Remembering September 11th Through The Eyes of Nature

I remember how difficult it was, in those first days after September 11, 2001, to regain a sense of balance.  There was something in the unbridled horror of the Trade Center buildings coming down, the Pentagon burning and having just lost one of my childhood pals that felt like a heart and lung extraction.

In those first days after the attack, people everywhere were unsure of what to do and how to act. This included a discussion of whether to call off a large scale volunteer event slated for two weeks later: National Public Lands Day.  Through this event tens of thousands of volunteers go to America’s parks, forests and refuges on a single day in September to rebuild trails, reset signs, fix up visitor centers, remove weeds and trash and make them better places for visitors and wildlife.  We decided to proceed with the event and that decision taught us an important lesson about being human and living in America.

On the human side, time in the outdoors was much like putting salve on a raw burn.  The pain is still there but the body can sense the healing begin.  There was something about time in a natural setting: the woods, along a stream, in a marsh, that began to replace that extracted heart.  It was subtle, but there was more healing to come, as weeks turned into years, and nature offered its unique lens and perspective on the tragedy and the people who were lost.

As an American, we learned how eager people, who had helplessly watched the 9-11 events unfold, were to contribute their own time and sweat to the repairing the American landscape.  Time in nature, making public parks and outdoor areas cleaner, more ecologically healthy and more accessible to people was an exceedingly American thing to do.  We may not have been able to pull away wreckage and disaster rubble in search of survivors and lost ones but we could give back to our nation’s public lands so that others could likewise apply some needed salve to an aching heart.  We became healers ourselves.

On this 10th anniversary of the attack, the same opportunities exist.  Spending some “human” time outdoors is a good way to acknowledge your own need to heal after a vicious attack that still comes vividly back even after a decade has passed.  NWF has a lot of suggestions for how and where to do that, as part of our Be Out There ™ Program, using our specially-designed online park and nature finder program.  Just plug in your zip code.   On the “American” side, National Public Lands Day is still going strong and offers an opportunting on September 24th to volunteer your time and effort in a very American way that helps repair and restore both country and soul.

Published: September 11, 2011