Harness the Healing Power of Nature

By Ashey Lyn Olson, WheelchairTraveling.com

Parks and the outdoors, in general, hold a very special place in my heart. All my travels have had a powerful nature element. Even in cities, I am exploring local parks and gardens. Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir are some of the most profound writers who speak of nature's effects so poignantly…the connection between man and something far greater; something so grand and yet so familiar, like home.

For one, Muir says, "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike." Nature has always spoken to me, beginning with spending countless hours in backyard trees, as well as camping and hiking with ranger dad. My love of nature is natural.

Ashley Lyn Olson in the woods

Forging Accessible Pathways to the Great Outdoors

My father was a great man and taught me a lot about appreciating and respecting nature. Tragically, his life ended in the same car accident that paralyzed me when I was fourteen years old. He dreamed of visiting all the U.S. National Parks, so I am filling in so-to-speak. Of course, now I continue on by wheelchair.

Sharing about what is possible for people with disabilities is a prime inspiration behind creating wheelchairtraveling.com in 2006. Connecting the dots became finding the "accessible" pathways. Quotations are used because I found many pathways and trails that were usable, or barrier-free, but were not classified as being "accessible," and yet I accessed most of them in my manual wheelchair.

Only a few years ago did I begin hiking in a power wheelchair, which can be just as strenuous or dangerous, just on a different level. There again, I pushed the limits. I've paid the price a handful of times, but learned a lot, including to keep going. Nature fuels me. It recharges my soul. It's my church, my drug of choice and is as vital to me as food. It's where I came from and where I'll return.

The preservation of open spaces is such a gift, and I am wholeheartedly grateful for all that can be seen in the USA alone. If you're able to get outside, do it. I recall too many times when I was hospitalized for an unexpected, exceptionally long period of time. When I first sustained my spinal cord injury, all I dreamed of was going outside to breathe fresh, non-hospital-filtered air. The sweet smell of the garden, forest, ocean or mountain rock is purity on earth. There is no cleaner air. It is literally life-giving, so be kind to life and breath in deeply.

Accessible desert

Now is the Time for a Restorative Journey to Nature

If unable to travel far, go local. People spend their whole life not enjoying the fruits of the land that they moved to be close by. Many USA parks I've visited are commonly filled with more tourists from other countries than domestic travelers, which I've always found exceptionally odd because I considered parks as treasures. And who doesn't like treasures?

Perhaps it's that the parks are too available to not worry about missing out. It's that, "There's always next year" kind of mentality. "When the kids are older, I'll go." "When the kids are graduated and I have more free time." "When things calm down and it's not so crazy." Excuses are easy to find.

Exploring and having an adventure you've longed for where you can time for self-realization and personal growth is, too often, perceived as not important or crucial. Humanity has been programmed to produce results, results stemming from the assumptions and expectations society has classified as acceptable. Emphasis is on the final blueprint, the corporeal, not the unseen. Too much attention is given to that which doesn't last. Fewer seem to care about or understand the process; but it's the development, or the journey, where the creative magic resides.

Finding peace in the national parks

There's nothing really to do or accomplish at a park; only to be. To be with nature and your natural self. No regular distractions, like paperwork or resetting routers. This is the true journey; to watch and observe. Look internally, too. What is the body saying? What is it feeling? In nature's company, listening is easier. Somehow, everything feels okay and all will enviably work out.

So this year, or in the next few, I invite you to finally take that outdoor journey. There's no time like the present, and these past two years has taught us how important it is to live today. Daily burdens and responsibilities along with the roles we play will always be there, yet they are not the essence of life.

Each moment is how you perceive it, nothing more. Life is moving constantly, constantly seeking form. Change is the only constant. It's up to the observer to attach meaning. So get outside, breath the fresh air and choose how and what to see in this world. The end result is just that, an end. Pay attention to the path, for this is the "road less traveled." It doesn't matter if you cannot "see it all" or "do it all." What matters is that you do something, while controlling your perception surrounding it. Nature will take care of the rest.

About the Author:

Ashley Lyn Olson is an outdoor enthusiast paraplegic who founded wheelchairtraveling.com in 2006, which features travel tips and guides from around the world. Personally, she's visited more than half of the U.S. National Parks as well as a plethora of local and national preserved green spaces. Other wheelchair travelers has also added their experiences to the site. As of 2021, there are 800 articles on wheelchairtraveling.com about accessing parks and the great outdoors alone. Be sure to get a "Golden Access Pass" through the National Park Service for free entry.   

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