By Marguerite Jill Dye
Two Sarasota writer friends and I opened the door of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park’s Forest Center, ready to make notes for our non-stop, no pressure, “free writing” assignment. We’d signed up for Dartmouth Professor Terry Osborne’s Perception, Self-Awareness, and Nature Writing workshop in Woodstock’s 9th annual Bookstock Festival of Words.
We were eager to observe and explore as “sensory organisms,” mindful of all of our senses in the natural world. We’d read papers in preparation and were about to ask ourselves: What is nature and what is my relationship with nature? How do I as a living organism relate to nature? How does this sensory information affect who I believe myself to be and how I live in the world?
Through the genre of ecological memoir, we were entering the budding field of ecopsychology, linking human and planetary health and culture “in the belief that human psychology cannot stand apart from an intimate human connection with the natural environment.”
My senses were on high alert. Still under the roof overhang of the center, myriad insects in flight, backlit and floating, mesmerized me like Tinkerbells. I kicked off my sandals and stepped into the grass. Its cool blades tickled between my toes. I wanted to dance and twirl around but remembered our mission and so sat down on a clover blanket instead. The fir and pine pinnacle silhouettes incised a periwinkle sky. …
The sun baked my back like a chameleon, and left me hypnotized. I closed sleepy eyes and heard water lap far away in time and space on the shore of New Jersey’s Deer Lake. We’d spent sunny days on that sandy beach before building our Vermont retreat. Childhood memories of comfort and warmth flooded my mind. Worries vanished like cumulous clouds diffusing.
Tree tops swayed gently in a breeze. Dark tree trunks and shadowy woods sheltered a beckoning pine needle bed. I was spellbound by the twinkling stars that appeared through towering pines. Their outstretched boughs, laden with needles, stood guard, shielding us from harm. I was one with nature, one with the world, and awed by the beauty of our earth.
When I was a girl, I climbed trees like a monkey, leapt up and down hiking paths like a lynx. Dad taught me to be at home in the woods and to hike, climb, and ski in one piece. In nature, I oozed self-assurance. No way seemed too treacherous or steep. But hiking past Killington’s Catwalk Ski Trail, a childhood memory overwhelmed me last week. It bubbled up deep inside from my subconscious self. I’d stood there before, one winter on skis, trembling from cold, fear, and disbelief. Until that moment, I’d trusted my dad, but whatever possessed him to lead me there? How could he possibly expect me to ski down that icy, perilous path? But little by little, he patiently showed me how to carefully sideslip down. His confidence in his little girl gave me confidence in myself. On the cusp of the Catwalk Trail I honored and thanked my dad for empowering me to overcome fear and teaching me strength and calm.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s West Coast.