“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
The transition from warfighter to civilian is not always an easy one. There are many struggles along that path, and a myriad of thoughts and emotions. For me, those feelings ranged from guilt and despair to confusion about who I was once I was no longer in uniform. But the healing power of nature is very real. It is something I’ve experienced firsthand.
Nearly a decade ago, I began taking walks to find an escape from the challenges of my transition out of the Air Force. Mother Nature wouldn’t allow me to run away from my problems, but she was more than happy to give me all the room I needed to lay them out and start sorting through them. Whether I was offering my pleas to the calming commotion of an autumn seaside or getting lost in vibrant green trees and sharing hopeful prayers with the summer wind, I’m convinced nature played a major role in my successful return to life as a civilian.
Veterans In Nature’s Service (VINS), a new employee resource group at the Conservancy, is using this idea of nature as a healer as a basis for what is, perhaps, one of my favorite projects—the Preserve Pilot Project. Led by Michelle Kotulski, e-learning designer for the Conservancy and Greg Jacob, policy advisor for the Conservancy in New York, this project aims to bring a group of 10 to 12 veterans to a Nature Conservancy preserve for a weekend retreat. The veterans can enjoy the wonders of nature with some of their brothers and sisters in arms and, just maybe, learn a bit about the Conservancy, too. The hope is that this experience will help them realize the healing power of nature and ease their transition from war time to peace, the same way it helped me find solace when I separated from the Air Force almost 10 years ago.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” --Anne Frank
Writing is another way I found peace and the ability to cope, at times, with the overwhelming feelings of loss and confusion all those years ago. Whereas my walks helped settle my mind and refresh my spirit, writing poetry and short stories offered an outlet to help me better understand what I had experienced during my service. I felt empowered by my writing because it allowed me to put into words what I had trouble comprehending or properly conveying otherwise. I could approach different ideas that caused me concern and work through them from different perspectives. For example, I wrote one particularly powerful poem from the point of view of a suicide bomber. It was my attempt to figure out the reasons behind such a devastatingly powerful act—one that had impacted me personally.
Sharing my writing also offers others broad insight into my heart and mind. Writing has become more than just therapy; it is now something I consider to be my greatest passion.
Co-leading VINS allows me to utilize my two passions, nature and writing, for the betterment of people, and in turn, nature. I’m able to share my perspective in blogs like this, and I’m able to help other veterans and military family members at the Conservancy share their stories. Projects like this can help develop a more inclusive day to day workplace climate—how? By deepening our understanding of the various experiences that make each of us who we are.
“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”
--Henry David Thoreau
*Note: June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day.
VINS is not just for military veterans and their families. They welcome everyone who is committed to creating a culture of inclusion at The Nature Conservancy to help veterans transition to civilian life and leveraging the full potential of their experiences--no matter your age or ethnicity, gender, job type, career stage, sexual orientation, language or geography.