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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