Giving thanks for healing at the edge of the Bay

Donna sailing
Donna has discovered the healing power of San Francisco Bay. The shoreline supported her recovery and now she loves sailing out on the Bay.

We live busy and often chaotic lives.  Over seven million people live in the Bay area. Our freeways are crowded and busy—and so are our grocery stores, our restaurants and the details of our daily lives.  We are inundated with technology and media vying for our attention.  Many of us escape to nature to find solitude and to recapture a sense of place and belonging that is free from busyness.

The ocean, salt marshes, and the Bay have always been places that bring me a sense of calm and peace, and their beauty and solitary nature appeal to my inner introvert.  As the director of our Habitat Restoration Program at Save The Bay, I’ve been privileged to share the experience of the beauty of the Bay with our volunteers, many of whom are discovering our shorelines for the first time.  I always hope that this experience enriches their lives and opens a door of escape from a busy world.

In a few weeks, it will be one year since I was diagnosed with cancer.  Those of you who have been diagnosed with a serious illness know that it is a chaotic time and that everything seems out of control.   Having worked as a salt marsh ecologist for the last 10 years I’ve come to rely on areas near the water when I need a sense of peace and calm.  I live in Richmond near the Bay Trail so it was only natural for me to look to the Bay as a place of refuge.  Exercise under a doctor’s supervision can be an integral part of a cancer treatment plan, and I found it extremely helpful during my treatment—both physically and mentally to take daily walks along the Bay’s edge.  I live within a short walking distance of the Bay Trail and walks along this path became a part of my strategy to maintain the routine of my life.  I set small goals each day for mileage along the trail and was able to celebrate those small victories each day.

Healing through nature

As I charted my path forward, I relied on family, friends and coworkers to help me through the experience, but I also relied heavily on the experience of being outside and away from all that I associated with being sick.   I was so grateful for the steady rhythm of the waves and the sounds of the wind and of the birds along the shore which daily released me from the chaos in my mind associated with treatment, distracted me from the discomforts of my body, and gave me a chance to focus on things of external beauty.

There is documented research on the power of nature to heal, both physically and emotionally, and many online resources focus on nature’s therapeutic benefits. The days I spent walking or even sitting at the edge of the Bay were instrumental in my healing process I often reeled from the mental chaos and the physical destruction of my body due to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the time I spent listening to the wind and the waves and watching birds and small animals was relaxing and healing.  Sitting in the sun at the edge of the bay gave me an enormous sense of peace and calm, and on many days it soothed my soul and allowed me to focus on the gratitude for all of those who walked with me on that journey.  I often sat quietly on a bench at the edge of the bay for an hour or two at a time, allowing both my body and mind precious time to relax and heal and to experience peace.

I am happy to say that I have successfully finished treatment and am recovering well.  I am still walking along the edge of the bay, but I’m now able to sail and to ride my bike along the trail again too.  I continue to look to the water as a place of refuge and healing and I have a renewed zeal for bringing our volunteers to the edge of the bay in hopes that they can experience it as a place that can provide them an option for a place of refuge.  I wish health and happiness for each of you and I hope that you too can think of a place in nature for which you are grateful and that inspires and nurtures you.

Take time this holiday season to reconnect with that place and allow yourself to experience the beauty of nature and the power it has to restore your body and heal your soul.