Healed by Nature, Inspired by Love

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IMG_0015In 1967, Vic persuaded me to lie in a sleeping bag on the cold ground in March. We held each other while waves of green, yellow, and pink tinted the sky—a divine aurora borealis lightshow. It was the crescendo of our first winter of midnight love, Golden Delicious apples, Walter Benton’s poems, and Buffy Sainte Marie’s songs.

“Bring your sneakers,” Vic said on a sunny spring morning. He drove his battered VW bug to a rushing creek near the Cornell campus. He stood in the stream bed, grinned up at me, and held out his hand. I grabbed and stepped into the cold water. My feet were numb, but my body was on fire. We waded and walked up small waterfalls. He named the trees and pointed out the wildflowers. He was a physics graduate student, a motorcycle racer, and a wild dancer. He was also a nature mystic.

Elaine 1968

Elaine 1968

After we married in 1968, we moved to an almost winterized rented cottage on Cayuga Lake. We were graduate student poor and Vic was practical, but he longed for a canoe.

“I’ve never been in a canoe,” I said.

“I’ll teach you to paddle,” he promised. “You’ll love it.” We paddled up and down and across Cayuga Lake. We paddled in the Canadian wilderness, eaten alive by bugs.

Vic 1969

Vic 1969

Longing for adventure, we drove to California. On the way, we scrambled up remote Rocky Mountain trails—my first wilderness backpacking trip. Vic read topographical maps and used his compass to find the way. We watched still mountain lakes at sunset. At night, I shivered against Vic’s heat.

In California in 1970, Vic took nude photos of me and my pregnant belly overlooking the Pacific Ocean. (Yes, I have the photos. No, I’m not sharing them.) I loved being his Earth Goddess. Within days, we knew I had been standing in poison oak. I soaked the angry blisters in hot springs overlooking the Pacific while sea otters whacked abalone shells on the rocks below.

The house that broke our mother's hearts

The house that broke our mother’s hearts

“We’ll never afford land above the smog line,” we decided after a year in California, so we returned to Ithaca to our rented house on Cayuga Lake. In 1973, we bought an iridescent pink and golden sunset overlooking Seneca Lake Valley. Seventy acres and a farmhouse in death throes came with the view.

***

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Eight days after Vic’s death in 2008, I dreamed I would live in the House of the Green Man. Who was the Green Man? I learned he was a pre-Christian Northern European God of Nature and Rebirth.

I walked the trails on my land and saw the Green Man everywhere. I watched the earth burst forth, let go, and wither toward winter before greening again. I learned to trust the yellow trout lilies and bluebirds in spring, the summer daisies and honey bees, the autumn goldenrod and monarchs, the winter acorns and deer prints in the snow. The sun IMG_0003cycled north and south along the western horizon. I depended on it.

I felt at home in the cycles of Life and Death. The grief-scattered fragments of my psyche reassembled in new patterns of possibility. The nature mystic’s path had become my own.

***

Do you find healing in nature? For other stories about my early life with Vic, including our favorite Buffy Sainte Marie song, see Until It’s Time for You to Go and California Hippie Capers.

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33 Comments
  1. Your first paragraph is pure poetry. Again, the merging of pictures and prose is beautiful, and I hope therapeutic for you and your readers.

    • Thank you, Marian. I loved recalling the early memories of my introduction to nature. I was a suburban girl and not used to looking up at the sky or noticing wild flowers. Our life partners change us in ways that last long after they’re gone. I hope readers will imagine turning to nature for solace when they’re in a hard place.

  2. Oh Elaine, how I love reading your beautiful stories. You share your life so selflessly with us with such great descriptions in words and photos. I know you for almost a year now and yet I feel I know you and Vic for so many years through your expertly told stories. You are a true pillar of strength and I anxiously await the birth of your book. xo
    Deb

    • Thank you, Debby, for your encouragement and kind words. I am grateful Vic and I shared these experiences in Nature–and of course there are many more. Perhaps I would have come to this relationship with the natural world on my own, but I was only 21 when I met him, so these experiences were formative. Without him here, I realize how much I rely on Nature when times are tough or when I want to celebrate.

  3. What a gift that you have such total recall and can convey the embodied touch and sights of your life lived then and and how it lives in who you are now.

    • There is so much I don’t remember, Janet, but these experiences were luminous. I still see that aurora (never saw another so dramatic). I still remember Vic reading maps and a compass on mountain peaks when I had no idea where I was or how to find my way. I trusted he’d figure it out and he always did. And who could forget the poison oak? I was Madonna with legs swollen like tree trunks. I’m grateful I have old photos to awaken memory, since my memory is highly selective. Elaine

  4. Beautiful. I find healing, truth and myself. Thank you for sharing this. You put my feelings into words.

    • Thank you, Patt, you nature mystic you. I imagine you surrounded by beauty. You must be longing for a thaw in the north country. Freezing rain here today. I’ll explore the world in my rain gear and look for signs of spring. I always love hearing from you.

  5. Elaine, I love these stories of your early life with Vic. It is so clear how you two inspired each other to embrace nature and spirit. Thank you!

    • Hi Lynne. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement. I love the early stories, too. We had about seven idyllic years with few disagreements–but of course it wasn’t always so much fun. But I did love those hippie years and there was lots of action then. Appreciate your comments and your work.

  6. Elaine, I love this post. (Of course), I too, was married to a Green Man, Elaine, soul sister that you are. I remember lying in the field adjacent to our 15 acres land in Michigan – where we built our little cabin by hand out of recycled windows and old barn wood and corner poles from trees cut and stripped from our own woods – watching the pink and green of the Aurora Borialis role across the night sky. Gene, always galavanting in the wild…saw a tree nature spirit once when pulling minnow traps in a secluded pond (remind me to tell you that story one day). He introduced me – a girl from the suburbs of Florida – to my first backwoods, two tracking experience (it frightened me to be so deep in the woods!). We swam nude in ice cold Michigan rivers in the Spring and found deserted farms where the blackberries grew abundant in the summer…and on and on. As I read your beautiful memoirs, I am pulled back in time and can even smile, now, after 5 1/2 years since my Green Man has died. You inspire me to explore nature more for healing…something I haven’t been doing…because I know it will be the medicine I need. Much love, Jenna

    • Jenna, what great stories and how I resonate with them. Even though I imagined I would leave after Vic died, I stayed on the land we bought in 1973. Nature surrounds me here. Vic died 5 1/2 years ago, too, June 2008–close to the time Gene left–so I spent much of that first summer and fall outdoors walking the trails, weeding gardens, walking the shore of Seneca Lake. When heartache and hopelessness made me feel like I would jump out of my skin, I went outdoors–night and day, watching the sun move across the sky, the seasons change, the vastness of the night heaven in the darkness here. It always helped me find perspective. It still does. We have many stories to tell each other. Sometime in the next year (new book in hand), I’ll be in CA and we’ll have a chance to meet. I’m grateful for our connection on so many levels and I love your stories. With love and gratitude, Elaine

    • You and Elaine are sisters from the same Great Mother! Your sensibilities seem so similar.

      I have not lost my Green Man. He is on his way home after having been gone for a year. I will appreciate him more having read both of your words. Thank you.

      I loved your comment, Jenna, about being frightened to be so deep in the woods having come from suburban Florida. Thanks for the emotional snapshot of your younger self. The deep woods can be very scary especially if you are not used the them.
      The blackberries you wrote about inferred all of the activity that had been on that farm in times past. Having lived in upstate NY myself for a while I have seen a number of old abandoned farms. I hadn’t thought of them for a while.

      Your swimming nude reminds me of a friend who had a sauna next to a pond which, in the winter, he would hack a hole in the thick ice and we would hang onto the ledge and slip underneath into the water I clearly remember the feeling, once I was over the initial shock, of observing how the outside layer of my skin was on fire with cold but the inside was toasty warm. Strange sensation.

      • Your Green Man is coming home. You are the most patient wife I can imagine and his work at Standing Rock is awe-inspiring. Jenna and I met when I was in CA. Immediate shared language and laughter. Lauren, I love the nude sauna part. I did spend a month at Esalen in the baths and David has a sauna, but icy water? That never appealed. It’s cold enough here. I remember running into you on the street in Ithaca a long time ago, at least 15 years, but probably more. It was cold. I had on heavy winter clothes and boots. You dressed lightly, almost for summer. “Aren’t you cold?” I asked. You said, “My skin is cold but I love feeling so toasty warm inside.” I paraphrase, but the idea was there. Jenna, Lauren was with us throughout Vic’s illness and at his death and afterward to hold me in grief. We couldn’t have had a more soulful, fearless, and accepting companion.

  7. I’ve said it before, but I am reminded again after reading this… what a life you’ve lived, Elaine. I’m grateful that you are able and willing to share your experiences in such a beautiful way. When I read your words, I feel as though I’m right there with you. Thank you so much….

    Fondly,
    Ann

    • Thank you, Ann. My good life provided a strong foundation for my life now. I still miss him every day, but I kept the promise I made to him to make a good life on my own. Grateful for writing and grateful for friends like you. I hope to meet some of my cyberfriends when the book comes out in October and I travel some to promote it. So excited about your inclusion in the Chicken Soup series. I await your book. You have so much powerful material in your FB posts about your mom. Hope you saved them. Sending you love, Elaine

      • I love these early stories and pictures — so plucky and adventurous you two were. And what a wonderful home you have made of the old farmhouse!!!

        • We need some happy stories this time of year. I’m thinking of stories about India, Peggy. Old photos stir up memories. With love, Elaine

  8. all those crazy times you two had. and the sweet photos of you and Vic. I love to see these. what a life you’ve had

  9. Elaine,
    Your stories sing. They leap to life with each word. My favorite line in this essay: “At night, I shivered against Vic’s heat.”

    I can’t wait to read your book.
    xoxoxo

    Kathleen

    • Takes a conscious, careful writer to find the best line. I love it, Kathleen. Thanks for reading and responding. I wrote about nature two weeks in a row, but Vic’s birthday is in early March, so I’ll turn to my feelings about that and how I’ll mark it. He would have been 73 this year. I expected him to be the energizer bunny for a long, long life (like his 98-year-old mother). But destiny strikes, and we deal with it the best we can. Much love to you, E

  10. So very sweet. Your writing is compelling even through the pain of the neuralgia. It’s nice to learn things about Vic that I never knew. Thinking about you as always Sister.

    • Thank you, my Spiritual Brother Dennis. I wish you didn’t have to deal with constant pain. I’m grateful for your generosity despite your own rocky path. Blessings.

  11. Thanks Elaine this is lovely! I was with you while reading! Nothing like Nature and all her wildnessess, heat and ice, light and day, stars and moon, to nurture us.

    • Nature in all her wildness, including the wild realms of the imagination and dreams. We’ve had light snow the last few days to remind us of what’s coming in my area of New York State. It’s challenging to love Nature as much in the winter as I do in the summer, but I’m out looking for beauty in these short cold days. Vic was an enthusiastic teacher when I was a young girl who had spent most of her life in the city, but now I have my own relationship with the wildness of Nature in the forests and fields, birds and butterflies.

  12. This is such a beautiful, poetic piece. You are a gifted writer, Elaine. I hope you’ve found another outlet for your talent these days. Sending warm love for the coming wintery season. Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie. I gave a workshop a few hours from home this week and led a grief ritual for a spiritual community. It worked well as I learn how to navigate teaching with poor hearing. I’ve also written more pieces for Gratefulness.org and my work is well received there, plus I love their founder Br. David Steindl-Rast. The Jung workshop on grief, aging, and mythology comes in mid May in Columbus. That will focus my writing for the winter. Or do I need/want to learn more about Monarchs where I find so much joy and transformation? I’m on the trail of the indigenous rituals and beliefs about Monarchs as returning ancestors in Mexico where they winter. I find what makes me feel alive and joyful–Joseph Campbell style. I look forward to your new book. I know you’re busy as you create this fourth book for you. Congratulations!

  13. A beautiful reflection tinged with both adventure and a bit of melancholy for having lost one so loved.

    • Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. I’m grateful for all that was and also for my life now with a strong daily connection with Nature.

  14. When I need a good bath, a soul scouring, a sound cleansing, a nature healing, I head for Point Lobos. There I can sit by the rocks just far enough back to be safe and let the pounding waves do their thing. It is a little scary and it makes my heart pound. The sound is very loud as the waves crash on the rocks and you can see the heavy suction of the wave before it breaks. You know it could take you out and under in a flash. Winter waves, the spray flies 30 feet into the air and falls back into a whirling foamy churn of kelp and dark waters.
    You cannot go there and come back the same.

    • You’ll take me to your special spot someday. I hope. When the fires stop, the ocean will still be there. May all be well and wet in California. The tragedy is overwhelming.

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