“A weed is a plant whose virtue is yet to be discovered.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Jenny joined our nature immersion program after her mother chose to take her out of school at the end of 6th grade. Worried about Jenny’s mental health, her mother felt that the current ‘system’ seemed to contribute to the many challenges young girls, and some of Jenny’s friends in the local, relatively wealthy district seemed to suffer from: bulimia, anorexia, early sexual activity, chronic fatigue, alcohol, drugs, etc. Jenny had recently suffered a traumatic event and her mother understood the impact this event could have on an already struggling pre-teen afloat in the sea of teen challenges.
When I first met Jenny, she was a highly intelligent yet quiet and anxious anxious young woman. The light in her eyes was barely a distant flicker and, “I’m sorry” was part of almost everything she said. Hesitation was saddled to most things she did. When asked about the “incident” she shrugged and said: “haha, yea it was pretty crazy,” and then changed the subject.
A couple of months after first meeting her, a group of kids lazed in the green of May grasses and I took the opportunity address the concept of resiliency. Instead of lecturing, I wove a fantastical story of the common Dandelion as inspired by two famous herbalists, Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed. The story had drama, suspense and humor, and brought life to the powerful resiliency of the Dandelion. I watched as Jenny listened intently, lying on her stomach in the grass with her head resting on her forearms. Every now and then she would look up to catch my animated antics and her eyes would widen, a half smile catching her lips.
When I saw Jenny next, her sullen demeanor had changed to a now beaming smile lighting up everything around her, her hair flowing in the wind as she ran down the hill to greet me. I could see she was holding something in her hands. As she came closer, I saw a haphazard mess of dirt and greens falling out of a ceramic cereal bowl and one, bright, wilting, yellow flower in the center. Her mother trailed a few feet behind with a look that was both flustered and full. Jenny pushed the bowl in my direction and said:
“I found this in my yard and wanted to dig it up for you because you love Dandelions so much!”
From behind, her mother shrugged and exhaled as she said:
“The reason we were late.”
I looked at Jenny, alive – the flickering light was now a full flame.
“It just showed up in my front yard!”
Her voice said, louder than I remember it.
It was as if the resilience of the little yellow flower, the one that can withstand feet stomping it, cars and bikes driving on it, toxic chemicals sprayed on it, and even floods, had rooted its lessons deeply into Jenny’s waning heart and revived the light in her eyes. From that day forward it was clear she was changed – lighter, easier to laugh, and leaving the hesitation in her intelligent curiosity behind her.
Our Nature Sense is so supportive of our mental health needs that I never had to have a direct conversation with Jenny about her heart, her anxiety, or her insecurity. All I did was walk Jenny into the wisdom of nature and trust that she would find her own answers among the weeds.
Many teenagers today seem to be in a soul deficit, with a longing they can’t identify. They have been raised with an overabundance of bad news and a lack of a positive future vision. It’s as if they learn about death before they get a chance to live.
“Among adolescents and young adults, suicide is responsible for more deaths than the combination of cancer, heart disease, congenital anomalies, respiratory disease, influenza, pneumonia, stroke, meningitis, septicemia, HIV, diabetes, anemia, and kidney and liver disease”(John Campo, MD)
It is a fact that we don’t pay attention to boring things. Humans can muster the energy to focus for a lecture or a task that their higher brain overrides as boring, but it is an inefficient task at best, and likely, details are soon forgotten. Meaning is lost. Think of a lecture that you were required (not inspired) to sit for. What do you remember about it? How many details of the content? Likely you are thinking about how the room looked, smelled or what you were wearing. Maybe if there was a particular topic, you remember one specific fact. Other than that, the entire length of time you were charged with sitting, is a mystery to your memory. How is it that our society has managed to take the most alive, impassioned and curious members of it and BORE THEM TO DEATH!??? What would happen if instead, we allowed each “Jenny” to have one day a week to experience the aliveness of the natural world? If instead of lecturing them, we showed them what life could feel and look like? What if we trusted that with a little bit of guided nature connection, they could find their own answers?
The answers to teenagers lacking motivation and vision are laid out before us the way a meadow offers a superbloom of spring flowers after a drought. Even after years of little to no rain, one good soaking, followed by a little sun, and a teenager will bloom- because that is what they are designed to do.
They are designed to watch, listen, touch, smell, taste, balance, move, feel- these are the gifts nature has put in our growth bundle of nerves and cells in an effort to design an intelligence that supports our best self and is at one with all other species on this earth. When this is reintroduced to a starving system, good things happen.
Let’s make good things available to all teenagers.