As far back as I can remember, I have longed to be close to nature. When I was a little girl, my parents and I would walk through the woods behind our home. We would follow trails through the trees, cross a little brook, and pick blackberries. I also remember sitting in the yard with my cat just enjoying being near one of God’s creatures in the sun. Throughout my life, anytime I was outdoors, walking in the woods or along the shore, or with animals, I felt more at peace. This is still true for me today.
When life becomes stressful and difficult, I find my peace outside. Whether it is day or night, warm or cold, sunny or rainy, it is just a peaceful place for me. I also feel closer to God outdoors. It is easier to pray. I look up at the clouds or the stars, and I feel a connection. The same is true for my angels. I have lost loved ones including my sister and best friend, my grandparents, my best friend in college, and more. Sometimes when I am outside, I feel like I can speak to their spirits in Heaven and they hear me. I also believe that our loved ones send signs of their love and messages of hello from Above through nature. It might be a ray of sunlight, a rainbow, or the call of a hawk. Many people believe that a cardinal is a visit from a departed loved one. Regardless, the sign is usually profound and unmistakable—you just know. It leaves me with a warm and comforting feeling of being loved and reassured that everything is and will be all right.
Recently I have been wanting to create a space in our yard where I can be alone and with nature and experience some peace, a place to pray. Today I finally made that place. I took a piece of a large tree that had fallen during a hurricane onto our fence. I set it up as a small seat. I can sit beneath the live oak and magnolia trees next to our azaleas and be surrounded by the scent of foliage, dried leaves on the ground, and the sound of birds’ wings above and squirrels’ chatter. I am so looking forward to using the space. It does not require me to drive anywhere in particular. It will always be there for me, just outside my door.
After time in nature, I always feel refreshed. Encountering wildlife invigorates my senses. Once, while walking on a swampy trail with my husband Rich, we saw bear tracks and a large beaver! The beaver paid us no mind. We froze in our tracks, not wanting to disturb him, and knowing that they can be aggressive when they feel threatened. We were like two little kids—excited for the rest of the day! I felt the same way the first time I encountered an alligator in the wild. I nearly stepped on him! I later learned that this was Mojo, and that Lisa and John of Alligator Alliance knew him quite well. It was after that first encounter that Rich and I came to pick up trash in Mojo’s habitat whenever we could. I remember seeing John and Lisa’s Adopt a Highway sign not too far from there. I thought, “ How wonderful!” And then the day came that we met! Rich and I were checking on another gator, Beau, and picking up trash. Lisa and I instantly connected! Since then, I’ve learned a lot about alligators and have been blessed with new friends—Beau, Lisa, John, and now Kathy!
I want all people to experience the magic of the outdoors. I want them to care about preserving wild places. We depend on the existence of wild ecosystems for the very air we breathe and so much more. Beyond the physical needs, I feel the wilds fulfill some of our spiritual and emotional needs, too. Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about preserving and conserving wildlife. It is a big part of me. I don’t think that longing to be close to nature will ever leave me! I’m fine with that!