Wild Medicine: Be Like The Prairie.
These are not my ancestral lands, but these are the lands that saved me.
Scrub brush, oaks draped with Spanish moss, spiky waves of grass taller than I, sunken swamps looked after by vultures and manatees, there is a ghostly quality to this southern place, like one is walking through a history unpatrolled by time.
Southern days are penumbral, less distinction between the hours when sun and moon reign, seasons content to slip sideways into one another, unclaimed by color and temperature. Clouds like milky dreams are visible next to Orion and Pegasus, the night never dark enough to blot them out, and underneath the winter constellations tree frogs lilt melodically.
Certain days I miss the seabirds, the fragrant bursts of honeysuckle, the heralding of persimmon and cherry in autumn, the symphonic budding of spring. Without northeastern flurries, winter feels like April, a feeling confirmed by the lonely red-winged blackbird who coos on a slender stalk of prairie grass for a partner to share his windy days with.
This place did not call to me but someone else, in that sense I followed a kind of mating call, and I thought happiness could not exist for me here, in this land without roots and clear seasons.
For a long while I felt disoriented, life distorted, everything I once knew distant from me as I tried assimilating into this southern culture. And yet, recently the nature of the South has reminded me there is a place even for the dusty bones of crushed leaves, that perhaps that place is here, that just because in supple form a leaf lived on a perky branch, its journey is not over once it breaks away.
Life is surprising. A walk down a wooded path reveals mysteries — a coiled venomous snake, a lofty owl, a sinkhole ripe with vegetation and mossy waterfalls.
On every natural path, it is not only leaves that have broken away but creatures. Creatures regal in their solitude rule over their personal domain with studied fortitude. Their troubles and fortunes seem out there like the wind, not hoarded and hidden the way we humans stash our possessions and feelings.
There is a bold simplicity about the steadily perched owl, who motions only for a meal, perhaps a subtle nod as we walk by.
The owl casually observes, detached but not distant, deciding with practiced intuition whether we threaten her personal sanctuary. Focused, unapologetic, accountable primarily to herself, the owl is observant but not judgmental. She acts in accordance with her inner natural law, and thus not only survives but thrives.
A forest is not unlike the thicket of the subconscious, wooded with sprouting thoughts, memories, mysteries, emotions. This became obvious two falls ago, when for two weeks I was entirely alone. I had never had an extended period of complete solitude, and I was unprepared for the result. That time took the shape of a journey, not unlike a walk through the forest, only the forest was inside myself.
I ventured in, not turning back when the road blended into its surroundings, and I came to a sort of clearing that was more like a clump of buried emotions.
Anger, sadness, grief, these emotions were languishing fetid on the fallow land of my subconscious, and at first all I could do was gape, horrified this murky place was thriving inside of me. The emotional muck was thick and tacky. One step in and I started to sink.
The process was slow, at first I did not realize what was happening, I thought then I could still turn back, but it soon became obvious if I did not find a way out, a compass of comfort or reconciliation, that congealed mess would drown me.
For months last spring, I was lodged there, unable to fully free myself. Knowing that dreadful trove of unhealed traumas was inside, I could not leave without clearing the area. To survive during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, it became okay to stash away sorrows and unresolved pain. I had to.
I disassociated from myself enough that I was oblivious this place existed, and I formed barriers between myself and it, also others. Stumbling upon the truth, seeing its destruction, it felt irreconcilably wrong to leave it there untended. I had adopted a way to survive that quite suddenly felt intolerable. I understood a purge was necessary, to exorcise that which was choking me, strangling me, pulling me down.
I needed to rid myself not only of that rotten mess, but also those who have condoned, promoted, applauded my stagnating false self. After all, with others pulling down their wings, owls could not fly.
I first tried action. That was my grandfather’s favorite word, and I thought it might help with the healing process. I went into the woods with a bat and searched for a dead tree. Certain steps I missed during my foundational years, like how to healthily release anger, and I needed to find a way to forcefully extract every unsaid word and unspent feeling threatening to consume me.
I found one, a hollow stump, and after checking it for lifeforms, I hit it powerfully. It felt unnatural. I could not even dissect a deceased worm in school. There was something un-sacred about attacking the lifeless body of a once vibrant creature, and this tree at one time had stood proudly as the owl. But how else could I clear out the decay?
There was no internal swailing I knew of that would clear my forest and allow for new growth. Instead, spores of despair coated my already festering emotions. I cried, I retched, I contemplated suicide as hopelessness stacked on top of the pile.
Then it occurred to me, why was I fighting? It was fighting that got me here — that of others, fighting my truth. Perhaps my odyssey was less arduous than I thought, and I just needed to get outside myself. Outside. Where would I go, I wondered?
Back home, it was the seashore I roamed. Here there was no ocean, and alligators loitered the wild spaces one might want to wander. Did I really want to ensnare myself in their deadly vice?
I had become reliant on others to make my decisions, I thought that was loving, and perhaps it was — me loving them, but passively ceding my independence for the hope of returned affection seemed unwise as the mass burial of my feelings now. Now I wanted to make choices, to be guided only when it felt natural, as part of a mature initiation.
The tree frog by my front door, the yellow butterfly by the postal box, the white heron privately pruning in the wood, the scurrying families of wild pigs and deer, with increasing frequency nature not only abounded but communicated to me messages I needed to hear, each intuited word a dose of medicine for my dying spirit.
They did not push, or pull, they did not force their way or words onto me, flora and fauna simply showed me one way, and let me choose whether I wanted to take it.
Discover your wildness, I kept hearing. Claim it. Be it. And then I found it, a single path that offered at the end of its weaving wood a different clearing from the one I found within, a possible alternative to reference during those hopeless hours filled with loss. I would not have guessed such a place existed, that it would resonate with impact inside me, especially at the entrance off the highway.
A shallow hollow full of motley cars, an S-shaped gate barely wide enough to squeeze through, a tiny sign post, that was all. The forest at first felt unremarkable, like it could exist anywhere. I realized soon, as trees ancient and majestic waved me on, this was no ordinary place. Where were the people? I had seen their cars. There were limited options for exploration, this not a lengthy series of trails.
I wondered if the gate were a portal, each of us walking the same path but in a parallel dimension. What else could explain the human absence?
A mile or so in, a long path revealed that led straight into the prairie. For years I had driven by this path unknowing. How could I not know this was here? And yet I knew. I had seen the prairie much like I had seen myself, without seeing truly.
I saw the periphery, the mist, the low-flying egrets and cranes over what I falsely perceived to be a flat landscape, but the dimension I missed from the road, the life, the shadows, and glow. There was a hazy awareness inside this open ocean of flower and grass and bush. The labyrinth undulated but did not frighten me, its earthy scent coating like perfume the insides of my nostrils.
On either side of the path the bountiful brush that filled my horizons glistened at its roots with swamp water, and weaving through airy pale cinnamon stalks wild horses grazed on lush wet patches of green.
This place was magic. Medicine. A natural, powerful kind of healing.
I felt all the energy of the Universe here — wild, vibrant, essential. I walked not lazily but with focused attention on my senses, my feelings, my emotions, on what birds I saw hopping from one side of the path to the other, on what songs wafted up from the grassy knolls. Inside the gloaming, a fat alligator guarded the two-story rustic outpost ornamented with wasp nests, but let me pass.
I climbed up a ladder onto the top level of the only structure for endless miles in every direction and breathed deeply in. Perhaps for the first time. I inhaled all the pieces of my story, my internal breath like the wind washing over me, jostling gently out some of the emotional and energetic debris. The prescription was clear: be like the prairie.
When life is troubling, it is easy to deny the truth. Distract, ignore, dismiss — these are what invaded me with embattling force for decades, and I allowed them to because I was scared.
I was scared to be myself, to honor my personal truth, scared to feel my feelings. But watching the horse do as nature intended, the alligator, watching them feed and wander and watch and feel, not only the sunlight but the shadows, I felt I had permission at last to be as nature intended for me.
If there exist wild things, anywhere, then wildness exists, that intuitive knowing when something is or is not right, that acceptance to be organically as we are. It was not right of me to deny my wild soul for the majority of my life, my solitude showed me however painfully that it is unnatural to fight with self.
The bush, the horse, the owl, the final rays of daylight sun that give way to moon, these are real and unaffected. The myth is believing what is right for me is not right for me. A deer can no more be a lynx than I a machine, so no more trying. I will be, and regardless of the outcome, that will be enough.
Originally the northeast may have been my home, but it is the south where I have lived as an adult, and in this shifting, pulsing geography, I too have shifted, from suicidal thoughts borne out of trauma to healing. The process is ongoing, but it is vivid and affirming.
Every land, every moment, whether tragic or sublime, has the power to contain us, to heal us. It is comforting as a compass out of my sorrow to know this, and that just off any highway there might be a previously unseen natural sanctuary so nurturing and compelling, it harkens us back to our original internal geography. It is at these times we must show reverence and gratitude, for without them, we would be lost.
Alexandra Heather Foss is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Rebelle Society. She has also been published by The New York Times and in ‘Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself’. Her adventures have taken her around the world, but she now spends her time between Cape Cod and Florida. She loves rollerblading, Fado music, board games, and long walks in nature. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.