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Gratitude for What Is by Wendy Peterman Ph.D

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Gratitude for What Is

Every part of a forest has a unique smell. I’m not a person who memorizes and identifies plant species like some of my Botanist friends, but I can tell just by scent when the plant communities in a forest have changed. The moisture of the soil, the decomposing organic matter and the tree species all blend together to make rich-smelling air in the woods. I wonder if other animals navigate the woods by these smells. They must. The smells don’t give me clear messages of where I should or should not go, but they do give me a rush of joy and gratitude for that dark, leafy world.

Some days, when I’m driving around in the woods, I can’t help but stop and exclaim, “You’re beautiful! I love you! Thank you SO much!” It just bursts out of me in response to the vibrant colors of fall, the misty mornings of Spring, or the vast expanses of green mountains. Sometimes, I have to stop in front of a giant rock outcrop, twisting and jutting toward the sky, and say, “Oh! Look at you! You’re just SO interesting!”

Sometimes, when I’m hiking in the woods where the mist is settling into the trees, it creates a magical ambiance that feels almost sacred. In my head, I hear some snippet of a Bible story, “...and the spirit of the Lord descended upon him…” I feel the cold tingle of the mist on my face, and accept my forest baptism as if the spirit of the woods is descending upon me. Other times, the sunlight filters through the branches, making layered streams of light and dark. I call this the “God light.” I know this is a loaded word. God is so many things to so many people. For me, the forest is my church. It is my heart. It gives me life. The outbursts of appreciation and gratitude are my prayers.

Having grown up in this mystical wooded habitat, with deep innate reverence for the forest, it’s difficult for me to understand why it isn’t valued by everyone. Why doesn’t everyone care about forest health and conservation? Why don’t people everywhere want to protect and enjoy nature? As it turns out, most people in the US, let alone the world, live in cities, where they never see forests. They see buildings, concrete, cars, asphalt, other people, and dogs. If they are lucky, they see a park, with grass and some aesthetically arranged trees. For some people, the nearest forest might be in the next state, or even several states away. Accessing a National Park might involve an expensive road or even plane trip, luxuries many people can’t afford.

In the warm summer, when my Northern system is overwhelmed by the heat (modest by most standards, but getting warmer by the year), wilting like a violet in the intense sun, I can go to the woods and the cool comfort of the shade. Hiking on trails, maintained by volunteers, I can wander by mountain lakes and revel in the refreshing spray of clear waterfalls, spilling over volcanic rocks. On these days, I thank the woods for giving me respite from the thick, sweltering air of the valley below.

This makes living in or near woods a privilege in my mind, and I’m grateful, not just for the opportunity to develop such a close, loving relationship with trees, but for the details of my environment that support them. The rain, which drives so many people away from the Northwest, gives me peace and reassurance that the trees are getting what they need. Rather than staying inside, grumbling about the dreariness of the weather, I love donning my rain gear and taking a walk. I feel extra close and connected to the trees when it’s raining as if it is a sacred time when heaven is bestowing on them the gift of life, and I am an honored guest at this most intimate of rituals. Tilting my face toward the sky, I take in the splendor of tall, regal Douglas firs, feel the misty wetness of the rain and the intermittent larger droplets of water from the branches. “Thank you,” I say, “ for letting me be a part of this life.”

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Patricia Carbotti
Patricia Carbotti
Mar 06, 2021

I wonder.... but yes, I believe you absolutely do, realize how blessed you are to have the forests in your life in these ways, and how blessed the forests are to have you! We used to have a small condo on a river in NH. They were some difficult years. And when Richard couldn't fine me, my friends at the pool would tell him... "Oh Pat? ... She is probably down in the river with God." They saw me. It felt good to be seen.😊 I miss the river and the trees, the sounds and the colors and texture and aromas. But I have my river rocks!! 😑 Thank you for 'sensational' sharing. Your writing is stunningly beautiful.

Wendy Peterman
Wendy Peterman
Mar 07, 2021
Replying to

Pat, thank you so much. It feels so good to be seen. I wonder if your next adventure will take you to a river. Wouldn't that be awesome?

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