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The Healing Forest

by David Warner

(first published in the Hampshire Review)

On September 11, I was one of the few people on Earth that thought it was an ordinary day - up until about 6:30 when I stopped for gas on my way home from the woods. After spending a day in the quiet of the forest, it was quite a shock to hear what had happened. I didn't know whether to believe what I was told or not - it was too inhuman, too unreal, too unbelievable to comprehend. Even now, most of us look at the events of the past three weeks as if it were all a terrible dream and we are waiting to wake up from this nightmare.

Unfortunately, it is all too true and a brutal reminder of the hate and evil that exists in the world. In my job, I am usually working in and with nature with relatively little contact with people. That fact may isolate me somewhat from exposure to human ill will. It may also isolate me from being overly influenced by the wash of public opinion sweeping through our nation now, as well as from the benefits of communication with others to share experiences and emotions.

There is no denying that we now live in a different world. Our free, open, egalitarian society is closing up like a startled sea anemone. American society has been a melting pot, or maybe more accurately a gumbo stew, of people and cultures that generally work together very well. We have accepted differences of culture, religion, nationality, class, income level and race far better than most societies. But that may be changing now as we recoil from the horrors of September 11.

Our lifestyles, peace of mind, trust, opportunity, personal freedoms and liberty itself may have been permanently altered. We now must give up some rights and freedoms for security and defense. We now consider other nations as either committed allies or as accomplices. Neighbors and fellow citizens that don't look or speak like we do are looked at with suspicion. If we allow ourselves to give up too much for a sense of security, the terrorists win by shaking our faith in freedom and equality. Indeed, we should take all precautions, but we must protect our freedoms too, and embrace our fellow citizens with all their diversity, proving that the America way will succeed.

In World War II the Nazi bomb and rocket attacks on London were meant to break the fighting spirit of the "soft" English. Instead it unified them and gave them the stoicism to pursue the struggle to victory. We, too, should be unified in our struggle to preserve "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

My response to this terrible state of affairs has been to continue my work with the forest around us. The work is there to be done and I find it meaningful and personally rewarding. These days, I also find it to be a healing experience to focus my mind on wholesome activities. The trees still grow majestically, the flowers still bloom, deer and turkey still forage for acorns, and squirrels still stockpile food for the coming winter. Life goes on like an ordinary day in the forest around us. I heard a commentator on National Public Radio say that immediately after the attack she felt that her devotion to gardening seemed trivial and insignificant. Later she concluded that the healing quality of nature through gardening and putting her hands in soil has allowed her to adjust and carry on her good work. She quoted the Native American Sitting Bear: "Man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard." Exposure to nature soothes, heals and restores one's sanity.

As the autumn colors descend upon us, take a long walk in the forest with your family for its healing influence. Spend some time alone with nature for spiritual renewal. Don't cower in fear or dread, but live your lives as normally as possible. Do whatever it is you do the best that you can. The world may not be the same again. America may not be the same. But we will carry on and be the best we can be, like the forests around us.

David Warner, age 48

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