Nature Heals

Photos by Carol Aine.

The ocean has been a constant in my life since moving to the idyllic beach town of Santa Barbara, CA. I’m pulled to the ocean’s edge for long walks and refreshing swims, always in search of marine mammals that may need help.

The push and pull of the tides, the moment the morning fog burns off to reveal blue sky, and the rise and fall of the waves with transitory weather systems all show me this: Nature flows, nature has cycles. Nature has an innate intelligence and ease that comforts me and has become my best teacher.

I turn to nature for relaxation, for joy, and as an antidote to the stresses of life — especially those from my work as a nurse. The pandemic has been hard. We all know and have experienced that. But I never could have imagined living through a global epidemic on the front lines.

In the hospital where I work, our floor was the first to become a Covid unit. I can recall the sick feeling arriving for my first shift. The fear of the unknown was palpable. My colleagues and I had no idea what was in store for us. But revisiting the dark days is not the intent of this article. Through the fear, the isolation, and the social distancing, I rediscovered the healing power of nature.

I’ve always been drawn to nature, seeking solitude in its beauty and quiet. And I love to move.

Since my arrival in Santa Barbara, I’ve fulfilled a childhood dream of swimming year-round in the ocean. Wetsuits truly are magic! Stepping into the surf, I take that first dive into the cool, green water, and then I’m in the wilderness of the Pacific Ocean.

The cold water is startling until I surrender to it, knowing my synthetic skin will keep me warm. I feel the occasional tug of seaweed torn from the Channel Islands’ kelp forest, one of the world’s most diverse archipelagos. I make my way to one buoy and then another. The point is not distance, although I love the strength and stamina that comes with open-water swimming. I’m here for fun. I’m here to feel like a kid again. I’m here because it’s an awesome experience!

Fully immersed in and supported by the salt water, I become a part of this habitat rather than an observer. My neighbors here are sea lions, seals, and perhaps a juvenile shark. While I may not see them, they are nearby. I wonder if they sense me. Are they as curious about me as I am of them? Does my presence disturb them? Or am I just another mammal swimming by? My musings are cut short by the cold. My breathing quickens and my goggles are fogging up. My wetsuit won’t keep me warm forever in 55-degree water. It’s time to get out.

As I ride that last wave out of the surf, I am already looking forward to the next visit to my favorite local beach. I try to time my swims around slack tide, the hour before and after high and low tides, when the water is calmer. But really, I’m up for a swim just about any time. It’s a ritual of renewal when I’m feeling fatigued or stressed, or too in my head. I pack the beach bag, grab my flip flops, and head to the water’s edge. The wind may be blowing, the tide coming or going, but one thing is certain: I will feel great as soon as I dive in.

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