On Being Where Your Feet Are

By Gretchen Powers

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to keep up with my mom and my stepmom, my Mutti. As a kid I was often perplexed as to how adults have so much energy. We were always hiking, biking, skiing, camping, and playing outside.

It’s a childhood I’m so thankful for. I looked up to them as examples of how to live a full life, regardless of what it throws at you. I was often in awe of the strength and perseverance it took for them to keep going when life knocked them down. My mom was in a car accident and in a coma for weeks, my Mutti was in a climbing accident that almost killed her. While my mom has broken collar bones and hips and had a mastectomy, my Mutti has suffered chronic pain her whole adult life. My Mom a divorce, my Mutti a death of a husband. Their emotional and physical pain has in no way defined who they are, but has made them stronger.

Gretchen and her mom

However, despite having two mothers who are the poster children for resilience, it hasn’t come as easily for me.  

My “injuries” are a little less obvious. They lurk in my gut and in the shadows and are easily covered up with a big smile or a perfectly timed laugh. They are the demons of anxiety and depression. They come creeping in on the best days and stomp all over me on the worst ones. They whisper lies, and shout false truths and I believe them most of the time. Those pesky buggers leave me lying on the ground, staring at the ceiling, not wanting to do this life thing anymore.

Life is full of tough moments – things happen and you fall and get hurt – physically you bleed, mentally you ache.

Life is full of tough moments – things happen and you fall and get hurt – physically you bleed, mentally you ache. Growing up, I was often told to cowgirl up. I’d like to thank my parents for instilling in me the drive to keep going, to never give up, but despite that it’s really the outdoors and the eyes of a four legged-pup that have been the real heroes in my story.

The Trip

After reading Florence William’s book The Nature Fix this summer, I knew I needed to plan a trip with my mom to discuss the role nature plays in recovery. Williams says,

“These trips can rearrange our very core, catalyzing our hopes and dreams, filling us with awe and human connection and offering a reassurance of our place in the universe”.

My mom and I packed up our gear for a two night camping trip to the Saranac Lakes. It was a trip I had taken by canoe in a college wilderness class the autumn of my senior year, just before a bad bout of depression.

However, on this year the late summer sunshine replaced the foggy fall air, the trees were bright green and the water warm. I have to admit as the biggest fall fanatic out there, I did miss the brilliant golds and reds in the trees and the crisp smell of autumn a bit.  

We spent the next three days paddling, and making cup after cup of tea, hiking a mountain in Chacos, and eating lots of snacks. My pup, Ella, who also happens to be my emotional support animal and guardian against my demons, protected the camp and chased squirrels and took lots of hammock naps. We played cards by the fire and ate our fill of backpacking meals and shared stories we hadn’t mentioned in years.  

The faint scent of campfire that lingers on our jackets reminds us of the place where we feel whole.

We learned that despite our different suffering, we came to the outdoors, to the wild spaces we dream of and scroll our Instagram feeds for, to seek that extra light, sparkle, and love that comes from accepting ourselves as we are. And then, when we return to our structural homes with a fresh scab healing on our wounds and in our hearts, we’re a bit stronger. The faint scent of campfire that lingers on our jackets reminds us of the place where we feel whole.

I think that while nature can be a thick salve, the real healing comes with the rest and reflection after the adventure. The moments spent sipping a hot cup of coffee, savoring a hard-earned chocolate chip cookie, or soaking in a hot tub. When you take a few moments to bask in the post-adventure glow and don’t immediately go back to scrolling your newsfeed to see what you could have done instead, the memories have a moment to take up permanent residence in your brain.

I think that while nature can be a thick salve, the real healing comes with the rest and reflection after the adventure.

Even on the worst days, especially on the darkest ones, I know I have to get out into deep green spaces and find gratitude for what my body is capable of. I have to continue to make beautiful memories to replace the bleak ones my illness makes.

“Distilling what I learned, I came up with a kind of ultrasimple coda: Go outside, often, and sometimes in wild spaces. Bring friends or not. Breathe.” – Florence Williams.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mothers’ tenacity, it’s that taking a chance on the outdoors even on the worst days is always worth it. Whatever your struggles, take them outside, onto your favorite trail, or a place you’ve never been. Come as you are and find a moment of joy in where your feet are.


Gretchen Powers is a photographer and filmmaker in Portland, Maine with a love of the great outdoors – be it hiking, nordic skiing, or sipping tea by a lake. Follow her work on Instagram.

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