Nature Is My Recuperation, A Hospital In The Original Sense

Oct 4, 2018

A search-and-rescue team carried me down on a stretcher. They hoisted me high up into the trail’s hemlock and spruce so I was surrounded by their needles and resin. 

I used to climb trees a lot when I was a kid, but I hadn’t been up in their branches for years, and I’d never ridden through a forest so I could reach out and touch the limbs if I’d wanted to.

It was a remarkable vantage point, and one I will remember.

Especially because I would end up spending the next five days in a medical center -- the most time I can remember being continuously inside.

Nature makes for a terrific hospital, using "hospital" in its original sense: a place that is hospitable, that welcomes and entertains.

Once I was able to walk around our local pond, I was welcomed by a great blue heron that landed so close I thought it was going to wrap me in its wings.

And I’ve been entertained by Cooper hawks flying tree to tree overhead, as if leading me on with an invisible string; by a fox that got me in a staring contest; and by a big old porcupine that just wanted to amble along, thank you.

Nature makes for a terrific hospital in our current usage as well, a place that heals.

A long wide river turns a slow bend two miles from our house, and when my leg had mended enough, I walked down to its bank to look at its shining, as it flowed south to where its mouth was in conversation with the sea.

After I fell mountain climbing, my world was reduced to the rock I sat on for three hours, unable to move. Now I had this gleaming vista before me, in motion, motioning me on.

Though I'm certainly grateful for the medical staff and my husband who tended me, it was getting outside that restored me. Stocked my shelves.

Susan Johnson at Thuya Gardens in Northeast Harbor, Maine.
Credit Thomas Thompson / Courtesy Susan Johnson

People ask if I will continue hiking, given that was how I broke my leg.

Of course, I say.

What better way to mend a leg than take it outside, up a mountain side, to push the pain aside. 

Susan Johnson teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts.