Discover more from FIELD NOTES
On feeling the weight of the world ⚖️
Nature will meet us out there 🍃
Ounce by ounce, the pressure piled on — so insidiously that I didn’t notice it until my chest felt heavy, my body like a sandbag.
It happens a few times a year, this sudden build-up. Life can feel pretty dandy and manageable one day, and then suddenly I’m overwhelmed, clawing through a web of details and priorities amidst curveballs and the little stresses that take up more space than they should. And then there are the whoppers, those bits of news, both personal and global, that lay heavy on my soul. Amidst all my gratitude for my own health and well-being (and the very particular, perhaps temporary situation that amidst a map filled with wildfires, Banff is somehow a clear-aired oasis), I come face-to-face with the reality of our mortality as humans and the precariousness of everything I care about.
That’s a lot for a Thursday morning, as it so happened last week.
Strangely, more often than not what this piling on of pressures looks like from the outside is something unremarkable. You might see me sipping coffee as the sun rises on a new day, looking serenely out the window at the trembling aspen outside. But then I scan my to-do list (help!), log in to my emails (more?) and scroll through social media (always a mistake), and I’m suddenly sinking under the weight of it all, doing what I can to stay buoyant in this broken and demanding world we live in.
I’ve gathered I’m not alone in all this. I sense it in both family and friends: the overwhelm, the polarizing experiences that greet us daily (news of a new baby girl while a devastating fire takes the lives of dozens). But I also know from talking to people that I am particularly in tune with how external stimulus makes me feel, the full extent of which is often not visible on the outside. Underneath, the energy is loud, hard to ignore. It squirms, like bacteria in a Petrie dish. Fortunately, this superpower (if we can call it that) swings in the other direction as well. The joys bubble, the light shines brightly.
On Thursday, the pressure became too much and it all came out. My husband (the usual receiver of such outbursts) and I had been discussing what we wanted to do for an overnight hike the next day, our first getaway just the two of us in a long time. His original idea was to do a two-day, 36-kilometre through-hike from Johnston Canyon to Norquay here in Banff National Park. Truthfully, the distance exceeded my usual limits, but the thought of getting outside — well out of cell range — and the chance to decompress were enough to motivate me. I didn’t have much mental energy to come up with alternatives. So, somewhere between him suggesting his idea and us booking the campsite, I explained where my head and heart had been the past week. ❤️🩹
I cried, he listened, and together we packed.
The trail became a teacher, a therapist, a tenderizer. As numerous studies have established (just see the many results on Google Scholar), a forest walk has tremendous benefits, including some for the autonomic nervous system. Within the first hour of our hike, the tension in my body had begun to dissipate and my system calmed down. I could actually feel the pressure releasing, my mind easing. But what I had perhaps forgotten going into the trip, besides the chance to disconnect and decompress, was the power in Nature herself to redirect our attention and help us gain perspective. On that hike, that power was unleashed in the art of noticing.
There in the old-growth forest of the Sawback Range, mushrooms of all kinds had emerged from the forest floor, on tree trunks, in mosses, and even horse manure on the trail. 🍄 Wildflowers, nearing the end of their flowering cycle, mostly looked tired and dry, but some, like the Purple Fleabane, announced their presence with long stems and vibrant colours. I saw a Grey Jay and listened for more birds, noting there wasn’t as much birdsong as on my early summer hikes. A grouse and her babies sought nourishment in the grasses along the trail. At Mystic Pass, the earth was turned up where bears had been digging.
By taking time to notice, I quieted my mind.
It was at Mystic Lake, 19 kilometres into our hike, that instead of feeling the weight of the world, I allowed the full weight of my Being — and our brokenness — to be held by the Earth herself. There in the warmth of a late afternoon, I sat on a log by the shore and observed the greens and blues of the lake, the way they slid seamlessly into one another. I closed my eyes and felt my sit bones on the log, the breeze rustling my hair, the sun on my face. Opening my eyes again, I watched wildflowers dancing in the breeze as their leaves reached for the last rays of the day.
A quote from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass came to mind: “Sometimes I wish I could photosynthesize so that just by being, just by shimmering at the meadow’s edge or floating lazily on a pond, I could be doing the work of the world while standing silent in the sun.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? 😊
Alas, we can’t be plants. Our time spent “shimmering at the meadow’s edge” is precious. But let’s not forget our ability to move through spaces, to transport ourselves down a trail and transition from indoors into the great outdoors. We can root ourselves anywhere.
Being off-grid for an extended period is a bonus these days. But I don’t need a 36-kilometre hike in order to invest in that reciprocal relationship with Nature. There are opportunities every day to make these simple connections, and I am grateful for my legs that can take me there. This is my Work amidst these pressures, new life stages, and the world as we know it. To simply go out, even for a short time.
The Earth will give back even when we don’t ask her to. But when we ask with intention, when we commune with our surroundings, when we sit and surrender, Nature will meet us there and share the load.
Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the author of Lights to Guide Me Home. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications.
What’s caught my attention lately… ✨
I’ve recently been tuning into Matriarch Movement (find it on Apple or Spotify), which is hosted by Shayla Oulette Stonechild. The podcast features interviews about issues pertaining to Indigenous women and challenges the mainstream narrative around Indigenous identity. It’s been enlightening and educational to hear these perspectives, especially from voices I don’t encounter elsewhere. The most recent episode I listened to was about Decolonizing storytelling.
Check these out too… 🙌
Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting - my memoir (reviews welcome on Amazon and Goodreads)
The Wonders That I Find - my children’s book
My Email Newsletter - updates about my books, projects, and 1:1 coaching