my tenure here at the folk school is coming to an end, and in many ways this experience has quite literally been life-changing. from the folks i’ve met to the craft i’ve learned, i have a lot to carry home in my heart (and in my car). i’ve had the flu all week, so i didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate beltane. beltane is a pagan fertility holiday and to me speaks to the abundance of nature. in that honor, today i’m writing about the most rewarding part of being at the folk school – the chance to live in the mountains in close connection with nature.
i have lived “in-town” for my entire adult life. cities have a lot to offer – i have enjoyed walkability and minimal driving, access to culture and community, and ready availability of food, healthcare, and other services. in the last five years, i have known something to be missing, something i had a hard time describing. i had ready access to nature both through my job and hobbies; i kept a small garden and homestead; and i worked with plants and learned much from mentors i met living in-town.
i long thought what i was missing was living in the woods in the middle of nowhere. i wanted to live as close to nature as possible, and this seemed impossible living in town with cars and people and pollution. i tried to fill my time with nature at parks near and far, but my connection to the outside world felt inauthentic. as i began studying herbalism, i read all about communing with plants and i only became more frustrated as i struggled to “feel” connected.
my first week at the school, my goal was to hit all the trails and see as much as i could of the property. i have long enjoyed hiking both for nature and for exercise. i took nightly walks through campus and admired the beauty, but didn’t stop much.
my third weekend here was when i started to learn. i had a whole sunday afternoon to myself, and i packed a bag with wate and snacks, books and journals, and planned to hike. i’m not sure why, but right after i set out i found a little spot next to a creek, with a big tree to lean my back against. i decided to sit for a minute, and i stayed for hours. i snacked and listened to the sounds – birds chirping and squirrels scurrying, trees shifting in the wind, insects buzzing by. i was still. i read my books, i wrote in my journal, i even laid down and napped. this experience was consciousness-expanding. i felt apart of the woods like never before.
over the next week i sought to recreate this experience as much as possible. sometimes i simply laid in the woods, other times i walked slowly off trail, turning over logs and noticing every single plant. for the first time i talked to plants in a way that didn’t feel gimicky, it felt natural and wholly personal.
i spent two months coming to know a very small piece of land very intimately. i followed every deer and animal path i could. i looked up every plant i saw and didn’t stop until i had a positive id. i listened to bird calls for patterns and beauty. i even came out at night to study the stars and moon.
i revisted little areas over and over to watch the succession of spring blooms. i took notes. nothing was too small to be meaningless, even flies landing on my legs made it into my journal.
i didn’t read how to do this in a book, i let the process flow out of me intuitively. at first (and still), i unlearn the achievement mentality. the need for daily exercise. the rush from a to b. once i drop the expectations, i give myself solid hours to just be in the woods. to wander with no goals, no destinations. this is where my innate curiosity took over and the true connection to nature began.
i have taught myself how to really live in nature. it is my personal way and if you are seeking this type of connection, you will have your own ways that will become obvious once you settle the to-dos of the mind. the outside world wants us to revel in it. it is where we belong as humans, and it is where true expression lives.
of course it is beautiful here in the mountains, but this could be practiced anywhere, in any yard in suburbia or park in a city. i think sometimes what holds us back as humans is wanting to find the perfect outdoor destination – in our minds this is often some far away park or beach – and we reserve these spaces for “nature.” but nature is all around us, if you have a tree in your yard you could watch an entire world unfold under that tree. my biggest hope coming away from the school is to bring this way of living home. to always give myself space outside to do absolutely nothing. because in this space we restore and learn how to be humans on this earth.