Into the Woods: Nature Heals

This morning we took a hike – our first in weeks. Maybe months? Stepping onto the trail felt like coming home (and I’m not even a big hiker). After the unending months of COVID-19 seclusion, standing under a shroud of moss-encased, monolithic, Pacific Northwest rainforest felt like baptism. Nature heals.

It felt like breathing for the first time. As my family and I hiked past giant ferns, over mushroom-dotted fallen logs, and through brilliant rays of illumination breaking through the trees, my heart filled with joy and my mind fell back to three months ago, to a very different place.

Three months ago, I was standing vigil by my grandfather’s hospital bed. Over the first few days, before he fell silent, he told me stories. His dementia was so far progressed, that many of his words were incomprehensible. But I was able to piece them together, more or less.

There was one story he kept coming back to, telling and retelling over and over again. It wasn’t even a story so much, as it was an experience. He described fishing, even though he no longer had the words to say it. Still, I understood; selecting just the right spot, getting into the mindset of the fish, finding the areas that attracted them. Then, he’d describe the sunlight on the water, the rippling sound of the current, and – this part I’ll never forget – the graceful swish and flick of the line.

As he described it, his eyes would glow with an otherworldly brilliance. His face, alight with joy, shed all sign of illness. He’d gaze up at the remembered sun, just as real in his mind as the hospital room was in mine, his countenance radiating pure joy. His large, capable hands would sway gently back and forth as he whispered – swish and flick, swish and flick.

I didn’t understand most of the words he used to relay the memory, but I understood it more clearly than if it had been playing on a screen before me.

In his last days, through the haze of a fatal disease and pronounced mental decay, my grandfather was standing in a stream, the sun glinting off the sparkling current and illuminating the soft curve of his trademark cowboy hat, painting the air with the gentle swish and flick of his line.

As my family and I trekked through the woods, three months after his passing, lulled into meditative silence by the majestic beauty and the soft sound of our own rhythmic steps, I understood why.

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