Where do we go to grieve? Where do we go to heal?

Written by Saul Weisberg for Adventures Northwest Magazine "Back to Nature: The Healing Power of the Natural World" Summer 2020 edition; read it here!

In this time of protest and pandemic, I am struck by the loneliness of being a social animal in a world that tells us not to touch. A friend told me that this is a lonely time to have a baby. I hear of weddings postponed and funerals officiated over Zoom. My Uncle’s ashes wait in a New York mortuary for a future time when my cousin, brother and I can spread them on my grandparents’ graves.

Where to do go to grieve, alone or together, all that has been lost? Where do we go to heal?

Two weeks ago, I paddled my solo canoe around the familiar shore of Lake Padden and heard the first spring song of Swainson’s thrush – a  liquid gurgle spiraling up like a ribbon from the dark woods. I paddle these waters nearly every week of the year. My companions vary, sometimes I share conversations with a good friend. Other times, I let kingfisher lead me around the lake, past solitary herons and sunbathing turtles. I watch the buds of big leaf maple swell, burst and flower, turning into samaras even as the leaves unfold to shade the edges of the lake.

Close to home, familiar terrain. Ten minutes after leaving my home I feel the feather-weight of the paddle in my hand. Wind, waves, sun and rain transport me to a world that makes sense again, an accessible landscape of seasons and species that don’t read the news, listen to the radio, watch TV or scan the net. Some days I stay away from the news altogether. Other days I skim quickly, looking for stories that are indeed, news to me, stories that don’t reinforce the downward spiral, that are credible, helpful and hopeful.

When the circle of work closes around me like a cocoon, here’s the news I share with friends: a Cooper’s hawk feeding on a spotted towhee in our garden; the heron rookery I walk past in the evening after work; a flock of 500+ Bonaparte’s gulls feeding on tiny fish a short stone’s throw from Post Point; and the hundreds of warblers –Yellow-rumped, Black-throated gray, Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Wilson’s – darting across the broad canopy of maples and cedars along the Samish Crest Preserve trail.

I am grateful and find solace in the small benefits of nature close to home.


Saul  is executive director and co-founder of North Cascades Institute. He is an ecologist, naturalist and writer who has explored the mountains and rivers of the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years. He has authored Headwaters: Poems & Field NotesFrom the Mountains to the Sea, North Cascades: The Story behind the Scenery, Teaching for Wilderness, and Living with Mountains. Saul and his family live near the shores of the Salish Sea in Bellingham, Washington.

Listen to a July 2020 interview with Saul Weisberg on how the Institute is navigating current crises like the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice protests, as well as how we are changing our educational programs to adhere to social distancing, at National Parks Traveler: www.nationalparkstraveler.org/podcast/2020-07-19-national-parks-traveler-episode-75-north-cascades-institutes-park-connections


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