The Healing Land

​Ever since my youth I've felt the embrace of my landscape. I've known its curves and its cures.

As a troubled teenager I'd disappear into the thickness of the woods, unseen by all but the familiars of the place. There I could strop around all I liked, the gracious trees would simply take it all on-board, granting me a clearer mind and a steadier solar plexus.

I was a solitary lad really, crowds intimidated me, my stammer isolated me. Whenever I felt peopled out I'd reach for the dog-lead and wander on the moor tops with Fleet, my collie.

Wild winds and soaring skylarks raised my spirits, telling me of my oneness with Anglezarke, my home.

Like most teenage boys I left nature as I got older.

Cars called. Rusty cars, old cars, dangerous cars. As long as I could make them go faster I didn't care. Life became defined by the edge of sanity.

Eventually I reached a place where I wasn't truly happy unless I could feel my tyres losing their grip on some treacherous corner. Rather than wandering the paths of my growing days I thundered around the West Pennine Moors in Capris and Minis, attempting to disconnect my ​wheels from the tarmac at every available opportunity.

This crazy madness came to a pinnacle one gorgeous summer's day in my 20th year. The moment stays with me as if it was yesterday. Tearing around a tight bend I accelerated along the straight, my engine screaming in time with my racing heart.

I hurtled past a glance of dog, a lurcher type, lying by the roadside.

Braking hard I came to a halt and walked the hundred yards or so back to where she lay, her eyes glazed with shock, her body a-quiver. Someone had run her down. Someone hadn't stopped.

Miles from anywhere she lay there, bloodied and whimpering. Her belly was torn apart, her back was broken, yet tragically she lived. I sat on the roadside and cradled her head in my lap. Her blood mingled with my tears.

I stroked her face and spoke softly to her, telling her it was all right to let go. Eventually she passed over, I felt the full weight of her against me as her muscles relaxed into death. Her tension was taken by the soft boggy ground on which we sat.

Gathering her up I took her to a place of dark peat and with bare hands dug her grave. As my fingers clawed into the damp earth I felt my own 'letting go' begin. A letting go of the need to rage, to live on the edge of death. Death was here in my hands and that was enough.

Deeper and deeper I carved a hole to lie her in, eventually covering her over and erecting a cairn of gritstone to mark this place. This place of change, of awakening, of reconnection with what mattered most.

I walked the moors again, hearing the welcome wind howl a rebuke to me.

Too long I'd neglected nature, too long I'd dishonoured the gift of life. Yet somehow I felt nurtured here, the feeling of wholeness was only a grass blade away.

It wasn't her death that turned me around, tragic though it was. The black peat under my fingernails did the trick. Pouring my darkest thoughts into the land as I scraped out her grave began the healing process.

For decades I've spoken of the 'healing of the land', the 'solace of our countryside' and the 'nurturing of nature' because in my soul and my heart I've always known this as a truth. However there's nothing like a real, physical, tangible connection with nature's healing to ground down this truth.

A while after, I visited a hospice to take photos of a team member for a magazine feature. The hospice was a single storey building with a large central courtyard garden. As soon as I walked through the door a feeling of light and warmth suffused through me, my preconceptions of this 'dying place' flying out of the window. The staff were incredibly warm and endearing. Perhaps they're not the right words but I don't think one exists to describe them.

The nurse and I talked and talked for ages. She took me on a tour of the hospice, introduced me to members of her team and told me of the hellish weekend they'd just endured. A weekend of 'death, sadness and terror', her words.

I asked how they coped with this, thinking back to my trauma with the dog on the edge of the moor, and she replied simply 'It's all out there...' pointing to the garden.

The gardens were lush.

Even the lawns were a place of paradise. Spared the weekly short back and sides of suburbia these lawns were allowed a flourish of daisies, clovers and self-heal flowers. Rabbits and squirrels romped through the blooms, delighting the patients whose every window poured full of nature love.

In their dying days they partook of the cup of nature's abundance. The staff? These dedicated folk who supported the patients through these dark days found solace here too. Whenever they felt weighed down by the tragedies unfolding within they were free to walk amongst the lushness of nature, to dig vegetables, to cut a few flowers, to plant some herbs, to nurture the nature that so abundantly blessed this place.

To go barefoot in nature, feeling her cool life-force flow within. In turn they too buried their problems, processed their worries and worked through their troubles.

I left the hospice with a renewed hope and a spring in my step. Years later here I am, telling people that it’s all out there. We simply need to give time to building our relationship with nature, with the land.

Nicola and I know full well that every minute spend in silence and solitude out in the landscape weaves deep, bright threads through our veins and enlivens our lives.

This is why we create special opportunites to run away to the hills and embrace ourselves in the healing folds of nature. We have two such escapes planned so far this year. Space to Emerge, is our very special four day retreat in the heart of a Lake District bluebell woodland which runs in early May. We also have our newly announced Yorkshire Dales residential, 'The Lynx and The Solstice Sun' in June.

If you too hunger for a connection, if you too have a bone deep sense that there’s more to being human than just existing, perhaps you too need Space to Emerge.

jason

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Thanks for that beautifully written piece. As a stage 4 lung cancer patient, even before diagnosis, I was and still am, aware it the importance of our connection to the natural world. The comfort I gain from being immature is indescribable.
    My only wish is that,when my time comes, I can go outside and feel the sun and the wind on my face as I pass.
    Thanks again for sharing, Jason.

    • Thank you for your comments here Brian. I do hope your wish comes true and that nature holds you between now and then.

  2. Sorry about the predictive text – for immature, please read in Nature.
    At least it raises a chuckle!

  3. That is beautiful Jason, I have tears rolling down my face as I imagine you digging the grave, heartbroken, with your own hands, I am so glad your car returned to tarmac after each leaving and that you returned home to nature x

    • Thank you Jackie. It was all part of my journey and yes, it is good to have come back home to nature. xx

  4. Beautiful…..it’s only when I walk in woodland that I feel I truly belong. I become one with my surroundings and feel at peace……

  5. A hearbreaking but beautiful piece dear Jason….for myself I remember reading Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem The Peace of Wild Things for the first time and feeling, knowing in fact, its truth for myself. Outside in nature, even in the smallness of my own garden, is where I heal best.

    “When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

    • Thank you Michelle. What a touching poem, thank you for sharing it. I love the thought of coming into the peace of wild things.

  6. I understand perfectly what you experienced. When I was diagnosed with lieukiemia I spent weeks at a time in an isolation room. One room I was in I called the green room as the windows were covered over by a large beech tree. The sun would filter through the leaves and colour the rooms white walls green. In the lower bows were two tawny owls roosting during the day. I would spend hours watching them sleeping or preening each other. Brambles grew at the bottom and I spent four weeks confined in this room simply watching a green bramble leaf slowly slowly turn red. I was able to tune into the speed at which natural life unfolds as the season progresses which is far far slower than clock time. I was in a very precarious position not knowing if I would walk out of there or be wheeled out in a body bag. Absorbing myself in nature enabled me to cope. When I did finally go home I was suddenly catapulted onto the motorway network bang in the middle of the worsley intersection clinging to the strap above the door thinking the world had gone mad and wanting to back,into my room again. No,wonder people seek out retreats.

    • Thank you for sharing your story Gary, it’s really thought provoking and inspires me to spend more time in solitude in nature. I think we all need as much as we can find.

  7. Jason just reading your story that you have weaved makes me feel grounded.
    The sepia photo of Anglezarke is truely amazing just loved it.

    • Thank you Jacque, I’m pleased you found it grounding. Anglezarke has some amazing corners, especially in the mists of dawn.

  8. What a beautiful and moving story. Couldn’t agree more with the magical healing and grounding power of connecting and being in nature. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Oh yes, in my garden, out in nature I’m at home, seeing more clearly, hearing whispers, old stories long forgotten. Your piece speaks as my heart feels. Thank you for sharing

  10. Thank you for sharing this. Finding the dying dog, being with her in her last minutes, and burying her on your homeland moors sounds like a profound wake-up call. I’ve noticed it’s essential to all places designed to help people find peace – churches, hospices, care homes, to have an area for relaxing in normal. It is definitely necessary for our well being.

    • Glad you found it of interest Lorna. Yes, it certainly shook me up. Nature certainly knows how to sort us out doesn’t she, we need to listen.

  11. Thank you Jason. That’s beautiful, sensitive and timely for me as I am struggling a bit physically at the moment. Blessings

  12. I found this so moving and lovely.thank you for sharing warts and all,you and nicola have a unique life if i was forty years younger Iwould no doubt love your way of living,blessedbe,Ereni k

    • Thank you Ereni. If I had found this path when I was forty years younger who knows who I’d be now. Perhaps the right time is right now. 🙂

  13. Sometimes the life changing messages we receive are very subtle. When we ask for guidance it’s very important to listen, look and allow our intuition to show the reply.

  14. Oh Jason thank you for such beautiful words I am sat here with tears on my face reading about your journey , it was so profound! We must all find our magical connection with nature for our growth and nurturing.
    As a palliative care nurse I understand the need for both patient and staff/carers to allow nature to hold and sooth us in her gentle love and healing powers. Once again a big thank you Jason for sharing 🙏🏼 X

  15. Beautiful Jason. I hear you and the pain, the beauty and the experiences you’ve had. Your such a beautiful soul and I think mother nature has given you a gift of not only oozing love for nature but for passing that gift to others. Love and hugs to you and Nicola. Xxx

    • Thank you for your kind words Shirley. If I can help others fall a little more in love with nature I’m a happy guy! xx

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