I realize I don’t write about “nature as therapy”quite as often as I intended. All of my birding, hiking, and kayaking are forms of ecotherapy, but I don’t always write about them that way. This weekend, though, I experienced something that soothed me just when I needed it most. You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you that it was a sunset that provided the balm for my pain. I know we’re all well aware that the sun is responsible for so much of the natural beauty on this planet, and that the world is especially beautiful when the sun is rising or setting. I’m going to show you some more lovely sun photos below, but first a bit of background on the situation that caused me to need a dose of nature therapy —
My extended family has been experiencing some very rocky times lately. I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy by disclosing too much, but it has to do with differences in how various family members are working through their grief about my brother-in-law Ron’s death (he died in September — I wrote about it here). You’re probably familiar with the supposed 5 stages of grief, right? There’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And we all know that those stages might be processed in a different order and that some people experience each stage multiple times before they finally come out the other end and truly move on with their lives in a healthy way. The key word there is healthy. We have a situation in which someone is exhibiting some dangerous and emotionally unhealthy behaviors, and we’re all very worried. Despite the fact that there’s a ton of love in my family, things are getting very difficult lately, and nerves are frayed all around.
So this past weekend I went down to Ohio to visit the family. I primarily wanted to see my niece Amy while she’s still pregnant with her first child — even though she sends me “belly progress pictures” every four weeks, I needed to see her in person and touch that belly for myself. There were good times, including a fun family gathering. But a couple of things came to a head at one point, and despite some long conversations attempting to sort things out, I still have some strong worries about the ongoing family cohesion and emotional health of certain family members. So much so that after three exhausting days, I headed back up to Michigan without a backward glance, feeling that I needed to run far away from my family for a while. I’ve been in the middle for too long, trying to be the negotiator and peacemaker, and it’s tearing me apart. Trying to make other people realize that they need help has almost pushed me into therapy. I realize now that there’s not much more I can really do anyway.
So on my five and a half hour drive back home, I listened to my music and just drove, trying not to think about anything. It was late evening as I drove west across the Ohio turnpike, the sun getting lower in the sky. My photographer side was admiring all the picturesque farm scenes of northern Ohio lit by the golden light, wishing I had the energy to stop for some shutter clicking.
I’ve got a few John Denver tunes on my iPod, and as I heard him sing, “….sunshine almost always makes me high…”, I looked at the gorgeous sunset appearing in front of me and felt my blood pressure finally go down. Really, I could almost feel the pressure easing. Maybe I was high on the beauty of the sky.
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high
From Sunshine on my Shoulders, by John Denver
As you see above, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo with my cell phone camera to preserve the moment. I like how the sun is reflecting off the truck, don’t you? This photo doesn’t do justice to the magnificence of that sunset but trust me, it was fantastic. It reminded me that the earth is still rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, and life is going on. It put my troubles in perspective, sort of the way a mountain view always makes me realize how small we really are.
I enjoyed the varying colors of the sunset for about an hour, wondering if my fellow turnpike drivers were also realizing how beautiful it was, or if they were cursing he sun for blinding them as they drove toward it. I know there have been many times I’ve focused on the irritation of the sun in my eyes rather than the beauty and the wonder of it. But that night was special, and it still gives me peace when I close my eyes and remember how that calmness came over me as I drove, exhausted, back toward home.