When I think back to when my kids were very young, and how I used to boldly pack them up by myself and head to the mountains for our “adventures” as we called them, I shudder just a little. Dang, I was brave! I’m proud of that person!
If you know anything about our story, it’s no secret that my children and I are domestic violence survivors (you can read more about that here https://barefooteco.com//about/). In our case, when we left and sought help, there was none. In the family court system In the county where we lived at that time, the archaic and questionable notion that an abusive parent was better than no parent ruled the day. To make a very long story short, we fought for years for the right to live free from fear and abuse. Those were dark times to be sure; some days we didn’t think we’d make it. Our hearts ached for freedom, and we longed for a place where we could let down our guard, and live without looking over our shoulder. We yearned for somewhere we would be accepted and not judged; a place where our souls, frantic like wild caged birds, could be set free. Nature became that place.
Even though those days held inconceivable pain, my children recall our “adventures” with great fondness. I would say maybe to the point that in hindsight, those are the memories that define their childhood. I think because life was so unbearably difficult during that time, taking three young children camping and hiking to the mountains by myself seemed like a cake walk. I knew the natural world well from my own childhood, and felt comfortable among the evergreens. I knew how to pitch a tent, make a blazing campfire and cook some darn good pancakes over an open flame. But still, when I think back to how my three young kids and I piled into our beloved, but less than reliable van (named Blueberry if you must know), pillows, and stuffed animals in tow, and literally headed for the hills, I wonder at my courage!
I remember one hike in particular where we went in search of a well known waterfall in the Olympic National Park, supposedly not too far from our campsite. The trail should have been obvious, but somehow I took a wrong turn and we ended up on a service road heading who knew where. My daughter sang and skipped with excitement down that dusty road, and my boys marched boldly ahead, imagining themselves daring explorers, all while a slow panic rose in my stomach. As I retraced our path in my head, our jubilant little party suddenly found itself under attack by a swarm of angry bees that gave chase with humming intensity. Hoisting my young daughter on my back, my boys and I broke into a run until finally breathless, and with a good distance between us and our pursuers, we went giddy at our escape, and marveled at our survival (not a single bee sting, thank you very much!). Shortly thereafter, we found the trail back to the campground and returned victorious to the comfort of our trusty tent, exhausted but standing a little taller for our newfound courage.
With that one exception, I honestly never felt afraid out there. The ancient, lush rain forest of the Pacific Northwest felt like home. Its soft mossy branches, dancing rivers and majestic peaks felt safe and welcoming; we were connected to this place, from somewhere deep inside, and we knew we were always welcome there. My kids would lean arms outstretched, into the blustery ocean wind off the Dungeness Spit, confident that in its loving embrace they would not fall. All was well there. That was life – that was living! It sustained us, increased our confidence, and gave us the mindset of stewards to care for these places that in all reality, saved our lives. And as is the way with life’s most painful challenges, it gave us the gift of a family bond that can never be broken.
So that’s our story. There are countless grand memories of those “adventures” that will be told around our dinner tables, and campfires for years to come. My children are grown now, and they still head for the hills for refreshment and that familiar forest welcome. I’m glad for their comfort there. And I know that they take with them the heart of a child, who once felt powerless, but who gained strength, confidence and compassion in the heart of these wild spaces.
We all have our reasons why nature calls to us, gently inviting us to join her, and our own reasons why we answer. We all bring our unique stories to the mountains, or to the sea. Why do you go? What’s your story? If you haven’t yet found your stream, or alpine meadow – if you worry that you aren’t brave enough to take that step, put your fears to rest. You needn’t go far!
Wherever the grays of life begin to turn to green, you’re on your way. Seek out a cool emerald canopy or the flow of a stream. Maybe it’s a park, or maybe it’s a corner of your yard where hummingbirds buzz and the world slips away. You’ll be in good company there. And I guarantee, you will be welcome.
Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder