A Medicine Walk is described by Doug Goodfeather (a spiritual leader of the Lakota) as an indigenous practice that helps to create a spiritual communication between a human being and Mother Earth. He goes on to say that historically his indigenous ancestors would take medicine walks to seek signs, omens, and signals because the Creator speaks to us through nature.
When I was a little girl growing up in New Jersey we had a small arboretum just a few blocks from our house. It was in these woods that I discovered my connection to something otherworldly and spiritual. I’d spend hours amongst the vines, ferns, and trees moving heavy logs and fallen branches to make forts while quietly observing small forest animals on their level and inspecting the large variety of insects. Looking back on those moments I’m reminded of the feelings I experienced while in that little patch of forest – happy, grounded, and connected to Mother Earth.
Fast forward 30 years to early 2021. My husband and two kids are hunkering down in our cabin in Maine waiting out the winter and Covid 19. We’re all consumed in our digital lives, going to school and work while taking short breaks outdoors safely in the quiet Maine woods. Our family faired quite well during Covid (relatively speaking) as a result of our access to open outdoor space. However, there was something eating at me. A void I couldn’t fill. A need I couldn’t quite articulate.
The barrage of news, the high consumption of digital everything, and that palpable together-yet-apart feeling overcame my family. It felt like a weight crushing me; a force I couldn’t see, describe, or fully understand.
One January morning while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram I saw an ad I’d scrolled by months before – the image of a single campervan driving on a road amongst the red rocks of Utah or Colorado. It hit me. My mother who had passed just two years prior had always dreamed of taking me to our National Parks. She had talked about it all throughout my teen years. It never came to fruition but the seed was planted and little did I know It had been growing inside me ever since. I picked up the phone and booked our Moterra campervan trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons that same morning. The West was calling.
The trip didn’t immediately lead to what I was searching for. There’s a steep learning curve to van life in the first several days. Between the vehicle, new spacial constraints, national park rules, division of labor, and the simple fact that around every bend could be something that could kill you was entirely new for us. Regardless, we embraced the adventure before us. We soaked in the landscape. We watched the earth gurgle and erupt. We observed the abundance of nature, rafted a wild river, and explored a valley on horseback. We quickly adapted to this new way of life, but more than that – we thrived. Without the distractions of technology, with daily chores needing attention, and a great land in need of exploring we fell into a new rhythm. We were present for each other. We bonded over new experiences and thrills. We discovered new interests and pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zones. But above all else we experienced a new connection to Mother Earth in the form of respect and gratitude.
In the book ‘Braiding Sweetgrass,’ author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of her observation of the schoolchildren on the Onondaga Reservation in upstate New York. At the beginning and end of each school week the children recite what is known as the “Thanksgiving Address.” This ancient protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. Before the address the teachers remind the kids that every day (beginning with when our feet touch the earth) we’re to send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world. They then begin to recite an invocation of gratitude and a scientific inventory of biodiversity in which each element of the ecosystem is named along with its function. They are each respectfully regarded and thanked for what they bring to the community and to the Earth.
When we returned to Jackson-Hole after a week on the road we were greeted by Molly, the lovely young woman who had provided our intro to the van. She was eager to hear how our trip went. I proceeded to describe how much it meant to me to have experienced my family in this new and profound way – how we’d all grown and evolved in such a short period of time by opening ourselves up to nature and all its wonders. As I spoke the tears spontaneously began to roll down my cheeks and I began to sob. She opened her arms and we embraced. In that moment the gratitude I felt for her, Moterra, our national parks, and my family brought a swell of joy in me that could not be contained. Our lives were all changed forever by that trip and we’ve incorporated travel like this into our lives ever since.
The book ‘Think Indigenous’ states that our minds are simply not meant to process the amount of information thrown at us on a daily basis, leading to anxiety, depression, and a national mental health crisis. The weight that I had felt didn’t have a name. It was my soul screaming out for what my mind, body, and heart needed most – a reconnection to nature. I learned it wasn’t as much of a weight as it was cord that had been severed. One end connected to me, the other end firmly to the ground. Our first and subsequent trips have mended that cord and grounded me once again to what’s important – to what feeds my personal spirituality.
Once again nature and the spirit of my mother communicated with me and reminded me to use what indigenous call “forest eyes.” These were the eyes I used when I was young in my arboretum to see beyond physical forms of the life around me but to feel the energy of the forest, it’s living creatures, and myself all interconnected.
Thanks to van life my family is now learning to see the world through their forest eyes as well which also led to a deeper level of care for our environment and a new enthusiasm for conservation and protection. Thanks to van life we took our first Medicine Walk as a family and I know there will be many many more to come.
About the Author: Heidi is a Moterra client and discovered the joys of van rentals and van vacations a few years ago. Her family first traveled with us in 2021 when they needed to escape the confines of the pandemic and the digital lives that had come with it and to connect with one another in Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks. Recently she and her husband decided to take a storytelling workshop where she shared what it meant to her to rekindle the spirituality and gratitude she has long felt in wild spaces and what it meant to her to be able to share that experience with her children.