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Today I Offer You Beauty

Here’s the taste of nature you need right now.

Patricia Prijatel
Sunset on the East Spanish Peak in Southern Colorado.
Source: Patricia Prijatel

A deep sigh overwhelmed me as I sat down with a cup of tea on the deck of our mountain cabin—a shock down my neck, through my tense shoulders, to my arms, and into my clenched fingers. An unexpected, visceral response.

For a moment, I sat unmoving as my muscles contracted, then relaxed, and relaxed more. It felt almost violent. An emotional exorcism.

I often exhale a long, healthy sigh on this deck, a natural reaction to the miraculous calm and quiet before me. I look out at a meadow, across a tiny stream, over to a forested ridge. To my right looms the mountain in whose shadow we spend the summers.

But this new reaction was far beyond that simple act of deep breathing. It felt more like an attack.

I had thought I was doing a decent job managing the stress of the pandemic, social unrest, racial injustice, economic instability, the climate crisis, and everything that is 2020. That’s an incomplete list, and even reading it is stressful. I knew I was traumatized, but I was sure I was handling it just fine, what with being me and all.

Or not.

As I sat down in the mountain sun, I had unconsciously unleashed a batch of negative emotions that had skittered out of my body like little demons: fear, anxiety, anger, grief, stress, confusion, depression, disgust. More, I’m sure.

Most of us are facing post-traumatic stress disorder after the year that feels like a lifetime—and, in many ways, is. How do we keep our lives, our communities, our country, and our planet afloat when we’re all hot zones of trauma?

Nature has always been my antidote to chaos. Whatever resilience I possess has come through walks along streams, into forests, up mountain paths, and through time on this deck, just sitting here, in awe of the beauty around me.

Perhaps what happened to me on my deck in that moment of release was hope pushing out the despair.

I’m reminded here that the world has more good people in it than bad, and that I have surrounded myself with the good. That those who advocate for the health of the planet and its people are fueled with a passion that will not bend to the evils of corrupt politicians or inept leadership and the dangerous policies they embrace. That this beauty that I face has the power to speak to the generous spirits in all of us, to give us strength and power.

How will my personal universe look in a year? Will I even be in it—I am, at 74, one of those the U.S. seems to view as expendable. Nope, I’m not going down that dark hole. I will acknowledge my emotions. I will face them and see them for what they are—a sign of my humanity. But I will not surrender to their darkness.

So, join me on my deck, as I look out on the meadow, listen to the stream, watch the sun set over the mountain peak and a double rainbow appear on the ridge. Imagine yourself in this place of peace, to just be.

I have nothing more to offer right now. I hope this is enough.

• I've written a book about this beautiful place—Burn Scars: A Memoir of the Land and Its Loss

Patricia Prijatel
Double rainbow over the far ridge, after much-needed rain
Source: Patricia Prijatel
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