through the senses. For two hours nine of us silently wandered around the riverside park observing the intricacies of nature – noticing the baby trees growing from seedlings of pine trees, the formations of the clouds, the noise of the birds, and the ripple of the water. The impact of these two hours was felt immediately. Anxiety and stress were greatly reduced and there was an intense focus on the immediate environment. There was also a stronger connection between our team. We talked to each other very little during these two hours, but the whole team had this common tranquility and understanding among us. Later that night we kicked off the retreat, sharing openly and having deeper conversation than our normal daily exchanges. I credit nature with getting us in the right mindset. Nature facilitated a change in pace, a slow down. Slowing down enabled connection.
Wayfinding in nature
In early June 2020, my wife and I needed to disconnect from the craziness of the summer of 2020 – Covid, civil unrest, societal division. We headed up to Honey Run Falls between Columbus and Akron for a weekend getaway. My kids, who like most kids, love putting rocks in their pockets so they started looking for rocks. My wife and I started participating and building our own cairns, which are just a pile of stones that are used as a boundary marker (trail wayfinding), a memorial, or a burial site. The mere singular focus of walking through the creek bed for an hour searching for the perfect next stone to stack was restorative and brought mindfulness. Sharing this simple experience with my family makes it even more special. Cairns are constructed for wayfinding. The task of building a wayfinder helped me find my way that day. I keep that cairn on my desk to remind me daily to appreciate the process, not just the outcome.
Emma Gatewood says “For the love of nature is healing, If we will only give it a try. And our reward will be forthcoming, If we go deeper than what meets the eye.” Moments like I’ve outlined above constantly remind me to continuously invest time in “giving nature a try”, especially when I am experiencing moments of disconnection, confusion, and apathy. Nature also reminds me to appreciate the now and I hope it does the same for you. Our lives are time-bound. Let’s not wait to find joy, connection, and meaning when things improve. Find your forest now. Carpe diem.
–Brady Duncan, Co-Founder