The Pacific Northwest: Nature’s Most Natural Prescription for Pain

My mouth feels dry, my brain cavernous. You could drop a rock in there and listen to its ping echo, echo, echo off the inside of my skull. I feel I have nothing to say.

The last month has carried so much death and grief, loss and pain, that words seem like wasted breath.

But after a week in the Pacific Northwest, bathing in its mountains and towering trees, its transparent streams and diamond blue skies, I feel the balm of nature has washed in like the tide, smoothing the rough shore of this thing we call life, this rocky island stranded in a storm-swept sea.

I’m already vacation-sick for the ranges of Earth’s crust rising and falling in waves to the horizon. For the fragrance of crushed pine needles roasting on sun-soaked mountain trails. For water, rock, earth, air, far from the fumes of cars, the daggers of skyscrapers, the white-rice-plainness of cookie-cutter suburbia.

In the stillness of the woods, I stopped hiking long enough for my breath to slow and listened past the crunching of my shoes on the trail and the sloshing of my water in its bottle.

For a moment alone on the trail, the forest played for me its symphony.

The creak of branches in the cool breeze as their leaves rustled, reaching for the sun. The cracking of twigs on the forest floor as some unseen beast scurried through the bramble. The buzzing of flies because, after all, nature is not quite heaven itself.

I sat on a log and, despite the flies, I did not want to leave. I wanted to curl up into the mountainside like a bear in winter, build a shack in the woods and live like a hermit, convert to something and become one of those meditating monks perched on a mountaintop.

Don’t make me go back down there, some little girl inside me whimpered. Not down in that so-called civilization with its racing cars and racing humans stirring up clouds of dust that block out the sky.

Let me stay here.

Of course I couldn’t. I need food and water and shelter.

But I made pictures to take home with me and share with you. It’s not the same as nature. But if you can’t actually take a hike at the moment, perhaps these will suffice.

Green meadow and blue sky on the Skyline Divide in North Cascade mountain range in Washington

Approaching the top of the Skyline Divide in Washington, these blue skies and green meadows began to wash over the world like fresh rain on rose petals.

Hiking Skyline Divide and Mount Baker in North Cascades mountain range in Washington Hiking the Skyline Divide and Mount Baker in the North Cascades mountain range in Washington

Hiking the Skyline Divide and Mount Baker in the North Cascades mountain range in Washington

Mount Baker, draped in August snow, towered over us as we trekked to the peak on the far left of the frame above. I haven’t felt this close to New Zealand since I was in New Zealand.

Hiking the Skyline Divide and Mount Baker in the North Cascades mountain range in Washington

All around us, mountains of the North Cascades bathed in the summer sun, nude and unashamed, in full view of nature’s trespassers.

Hiking the Skyline Divide and Mount Baker in the North Cascades mountain range in Washington

On lower ground, Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington unfolded like a Bob Ross painting. The man in the picture below (can you find him?) lives close enough to use the trails here as his gym, cooling off after a run by jumping with the waterfall into the pool below. He told me not to tell everyone how beautiful it is there, but I’m doing it anyway.

Whatcom Falls Park, Bellingham, Washington

Hiking the Chief in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

A trail of sun-dappled rocks and tree roots (above) in Squamish, British Columbia made for an adventurous hike to the top of Chief Stawamus, the second largest granite monolith in the world. I took the photo below from the precarious top where there was nothing but air to keep climbers from toppling over the edge.

Hiking the Chief in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

Buddha statue praying

I’m no Buddhist, but nestled into a garden overflowing onto the porch of my Airbnb rental, this statue seemed a simple reminder to sit still and shut up every now and then. To lower the volume of our thoughts.

To plunge below the surface of life’s crashing waves and seek the deep stillness of that ocean we call our souls, where all is dark and silent, and where rest lies waiting to soothe the raging waters above us.

Maybe even to seek solace in snow-capped mountains or crystal streams or, at the very least, our own backyards.

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