Nature is Healing : A Storytelling Journey From The Francis Marion National Forest

March 20, 2024

There's this trail in the Francis Marion National Forest here in Charleston that I love to go to on days when I have nothing planned. I pack up the dogs, some water, and a good podcast and set out. It's about an hour drive from where I live and I somehow always pass the turn because the trailhead sign is so small and covered by trees. I'm not going to say the name of the trail because there's almost never anyone else there when I go. And maybe I'm selfish, but I don't want that to change.

To be honest, there isn't anything fancy or unique about this trail. It's just trees...lots and lots of trees. I know some people love water or hills or something with a view. And while I love that too, there's something so magical to me about these endless trees. It's like I'm a part of something much bigger than myself. Or like I'm in a secret part of the world that only exists for me. Whatever it is that draws me there, it makes me feel safe. Nature and the outdoors often make me feel that way—safe, supported and connected.

That's why I tell people that nature is my church. And I think a lot of people feel that way. Humans have a connection to the Earth; we're all a part of this world and whether we're conscious of it or not, there's a part of us that breathes deeper when we're surrounded by it.

Biologically it's true too. Our nervous system responds to being in nature—it calms us. There's a ton of research and science behind the human-nature connection. And while I'm not going to dive into all of that, I will say that nature is healing: emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Also, physically if you think about the fact that stress is one of the most dangerous health concerns in our world and being out in nature reduces stress. It lowers blood pressure, our heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. And it's free!

The thing that is best for us both physically and emotionally is free, and yet it's the thing we most often take for granted.

I'm guilty of it, too. I get so lost in my daily problems and worries that it sometimes takes me to a dark place. This dark place makes my world feel hopeless and scary. But, when I step outside and look up—through the branches and leaves of the trees, little specks of sunlight peek through—I remember that the world has magic. That may sound silly to some people and that makes me feel bad for them. Because if you can't find magic in your daily life, whether it's in nature or a loving connection with another person, then you'll never see it all around you.

One of the biggest hopes I have for myself is that I'll always stay young at heart and find magic in the world.

I think that in our society, we interpret things that are free or "easy" as less valuable. Yet there are ridiculous, one-of-a-kind things that serve absolutely no purpose that are coveted and worth a million dollars (Google "invisible painting sold for a million dollars"). But the things that are the very best for us like water, air, relationships, respect, etc. are devalued and abused because they're not as glamorous and so accessible in our privileged, modern-day society. Every time you take a breath, you don't get that endorphin hit like you do when someone likes your Instagram post. A healthy, loving relationship isn't always as exciting as a drama filled on-and-off "situationship".

We've been taught to value the wrong things. We've been taught to put our focus on the wrong things.

So it's just a matter of finding our own truth again—cutting out the nonsense and going back to basics. Every one has a different healing modality or aspect of Earth that they love. My mom always loved the beach—she could sit for hours in the sand and that's when she felt the most like herself. Other people, myself included, love hiking and camping. It doesn't matter what it looks like—if it speaks to you, then that's your truth.

One of my favorite things to do when I'm out in nature is to stare straight up at the tops of the trees while I'm walking and watch them float past me (I've definitely tripped a few times doing this because obviously I'm not watching where I'm going). This small action brings me back to when I was a kid—looking up and feeling so small but seeing the world so full of possibilities. At a time when it was "normal" to let your imagination run wild and be silly. Now as an adult, it's less "normal"—but I don't care. This heals me. And I will always choose what feels right over what looks "normal".

I challenge anyone reading this to try this next time you are outdoors. Look for the magic, or, if that's not your thing, take a deep breath and feel into your body. Do you feel lighter? Calmer? More connected? If you let it, your instincts will tell you what you need. It really is that simple and that complex. We live in a world that feeds us the wrong information all the time and it overcomplicates everything. When really it's simple—listen to your body, take time for nature, and do what brings you joy.

Peace out and happy healing folks.