The Many Ways Nature Heals Us

by Mary Richmond
Drawing and painting nature can be healing as well. MARY RICHMOND ILLUSTRATION Drawing and painting nature can be healing as well. MARY RICHMOND ILLUSTRATION

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that many medicines come from nature. We all know that our food comes from plants and animals, and our juices, coffees, teas, and alcoholic beverages come from plants as well.

Back before we industrialized medicine, there were elders and wise people in villages that knew how to work with various herbs, making tinctures and lotions to heal all sorts of ailments. Many of those are still used today.

There are natural medicines to stop bleeding, to bring down fevers, mend broken bones, and soothe sore throats and bruises. The discovery of the healing powers of a humble mold called penicillin changed the world, saving the lives of multitudes of people. Since then, many natural ingredients have been combined or used alone as antibiotics to cure all sorts of illnesses.

Recently I found myself an unexpected guest at the local hospital. I was in need of immediate medical intervention and as you can tell from the fact you are reading this piece, I was healed and released.

The release was conditional, though, that I remain home and rest for several days. This meant no driving, no long walks, no jumping jacks or somersaults, not that there was really a threat of the last two. Instead, I had to be content to remain indoors and rest as much as I could.

While I was still in the hospital one of my daughters brought me a cheery pot of flowers and I was reminded how cheery and uplifting a little bit of colorful nature can be in a dreary room with no windows and all the various noises of a hospital ward. On the afternoon of my hospital release my other daughter came by the house with more beautiful flowers and a lovely, prepared meal, another gift of nature.

As we visited, I could see bird activity on the wires visible from my window. I tried not to watch them, listening to my daughter’s stories, but more and more birds arrived, landed on the wires and flew past the house and finally, I had to get up.

“I have to check something out,” I said, as I walked into the kitchen and took up a spot by the window that overlooks the big holly trees in the yard. “They’re here!” I exclaimed, perhaps a bit enthusiastically. You may remember I wrote about all the robins visiting the Cape a few weeks ago and although I’d seen them in every town since then gobbling so many berries, I had not yet had them in my own yard. This is usually an annual event, and I must admit I thought I may have missed them while in the hospital.

My daughter and husband joined me in the kitchen and we watched as more than a hundred robins took turns flying down from the leafless oak tree to take their places in the hollies where they proceeded to stuff their gullets with the juicy red holly berries. It’s always an amazing experience to witness this and I was so glad I hadn’t missed it this year. It felt as though they were welcoming me home though I’m pretty sure it was merely coincidental. It didn’t matter; it made me happy and when you’ve been ill, happy is always a good thing.

I watched the robins devour berries the next day as well and by that afternoon all the berries had been eaten and the birds had moved on.

During the time of the robin siege, for it was a siege of sorts, the mockingbird that calls our yard his home was indignant. He flew from branch to branch trying to assert himself as the proud and only owner of the holly trees. He got nowhere, and after an hour or so he could only stand atop a bush nearby and watch, his tail raised and his head cocked as he watched his berry supply be decimated. Mockingbirds are very territorial in the winter and this bird had worked hard to maintain his bountiful supply. He won’t go hungry. There are still holly berries left, but not enough to entice the robins back. There are rose hips and privet berries and suet. Watching him, however, made me smile. He reminded me none of us really own anything or have the right to anything, do we? We’re lucky to have what we have in the moment.

Over the next few days of enforced confinement, I spent a lot of time watching out my window. Squirrels chased each other, rabbits nibbled on odd bits of greenery they found, and the hellebore plant I planted a few years back was having an amazing season and was full of big, beautiful white blossoms. You have to love a plant that flowers all through January, right?

Even when I was ensconced in my windowless room full of buzzes, beeps, and bells ringing I was able to read. The book brought to me was Margaret Renkl’s latest, “The Comfort of Crows.” It’s a book of essays about her observations of nature around her home and it is lovely. The doctor may not have ordered it, but perhaps she should have. It helped me immensely.

Nature heals us in so many ways. It can be directly as in medicines, or indirectly as distracting us from our illnesses with wonderful sights and sounds. Sometimes it can be just looking at pictures or watching shows about natural areas or animals and other times it can be sharing someone else’s nature experiences and knowledge by reading. It’s probably different for everyone, but for me, I was very grateful to have these options.

I had wonderful care at the local hospital with competent and compassionate nurses and doctors, and I will always be grateful for that. It was a trying time. But I am also thankful for the interludes I spent with Mother Nature. She’s one of the best healers around.