*This post explores the ways that nature heals us. Recent events in Japan are a dark reminder of the ways it can push us to need healing. I hope to write about that next.
During my mid-twenties I went through an excruciatingly dark season. The catalyst was an unraveling of some of the religious convictions I had held to that point, but the more I pulled and untangled those threads, the more I felt personally unraveled. My self-understanding and life trajectory were being transformed and, looking back, I see that the shock and anger and despair and, eventually, the lessening of all of these things, were stages of grief that I was moving through. Responses to significant and disorienting losses.
Toward the end of that season, my husband and I moved to the San Francisco Bay for my husband to begin doctoral work. At that point I was out of tumultuous waters but new on my land legs, and healing, still, from all that had happened in the years prior. Once each month for a number of months I made the 3 hour drive back to where we had been living to meet with my therapist. Then, freshly encouraged to continue on my Way, I got back in my car and drove home to the bay.
Those late afternoon drives over California’s Coastal Range – a sea of soft, rolling hills, green in Spring, golden otherwise – healed me in ways I never planned or anticipated. The softness of those hills, and their constancy, soothed parts of me that, though cognizant that I had made it through a dark season, had come to fear because of it that life was only sharp edges and jarring change.
And the sun on those hills – the sun! It made me weep sometimes. I’d crank up Sting’s Lithium Sunset and put it on repeat, letting those words and the images out my window seep into my bones. After so many hours of therapy and so many journals filled and so many conversations with myself and my husband and close friends, it was the silent presence of those hills and that sun that I needed. They were a prayer and an answer, both.
I wonder whether that song, and a poem I wrote about those hills after driving through them one day, might spark your own consciousness of the ways the earth is healing or has healed you. Maybe ways it might heal you yet. I wonder whether you might see or even just imagine the ways the sun or the seasons have spoken hope or blessings on you already.
I hope that if you’re in a dark or painful night right now, you’ll find some comfort here.
Lithium Sunset, from Sting’s album Mercury Falling. Lyrics here.
(For those reading via email, click here for audio.)
I take a day trip through California’s Coastal Range:
rolling hills golden with dry grass
scattered with crumbling rocks and gnarled trees.
It’s late afternoon and everything
bronze in the lowering sun.
I love these hills –
the softness of their curves,
the vastness of their open spaces,
the constancy of their presence,
holding me, enfolding me,
enfolding all of us in our little metal boxes,
winding our way through them.
Looking up and out, my instinct is a surge
“Thank you. Thank you,” I say inside,
not knowing to whom.
A stripe of pain streaks through
the wonder in my soul
as I think on this.
Is God a conscious being
as I was taught?
Or an impersonal force?
A construction of human minds and yearnings?
Every option is riddled with
things I want
and don’t want to be true.
“I’m here,” I hear, my gaze on golden hills transfixed.
What can I make of this singular? This plural?
Ahead the gentle curves are
penetrated by an enormous chunk of
earth from deep below,
its horizontal layers turned
vertical in their thrust toward air
Something far more ancient,
yet here, also new,
confronts the weathered hills’ monotony.
A picture of the movement
in my soul?
Windmills spinning where hills meet sky
speak more to me of movement
in the otherwise stillness
of the landscape.
Around a bend a power plant
converts their wind to that which
lights and warms and energizes:
the blood of cities,
pulsing through miles of wire veins
that start here:
in the golden wasteland
of silent, stolid hills.
wounds, confusion, losses,
the silence of a Holy
I’ve wished more deeply than life itself
would speak –
this barrenness, the windmills whisper, can be a spring,
life-sustaining blood at pulse from its center,
I assent, but not gladly.
The hills in my rearview mirror are pink now
in the setting sun
as the freeway lanes multiply
and all around are overpasses
airplanes crisscrossing the darkening sky.
In a sea of crawling taillights I feel strangely held.
You hem me in, behind and before
Golden hills now only inner rollings,
I inch my way toward Home.