The moment I drove onto Mount Desert Island in Maine, the home of Acadia National Park, my entire body tingled with the excitement of seeing and experiencing nature’s beauty and the challenge of exploring her varied terrain in hiking boots. So far this summer, I have explored three National Parks. And I am so grateful!!!
At each trail head, I took a breath and wondered – what will nature teach me. Each experience making my way up and over mountains, scrambling over rocks and streams, walking through trees and wildlife habitats, illuminated nature’s power to cultivate courage, compassion and connection.
In Acadia National Park, where my family and I have camped for the past 11 years, I feel completely at home. Each year as our children (now 11 and 8.5) have gotten older, my husband and I take longer and more difficult hikes. This summer I felt compelled to get down and dirty with nature. We took 4-6 hour hikes where we had to climb over boulders, pull ourselves up or slide down to get to a level terrain. To embark on each excursion took a lot of courage (and preparation). Kids and terrain are unpredictable. Yet, I knew we had to be fearless in order to have an intimate and transformational experience with nature. Watching my children embrace the terrain courageously, especially during moments of potential danger, and take the lead at different times, left me in awe of them. Now when they become fearful, I can remind them of the courage they had to hike the mountains in Acadia.
I felt most courageous when I hiked the Beehive in Acadia (without the children, at least this time around). There was a warning sign, which I had never seen in Acadia. Letting nature have my back, I pushed through my anxiety and relied on my experience as a hiker. While I am not a rock climber, this hike is probably the closest I’ll ever get. Pulling myself up using irons rungs and walking on the edge of cliffs to get to the top and view the beauty of the Atlantic was worth every bead of sweat and every palpitation of my heart.
This hike awakened my courage!
An even more beautiful example of courage was watching my 69 year old mother (who is not a hiker!), complete a trail in Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains. In spite of the humidity and bugs, she put on her sneakers and persevered to complete each trail. It takes courage to push yourself outside your comfort zone. This is how we grow.
This is the courage that nature cultivates. Explore National Parks.
Compassion is to be aware of suffering, feel empathy and be willing to act to relieve that suffering. In Acadia, every time I felt that the hike we chose was too long, the beautiful sound of song birds filled the air. This happened at least three times. It was as if no other sound existed (the woods can be very quiet) and the birds were speaking directly to me. “You can do this. Keep going.” The melodic sound soothed my suffering. I felt held and guided by nature’s love.
Such a love, supported both my children and I when they were resistant to hiking. At one time or another, one of my kids was unhappy and complaining at the beginning of a hike. Knowing that I could not flee from the situation and that I needed this child to walk over challenging terrain, I flexed my compassion muscle. I practiced just being present with my child who was experiencing an unpleasant time and allowed the love of nature to soften both of our hearts. This was not always easy as I had to give up control of how I wanted to “experience” this hike. The embrace of nature opened my heart so that I could be compassionate toward my child. Teaching my children how to embrace their connection to nature as a way to soothe their suffering was a deep insight we all shared. Eventually, each child let go of his or her resistance and embraced the hike, which always ended with a high-five and a smile.
I am filled with deep gratitude for these experiences. Also, I have more of an appreciation for the suffering nature experiences all the time. The history of these parks reveal that people a century ago knew the power in the beauty of these parks and the necessity to protect it.
They are sanctuaries that need our compassion. Support National Parks.
Hiking with others can be an intense experience. With courage and compassion comes connection. One reason people hike is to connect with the earth and its magnificence. There is undoubtedly an existential element to exploring nature’s home. Another reason is to connect with ourselves and possibly our hiking partners.
One of the reasons I adore camping and hiking in Acadia is because it has become a family tradition. We have this experience that we will all carry with us and that forever joins us together. As my children develop lives a part from me, we will always have Acadia. My 11 year old asked if she could keep camping with us when she is older. This warmed my heart. When her and I hiked alone in Shenandoah National Park, she talked about us coming back together as a bonding experience. She felt nature’s power to connect us.
Hiking requires a degree of cooperation and collaboration whether it be with nature or with others. The challenge to complete each hike required us to work together. Sometimes you have to wait when other’s are tired. You have to be supportive when other’s are struggling. You have to pause and take in the beauty that surrounds you. Nature does not always give you a choice! When hiking in Shenandoah, a deer walked right toward us without hesitation.
We are without a doubt connected to the earth and to each other. Exploring these National Parks has reminded me of our interdependence. We are never alone and thus our actions have a ripple effect that we often may not see. If we listen, nature calls to us, reminding us that we are courageous, that it is within us to reach out and connect with a compassionate heart.
May we open ourselves to the beauty of life
and push ourselves outside our comfort zones
so together we can grow our voice.