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Nature Is My Salvation
Emily Orchier

Have you ever been so depressed that you can’t sleep? (Too unhappy.) You also can’t eat. (There’s never anything good in the house, and even if there were, it would be tasteless.) You can’t read (no attention span). You have no friends to call up on the phone, nothing good on TV. So you sigh, press your face down harder into your pillow, lament, and shed a few tears.

This was my life two years ago. I had just turned 14 and I felt bleak. As I lay in my bed one Saturday, my mother peeked into my room to make her regular “is Em still alive?” check. Even I knew that if I spent much more time like this, she would have to begin dusting me.

“Hi, hon,” my mom said. I grunted in acknowledgment.

“How are you feeling today, sweetheart?” she asked.

“How do you think?” I replied sarcastically.

After suggesting a number of things for me to do (that were promptly rejected), my mother made her move:

“Emily! Get dressed! I’m taking the dog out for a walk, and you are coming with me!”

“Why?” I moaned.

“Because it will make you feel better.”

The thought of moving was unbearable. I felt as if I all of my body parts were weighed down by a ton of bricks. I couldn’t remember the last time I had gone outside. Somehow I found the strength to slip on a pair of blue jeans and a black sweatshirt. My mother was waiting at the door for me, leash and dog in hand.

“I still don’t get how going for a walk will make me feel any better,” I complained.

My mother gave me a look and opened the door. We stepped outside. It was one of those unusually warm March days when you could get away with jeans and a sweatshirt, but the signs of spring had yet to appear. It had been a long time since the warmth of the sun had touched my cheeks.

My mother led the dog and me to The Aqueduct, a dirt path that historically carried water underground to a nearby city. Now its sole purpose is for outdoor recreation. I carried on and complained throughout the entire excursion.

image by James Faber

“I’m tired! This is boring, mother. When can we go home?”

“Not just yet,” she’d say.

My mother stopped to say “hi” to every jogger, dog-walker, runner, and bicyclist who passed us by. Sometimes she would get into a conversation with someone. She exerted herself—made herself happier than I knew she felt from being around me. They would talk about the weather, dogs, and other topics of small talk. I thought it was all so senseless.

After walking for what seemed to be an eternity, my mother finally said that it was time to turn around. She was glowing.

When we got home, I was confronted with a new sensation. It was as if the ton of bricks had been lifted off my heart. But I didn’t let this feeling last long, because I didn’t know how to handle it. For nearly a year I had been immersed in sadness. How could I learn to feel happy again?

I soon found myself back in my room, in a comfortable funk. But that walk had done something to me. I didn’t know how or why, but for a moment in time life almost felt all right. A week went by, and a new Saturday found me asking my mother if we could go for another walk.

April arrived, and with it an array of beautiful spring blossoms. I began to take my dog out for her mid-morning walks. We would go across the street to a big field, which led to small paths lined with daffodils, which in turn led to orchards with apple blossoms.

Smaller fields abounded with blooming dogwood and magnolia trees, and scattered patches of tiny purple wildflowers. Walking there, I was overcome by beautiful fragrances. It became my little slice of heaven. I was healing.

So it came to pass that I was the official dog walker of the family. Walking became an everyday affair for me, and I began to acknowledge the powerful solace that it brought me.

Late that summer, I remembered a small pond that my parents used to take me to when I was a very small child. Halsey Pond was its name. One morning I decided to make the trek over to Halsey.

It was very long for a walk, taking more than two hours to get there and back. But as soon as I laid eyes on the place, I knew that I loved it. Everywhere I looked, there was life—ducks, geese, deer, turkeys, water snakes, turtles, squirrels, and giant carp. I began to wake up early in the morning to take my daily pilgrimage there.

If walking was my spiritual practice, then Halsey was a wonderful sanctuary. I felt such peace and serenity while I was there. I also made many friends at the pond, and greeted every jogger, runner, dog-walker, or bicyclist who came my way.

My depression lifted in time. Now that I have been feeling so much better, I also have become much busier and have less time to walk. I no longer walk to Halsey Pond every morning. But I do make sure that I get out every day, if only for a little while. Walking was my salvation from the throes of depression. It is strong medicine for the soul.

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