The Healing Power of Nature

I want to simplify my life so that I’m not worn out and frustrated at the end of every workday. I want to move at a pace that helps me notice what is around me and gives me the chance to interact with it.

– R. Mark Liebenow, Mountains of Light

Looking for a late summer read?

You might want to check out Mark Liebenow’s beautiful book, Mountains of Light; Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite. I have always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park. After reading Mark’s book, now I really want to go!

This non-fiction book is about the author’s journey of coming to terms with the death of his wife, Evelyn. For it is in nature—through repeated visits at different times of the year to Yosemite— where Mark finds peace with his wife’s passing.

To me, this makes sense. In my experience, spending time in nature and/or with animals seems to be able to soothe chaotic thoughts and emotional turmoil like nothing else.

Here are a few sage snippets from Mountains of Light:

I feel edgy and certain of my mortality. I came here wanting Yosemite to shake me out of my stupor and help me face death. And it has, but it feels like Yosemite wants to do this by having me listen to its stories.

Mark Twain regretted knowing what lay beneath the swells in the water, as he learned to guide riverboats down the Mississippi River, because he no longer saw its beauty.

Part of me no longer cares why natural places affect me so deeply, and I’m not really concerned about what does or doesn’t have a soul. If I say that every part of creation reveals something about nature’s reality, then I’m challenged to look at everything with respect and find insights…the wild outdoors simply inspires me.

Another observation that struck me about Mark’s book was the significant difference between how he chose to share his grief, through his story, and how I shared my experience with grief in my book, A Widow’s Awakening.

I’m not sure whether this is a gender thing or not i.e. do women tend to be more open than men about sharing the details of their emotional journey?

In A Widow’s Awakening, I yanked the lid right off Pandora’s Box of Grief and let it ALL out: the devastation, hurt, self-pity, anger, guilt, bitterness…the confusing thoughts, conflicting emotions and spiritual isolation.

To be honest, I haven’t read that many books about grief, so I found Mark’s candid yet subtle approach to his journey intriguing. There was certainly a sense of inner struggle as he tried to come to peace with his wife’s passing but it was rather enlightening to read a personal memoir by an author who I suspect is an extremely private person. The depth of his loss and subsequent sorrow is immense; how he chose to communicate that loss to his reader was very different to my take-no-prisoners approach.

And that’s a good thing.

For everyone grieves differently. And different authors approach the same subject matter in their own unique way. And yet, despite our differences—as people, as writers—we are still able to find the common threads of love, loss, passion and peace.

And common ground for all of us, of course, is the healing power of nature.

Evelyn’s presence is always with me, especially when I spend time at Happy Isles, her favourite place in the valley. I’m surrounded by the words of John Muir, as well as by owl and hawk, mountain lion and bear, raven and jay, coyote and ouzel, which often show up unexpectedly with surprising inflections of wisdom. I’ve finally accepted that death is a necessary part of life and that I have had to turn away from home and live in the backcountry of stone for a while to deal with my grief. In spring I think I will be ready to turn back toward life.

  • Mark Liebenow

I read Mountains of Light while doing a rewrite of a screenplay about Canadian-born silent screen star, Nell Shipman. She was a pioneer in filmmaking and an early advocate for the fair treatment of animals in film. Since Nell’s story is about her love of the natural world and wild animals, Mountains of Light was the perfect book to be reading while working on that script.

I think we sometimes lose sight of how much wisdom the wilderness holds. And what we lose sight of, we risk losing altogether.

Previously Published on Pink Gazelle