It’s Our Nature

By Jesse LoVasco

INDIGO-MOUNTAINS-JESSE-LOVASCO

A decade ago or so, while living in Vermont and enjoying all that nature had to offer in hiking mountains and kayaking rivers, I also had to make a living and practiced cosmetology at a local salon in Montpelier.

As I worked on clients day after day, cutting and styling hair, I heard the same story over and over. Women who were born in this beautiful state with ample accessibility to nature had never had the experience of hiking or kayaking, not even walks in the woods. They complained that all they did was go to work, make dinner, shop for groceries and sleep. They never had time to discover the natural world.

After hearing this for months, I wondered if there was something I could do to encourage and motivate people to get in the woods. I created a program and an opportunity for anyone who wanted to experience the rich forests and mountains that surrounded them in Vermont. I hoped that this would be a way to have meaningful interactions with nature. I created a program called, It’s Our Nature.

Before long, I had several interested people. I set up a series of mountain hikes, which included meditation, yoga, hiking, drawing, poetry, and reflection time. Each interested participant had an opportunity to do this alone so they could get in touch with themselves and be present to their experience. I was able to be a witness throughout their journey.

One woman in particular, my first participant, was an overworked teacher. We traveled to three different forested mountains, Spruce, Abraham, and Worcester. She had very deep realizations during her experience as we paused to write and reflect with poetry and as she drew rocks and leaves along the way. She felt like it was life changing.

I was also invited to take a group of interns from the University of Vermont Medical School on a nature experience to help them slow down and learn to find solace and relaxation amidst the heavy load of classes and testing of their curriculum.

I took them to Red Rocks, a local park on the edge of Lake Champlain. In order for each participant to have an intimate experience, I had them walk 20 paces, before the next one could follow. No one was allowed to speak. It was as if they were alone. The only sound was water lapping against rocks and birds in the trees. The forested paths and rocky outcrop were a perfect place for inner listening of meditation.

It was apparent after doing a summer of this work, that the forests spoke to each participant like nothing in their lives had ever before. They commented on how their minds slowed down, how smells, sounds of birds, and rock and leaf patterns were soothing, healing, and exquisite. They truly did not imagine that the power of the forest was so peace filled.

The woman who was my first participant wrote to me later in the year and told me that she did not go back to teaching. Her family owned land in the rural area of Vermont, and she explained that after her adventures on the hikes and questions she asked herself about life, that she could not return to a job that kept her away from the natural world. She decided to start a farm to be closer to the land on a daily basis.

I now know that there are studies on how the forest, and nature itself, is a component of human health and what we are designed to be a part of. I am happy that there has been so much emphasis on the importance of our connection to nature, and terms such as forest bathing or “Shinrin-yoku,” as it is called in Japan, have made their way into our thinking. My hope is that as we take time to relish the gifts we’ve been given in nature, that we also pause and give thanks and also continually defend and protect the sacred lands that we have been given.