Natural Healing

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Nature is nurture. Neither of them beat each other in a test, because humans made that test up, and nature will always trump humans. When I was fortunate enough to have a forest in my backyard, I figured out the age-old secret : flora and fauna are the soul’s free green medicine.

We lived in a shabby two-story house in Dunlap, IL, and I remember thinking how big everything was. The carpet in my bedroom was Pepto-Bismol pink, and I loved it. My sister was in a photography class, and once she used me as a model for a photo shoot in the forest preserve. I jumped at the opportunity and begged her to do it again constantly. One day, I was left alone at home for what I was told would be 10 minutes. But when you’re a kid, 10 minutes seems like forever, and there are bigger worlds out there than the virtual one glaring at you from the TV screen.

So I opened the forbidden patio door and ran out in to the forest, taking in all the fresh smells and rolling in the brown leaves like a feral child released from captivity. Then I ran to my neighbor’s house, because I was locked out. Even though I got in trouble later, exercising my spirit was worth it to my pea-brained, selfish, spur-of-the-moment being. It wasn’t so much about getting to the trees as it was being able to take it all in and let it all out simultaneously.

To this day, I still see the forest before the trees. Hiking, canoeing, taking nature walks, and galavanting through sand and stone are the times when I feel most at home. Indoors, I am restless. Unless an outstanding book or movie catches my attention, I’d much rather be outside in the city listening to music, although the latter is unnecessary. Because who needs headphones when nature’s symphony is all around us ?

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Expedition

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To come home from a hiking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is to experience civilization in all of its guts and glory.

Just three days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was enough to make me question my style of traveling. Up until this point, I had been taking planes and trains to major cities, dining in fine restaurants, and visiting art museums. I had been feasting my eyes on the creations of humankind, many of which are so ubiquitous that they don’t get pointed out very often.

Looking out at the sunset at Beaver Creek this past weekend, I could see the Earth rotating. My friends and I were lying alone on the silken white sands of the only beach in the world. 20130525_222347My retinas burned with ecstasy, soaking in the soothing opulence of the lake’s diamond ripples like a stagnant sea sponge. Orange, purple, red, pink, and indigo turned the tabula rasa into a tie-died masterpiece that slowly streaked into the steady horizon, reminding us that each day is a new chance to turn it all around.

The following day, we took the North Country trail heading West toward the legendary Chapel Hill landmark and campgrounds. I saw a corduroy cabin in the woods and marveled at the ability of humans to infiltrate even the purest of landscapes. I normally see hundreds of houses a day, but this one brought to light the utility of opposable thumbs. My seclusion struck me in the strangest of ways, punting my pulse into a frenzy at the sight of a lonely log cabin on the edge of the wilderness.

On our final day of hiking, we came upon the Coves. These rocky platelets jutting out into the marine blue depths transported me to the mermaids’ lagoon in Peter Pan. There I was, forever young and surrounded by sirens of the sea. Beethoven’s Million Dollar Quartet came to mind, as did Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The cloudless sky’s never-ending story pulled me in and set me free simultaneously.

Every bridge hovering above a creek was the bridge to Terabithia, and each ravine rolling into a meadow was an entrance to the Forbidden Forest. All of my fantastical fixations came to the forefront of my consciousness like the full moon when it outshines the stars, conquering the night sky. I half expected to see Aslan the Lion come galavanting into the forest with some Turkish delights stolen from the evil queen.

None of that happened, but there were a couple other magical aspects of my Michigan trip. For one thing, my physical suffering did nothing to detract from my spiritual growth. If anything, the two were, and are, directly related. The more I suffered from physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation, the stronger my will to survive became. And as time slowed down exponentially, my oneness with nature solidified like the shale and sandstone of Mosquito Creek.

Adventure, sport, and spirituality embrace the points on the coveted trinity : body, mind, and soul. Someone once said that experience feeds the brain and nourishes the spirit. It turns out that the cheapest way to travel can leave a person with the richest experiences this world has to offer : sublime sunsets, hearty fires, and waves of peace.

The Hunger Games Trilogy: New Era of Science Fiction

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Imagine a dystopian future in which North America is Panem, a land of districts subjugated by the Capitol located in the former Rocky Mountains. All of the districts have a special trade, and the Capitol exploits poverty-stricken workers by rationing their food supplies. Every year since the rebellion of District 13, the Capitol has held the Hunger Games to make the people its puppets. On reaping day, a boy and a girl from each district are chosen to fight to death against the other districts in an ever-changing arena. Only one victor may win.

I spent months bashing this young adult series only to have myself reprimanded for not having an open enough mind to give it a shot. I tend to reject anything that’s a fad, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular. The Hunger Games trilogy has something to offer to almost every potential fan. For people with a 6th grade reading level and a short attention span, there is simple prose and a riveting story line. For bored people on spring break, there is the time-consuming task of reading all three books, which takes about four days on average. And for intellectuals, there are political undertones and sociological allegories interspersed with just enough romance to cushion the deathly blows brought on by continuous theoretical application. Not everyone will be a fan, but everyone can and should try reading the books, which are available on the internet and at local bookstores.

When introduced to Katniss, it’s hard not to notice that for once, you’re reading a children’s book featuring a strong female protagonist with a will to stay alive. No matter what critics say about the violence in these books, Katniss is a rare example for young people reading the series that girls, too, can be strong, and that having conflicting emotions is acceptable. In juxtaposition to the nature and love infused throughout the story, the violence is politically contrived and wrong. Within District 12, things are more or less calm until the Peacekeepers intervene. Much like NATO troops, these white-clad SWAT teams are anything but peaceful.

The next thing I noticed was an almost immediate focus on animals, wildlife, and food. Katniss lives in tune with nature by hunting and gathering for her family, and Collins describes the food and the environment in detail. By the end of the first book, I have a clear picture of District 12 in my mind.

The second part of the series, Catching Fire, is an elaborated version of the jeux politiques in the first book. It gives a new spin on the games, showing what teamwork and community can provide to competitors, even when they are fighting to the death. It also develops the overarching plot of the trilogy by illustrating the civil unrest among the poorer districts. By the end of book two, Katniss ascends to Peeta’s level when she realizes that they are just puppets in the Capitol’s game. This realization is not only pivotal to the plot, but shows Katniss evolving from a girl concerned with elementary needs into a young adult with heightened political awareness. Just like in our world today, solidarity and opposition are intertwined. Is all fair in love and war ? That’s up to you to decide.

Mockingjay is the last book, and probably the goriest. It’s a sad read, as many of the heroic characters are either killed off or tortured into submission. Katniss goes through ordeal after ordeal; just when her obstacles seem insuperable, the flame in her burns on, conquering the Capitol’s death traps. Katniss reminds me of Assata Shakur, the poster woman for the minority revolution in the United States. Her autobiography, Assata, is a must-read. To see the film, click here.

The Hunger Games have turned into a full-scale war of the districts against the Capitol, but the sides aren’t so clearly defined. Katniss’s family endures the likes of World War II and what I imagine to be the next Armageddon. The concept of the Hunger Games reminded me of the Holocaust and recent genocides in Sudan and Rwanda. When asked whether or not you would inflict the same pain on your torturers, would you pick vengeance, compassion, or something in between ?

Be careful what you assume about this trilogy. It’s different from other sci–fi novels in that it’s not that hard to imagine. This could be thousands, hundreds, or even tens of years down the line. It’s shockingly similar to the world today, and that is what makes it a best-seller. The best sci-fi stories are relatable and fantastical.

If you’re not looking to kill time, you can apply theoretical musings to every facet of the story. Unemployed college graduates, put those 4 years of liberal arts and sciences to good use.