I have always enjoyed being in nature, but I did not recognize the healing qualities of it until the past few years. There is something inside of me that lights up when I am on a hike or even just a walk around the block. I have developed a kindred connection to trees, flowers, animals, and each of the elements; I do not see them as separate from me anymore. They are my friends, teachers, and family. They are a part of me, and I am a part of them.
I was inspired years ago by the Cheryl Strayed memoir Wild. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is about a woman’s solo journey to discover herself and heal her demons upon the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiking trail that covers 2,650 miles from the Mexico/US border to the US/Canada border. Even at the lowest point of my life, I was fascinated with Strayed’s determination, resilience, and fearlessness. I would imagine myself along that same trail, carrying a backpack that weighed more than I did, building new muscle every day, and learning to let go of a little of my past along each step of the path. Her story is one of the reasons I find hiking so fascinating. If she could heal her wounds while pushing herself in nature, why couldn’t I?
There are a variety of hikes that I regularly choose from. Depending on how much I want to challenge myself, I might go to Potato Chip Rock, which is incredibly challenging and rewarding at the top. There is a rock that looks like—yes—a potato chip. People will wait in line for an incredible length of time to climb up the rock to take pictures on. The view is spectacular—rolling hills that seem endless. The first time I made it to the top and back down, I could barely get out of the car to go grocery shopping afterwards. I jokingly told my husband I needed a walker! As much physical pain as I was in, however, my spirit was soaring. I did it! I made it to the top! I didn’t give up! One of my favorite not-as-challenging hikes is in Palomar Mountain on a trail that goes to Doane Pond. Everything is green, and the birds create a symphony that sounds like the music in a rain forest. Luscious ferns line the path as the wind blows through the pine trees, my second favorite sound in the world (my son’s laugh is my first). At the end of the trail is a
beautiful pond that reminds me of Mayberry. People are sitting on the banks with their fishing poles as the reeds sway with the breeze. Birds of every kind gather to enjoy the beauty of this watering hole. I always find it difficult to believe that we are only an hour from home; to me, this place seems ethereal, not of this world. But it is a home to me—I belong here, with the trees, purple wildflowers, gray squirrels gathering their acorns, plants, rocks, and whistling wind. We are one, and we speak a language understood only by those who have surrendered to the universe. It’s beautiful.
With each step on my hiking journeys, I think about my life’s path and how far I’ve come: the struggles I have had to overcome and the road that brought me here. In Wild, Strayed states, “I made it the mantra of those days; when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me? The answer was always the same, and even when I knew absolutely there was no way on this earth that it was true, I said it anyway: No one.” Even though I haven’t hiked from Mexico to Canada—yet—I feel a connection to this statement. There is no one tougher than I am. There is no one tougher than all of us. We are all determined, resilient, and fearless; some people just haven’t discovered this yet. I, like Strayed, learned this out in nature on the trail as I hiked my way to freedom.
Susan Winslow is an English professor who teaches composition, research writing, critical thinking, and literature in southern California. She received her B.A. in Drama from the
University of Southern California, her M.A. in English literature from California State
University at Long Beach, and her EdD in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University. She leads several book clubs, including the DNRS Literary Book Club. She started her journey with DNRS after her perfect storm and has never looked back. She is a traveler, learner, and hiker. Her strong connection with nature and birds has helped her with her healing journey, and she is in the process of writing a children short story series based on her visualizations with her friend Ray the Redhawk.
She may be reached at the following:
Facebook: Susan McCormick Winslow