A few years back, I remember being deeply impacted by Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” In it, he lamented the disconnection between children and nature, reflected on the impact of that disconnection on not only children but adults, and offered corrective suggestions. His book resonated with me, as I have, since as far back as I can remember, found comfort, grounding and meaning in the natural world. From early childhood, I seemed to understand the importance, power, beauty and violence of nature – both physically and metaphorically.

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This understanding often informed my teaching and clinical practice, whether it was explaining reproduction to students by observing it in the lush woods surrounding my university, or discussing life, death and the cycle of being by accompanying clients on nature walks. Invariably there were lessons abounding in the trees, the sky, the animals we might accidentally encounter along the way, and in the rich and symbolic discussions we had around issues related to birth, death, divorce and aging. Metaphors accompanied us on those walks, and with them opportunities for painful and pleasurable but always poignant insights.

These experiences came rushing back to me recently when, on a hike through the woods along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, I once again pondered deeply about the natural world, and my place in it. I couldn’t help but notice that although the trees and shrubs were gray-brown reminders of yet another brutal mountain winter, all were at the same time in bud, with the local birds busily building their nests and feeding their young. Several days before that walk and upon our arrival, it was 78 degrees, and the local teens were cliff jumping into the frigid river below — in bathing suits. Two days later, there were 4 inches of snow on the ground. It is now back up to a welcoming 60 degrees. The schism and dynamism is dramatic and inescapable. The promise of life and rejuvenation is everywhere. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park said, “Life will not be contained.”

In these moments of existential absorption and awe, I am not quite able to free myself of the very reason for my mountain hermitage. It was to seek higher ground, quite literally, from the densely populated and sweltering heat of South Florida. Surely, the virus would not find us here.

While my body, as far as I know, has not been impacted by the COVID invader, my mind is not free of it. I am well aware of the suffering this pandemic has wrought, and that countless others do not have the luxury or the privilege to escape to higher ground — of any sort. But there it was, my perfect metaphor! Life abounding in the very same world racked by so much suffering and death.

Is it hope that springs eternal or that eternity is to be found in Spring, a time of nature’s rebirth? How perversely ironic that, in the Western hemisphere at least, this scourge coincides with nature’s reawakening.

I don’t delude myself into believing that thoughts such as these can heal, but in those moments in the woods, I felt hopeful and wondered if there could be a therapeutic value in connecting others to nature during this most difficult time. We have all been advised to stay home and safe, going out only for essentials and, when and where possible, exercise. What if, just what if on those walks we are being asked to take, wherever they may be, we look for it! Look for signs of Spring. A weed pushing up through cracks in the cement, buds on a plant thought long asleep or even dead, the dance of clouds in a blue sky, the breath of warm air in an otherwise cool breeze, the warmth of the sun, the cleansing rain.

My rose colored glasses have long ago been trampled by the passage of years, and I am no longer in the prime of life, but I do look ahead and I do look to Spring and I do think about tomorrow and hope that this musing is useful for you in some small way, whether for yourself or for your clients who are struggling to balance meaninglessness with meaning, death with life and despair with hope.

Spring, and with it, hope, is there. Look for it! Nature will not be contained, nor will human nature.


File under: Musings and Reflections, COVID-19 Blogs