My heart, I thought, was broken. Shattered into a billion smithereens. I couldn’t rise out of the blanket-nest I had created on the floor. The wound inside of me, when I found out that the person I loved had a second life felt irreparable. Like a boundless chasm from which my most treasured organ had been ripped. On the third day of wallowing on the floor, I realized I was suffocating in my own sorrow and forced myself to load the bicycle into my old ford pickup and drive to the Katy trail, my favorite trail in the entire universe. I can’t remember how I mustered the strength to lift the bike into the truck or how I managed to ride 50 miles that day on an empty stomach, but I remember that ride as my salvation.

You see, nature fortifies our hearts.

And I don’t mean fortify in the way you might think. Our hearts aren’t “hardened” by nature, rather she invigorates and enlivens our hearts and through that process she makes us simultaneously (perhaps paradoxically) vulnerable and strong. Through her grace and example she reminds us that life is fluid, that security is an illusion, and that we must ultimately accept and embrace the changes that we face. Nature teaches us that there are natural cycles of deaths and births, sunsets and dawns, days and nights and that our hearts too must follow these cycles.

katy1

Conversely, Western civilization preaches that we should cling to beauty, to youth, to money, to power. We are brainwashed to believe that letting go is weak and that holding on is paramount. We are led to believe that we are separate from nature, that our lives do not parallel nature. That things do not have to change if we have the right things or the right look or the right position. No wonder there are so many lost and broken hearts wandering this land.

However, when we get to know the wild intimately, when we spend hours embraced in her goodness, when we transform our view of the world from exploitative to sacred, when we truly make that connection and forge a bond, it’s something that can’t be broken. In a sense, we become her. And we share her wild heart.

I parked my bike at a bench along the Missouri River. A pair of eagles dove for fish. The massive cottonwood, above me stood over the water like a sentinel. De-nuded of leaves a, and stoic, it gracefully had entered its own stage of quiet reflection. My breath came out raspy and bitter. I cried into the frozen air, I screamed across the coursing river. And the world; she accepted all of my rage and my pain in her echo. I felt suddenly in my heart, a quiet acceptance, like a salve being rubbed into the parts of me that I thought were broken.

katy2

As I rode home in the waning light, a fierce realization swept over me with the crisp northlery wind, a realization that my wild heart couldn’t be broken. I saw that there would be cycles of sadness, and euphoria and great love and loss, but that as long as I nurtured my sacred bond with the wild and accepted myself as part of her masterpiece; my heart would remain wild and whole until the end. I smiled at the trees as I passed on spinning wheels and the planet spun with me, away from the ebbing sunlight and into the night.

Author Jennifer Conner

Jennifer is an adventurer, naturalist, and Sierra Club activist in Southwest Missouri. Jennifer and her husband Mark and daughter Aarilyn recently started an organic farm on which they raise honey bees, shitaake mushrooms, and sorghum (so far). Jennifer attempts to strike a balance between caring for their land and embarking on as many wilderness adventures as possible. She believes that the human soul is intimately connected with the wild and works to protect and enhance the abundant and spectacular natural resources and wilderness areas near her home in the Ozarks.

More posts by Jennifer Conner
  • Heidi B.

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Heidi!

  • Sheila O.

    I loved it!

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      Thank you so much, Sheila!

  • Strider

    What beautiful and powerful imagery! It must have taken courage to let us see your pain like that…but then, nature doesn’t hide her pain, does she? You remind me that I sometimes live too much in my head and my worries. I needed to hear that. Thank you for creating this beautiful piece.

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      Thank you so very much Strider! There is something about nature that really opens us up to the pain and sorrow of life, in a good way. Too often we turn to numbing distractions when we feel the pangs of suffering and yet it’s the suffering in life that gives us depth of spirit. It allows us to feel empathy and to feel joy more intimately. It allows us to look past the outer foibles and really see the divine in others.

      You speak of being inside your head and I agree. It’s so easy to get stuck there and sometimes it just takes a few hours (or even a few minutes) of walking outside, breathing in fresh air and looking at a grove of trees, or the expanse of sky to remind us of the beauty in life, amidst all the suffering.

  • We get so caught up in the hectic shuffle each and every day, living our lives stressed out to the max. It all comes to a head sometimes, and it forces you to ponder what the real purpose of living really is. You are so right about how nature can heal the broken heart, and how it can drain the stress out of our bodies. I love going out on a 4 or 5 mile run, just to free my mind. When I run, I can’t plug my ears up with headphones, cramming music into my brain. I have to be completely free, with the ability to hear the wind through the trees, the rustle of the leaves, the sounds of the birds, and everything else that we ignore when we are super busy just trying to make a living. But there is something even more therapeutic for me, something that has an even greater effect than a long distance run, and it takes very little effort. All I have to do is step outside and stand in the middle of the yard on a dark, starry night, and look up in the sky. The power of gazing up into the infinite jet-black sky admiring the stars and the thick, dense cluster of the Milky Way that streaks across the sky is indescribable. Any hurt, stress, or feelings of disparity melt away immediately as I admire the greatness, the infinite expanse of the universe. It gives me the same feeling of being up in a plane at night time, looking down on civilization, seeing the tiny dots of lights concentrated along the highways and clusters of lights in the cities below. It shrinks my problems. It lets me know that there is such a great power that put all of this in place, a power that I can tap into to renew my spirit, to lift me up, and pull me out of the doldrums. As I look at the infinite expanse of bright, twinkling stars, it reminds me of the infinite possibilities that exist for my life, and the great amount of healing power that can mend my heart and renew my soul. Sadly, I don’t do this enough. It needs to be a part of my daily routine. Loved your story. Very powerful, made me stop and think.

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      What a beautiful comment, Carlton! I can imagine for you that unplugging is difficult with all the irons you have in the fire, but it must be necessary BECAUSE of all your irons in the fire. I am always amazed with how, like you said, experiencing the world can soothe us and make our worries seems so small and yet simultaneously we feel large because our connection to something bigger than ourselves has been renewed. I too, feel awe under the night sky, as if any moment the stars could pluck me from the earth and turn me back into stardust. And there is a unequivocal comfort in that moment.

  • lalaland

    I have always felt this way too–even back to the days when I was a child, living in that hellish Christian commune, I would have a hide-out in the pines, felt so safe in the wild area. Now, i can’t hike the difficult trails, but still walk in the wild areas with great joy..watching the birds, animals and plants.
    Your writing is so inspiring, proud of you.

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      I am so glad you were able to find a safe place. There is no healing power as great as being enfolded in nature’s arms.

  • Chiara

    I loved this story, thank you so much for it !

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      Thanks for your kind words, Chiara!

  • Crystal

    Lovely writing. Very inspiring and from the heart!

    • Jennifer Johnson Conner

      Thanks so much, Crystal! Your kind words mean a lot.

  • yael

    this is so , so beautiful and touching. reading these words made me understand the confusion i feel when i can be sad in the ‘human world’ but perfectly at peace alone and with Earth. i felt crazy at times; crazy to see the beauty in the pain, and crazy to laugh at the suffering….

  • Jean-Lou Coolen

    Thanks for your words. I can feel it. Thank you. Yes nature is such a great healer! 🙂