Healing In Nature
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL: A PATHWAY TO RECOVERY FROM SEXUAL VIOLENCE
A deer approached, eating grass behind a tree. I took my coffee to a log and watched the creature eat. "Interesting how they get so close to you out here," I said. "Amazing, isn't it," Alex, who went by Raptor on the trail, chimed in. He told me two bears walked up to him a few days ago and thought they were siblings, with the brother first and the sister following him. When I asked if he got a picture, he said, "At that moment, I just wanted to be there with the animals." I found this a beautiful response and a lesson we all should learn to be utterly present in nature and life, including me. Pictures are a gift, but so is that moment you are living, and pictures never give the memory justice. Alex was from Georgia and wanted to hike southbound, starting in Maine and ending in his home state. He originally planned to thru-hike the AT in 2020 but canceled to stay home and be with his dad as he passed. Growing up, he watched his dad battle cancer for as long as he could remember. In the past three years, following the epidemic of COVID-19, his dad's health deteriorated. His dad was born and lived in New York for the longest time. Alex went to college for business, feeling as if he was to follow in his father's footsteps; he wanted to make his dad proud. Alex's college graduation was canceled because of the pandemic; however, his dad would have been too sick to attend even if it was still held. A month after graduating college, Alex's dad died after a long, courageous fight against cancer. Shortly after his father's death, Alex moved to New York to follow his career there, picking up where his dad left off. Pennies were significant to Alex and his relationship with his dad. Finding pennies and picking them up to share was how the family remembered their dad, especially after he was gone. Father's Day was the day he began his journey on the AT and found a penny on the trail the same year his dad left New York. Finding pennies felt like a sign of communication from my dad; picking them up, noticing the year it was made, and thinking about what my dad was doing in that year of his life was a great exercise in remembering him. It created an avenue to share loving memories with my mother from 900 miles away. I was stubborn about quitting my job up there even though I recognized my mental and emotional health had been deteriorating for a while. I wasn't feeling like myself. I remember my dad telling a similar story about how he knew he needed to get out of New York when he was the same age as me, but he struggled to leap out and onto his journey. Once I finally had left and found myself on the trail on day one, I found a penny in the dirt from the year he had left New York, which was a direct symbol of his encouragement in me to pursue my path. I would say that was the first big step in realizing my journey on the AT was more than just a grieving walk in the woods; it was to be an experience of taking ownership over my own life and not allowing any outside circumstances, even my father's death, to hinder my growth and development as an individual. - Alex Fernandez I was in Shenandoah National Park when I saw my first bear. It was around seven o'clock in the evening, and the sky turned the lukewarm red we always long to see. Walking down the path, there she was. She looked young, perhaps a young female or cub.
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