By Lauren Nixon
The mountain lion goes by three names: catamount, puma and cougar. In photos, you’ll see a sleek, tan coat of fur and clear eyes that seem sweet and gentle if you’re looking hard enough. Apparently, they’re loners—not terribly into humans or bloodshed, unless they feel unsafe. In videos, you’ll see that they are beautiful—muscles shifting underneath their skin as they run. But they are swift, smart hunters. They are always one step ahead of you.
For years I lived with a mountain lion and didn’t know it. Post-traumatic stress disorder feels that way—like living with an animal who cannot be tamed, who has teeth that glisten, a guttural moan, a tendency to show up out of nowhere. It is like having an irate neighbor who bangs your door down to let you know that your tree has collapsed on his car during a storm. He keeps banging and banging because there is a problem that needs fixing, but you don’t have insurance.
A trauma happens and then you live with this trauma every day, watch it repeat itself in your fears, your actions, your relationships, in your dreams at night. This is how PTSD operates. It is a difficult cycle that most people don’t understand. It is particularly hard for people to come to grips with the fact that people of color struggle with issues of wellness—that anxiety, depression and PTSD are not, and have never been, White people problems.
A few years ago, I worked at an environmental education organization in California. It was equipped with a farm and a garden and hiking trails. There were patches of fragrant lavender and yarrow, snakes and lone bird feathers at my feet. There were little streams that lapped and dribbled and lapped again, air so thick it seemed I was wearing a second skin.
For the brief time that I worked there, I taught environmental educators how to be their best selves, how to teach with confidence and spirit. At the same time, though, I was struggling to stay afloat, feeling a bit lost in the mid-20s, Black girl hustle. Things felt heavy and blurry. I was knee deep in the midst of a healing process, but didn’t know exactly what a healing process looked like.
Each day during my break, I would take my anger, my fear, and my sadness to the hills. I would let myself sob for the two or three mile hike, salty tears, chest heaving. Other times, I’d simply listen to the crunch of twigs, watch little lizards wriggle across logs, sing and hum to myself, enjoy the dense heat. I rarely ran into other people on my hikes. This was something that I appreciated and needed.
And each day, to my surprise, I would feel a little sliver of bliss, a little bit of magic that I’d never felt before. I was ripping myself open and forcing myself to take a look around to see what was what. When I was in nature, I could let go of the tame version of myself, I could let it all hang out in order to see the ugly bits and the pretty bits and the bits that I didn’t know I had. That’s when I started to put myself back together again. I started to feel good and alive, like the sweet little Velveteen Rabbit who finally understands that the gaping holes at his seams are a part of what make him so very real.
There is something incredibly healing about being a Black woman in nature. There is little safe space in this world. There are few places where I feel like I can be comfortable, unhinged, flawed, unbothered. This is not the case with nature. The thing about Mother Nature is that she doesn’t talk back, doesn’t judge you, doesn’t have ulterior motives, and doesn’t need to constantly be told how beautiful or smart she is. She knows just how beautiful and smart she is. She doesn’t have an ego, or a favorite brunch spot, or a plan to be promoted next year. She just does what she does.
She works on her own accord, shocks us, makes our jaws drop, makes us feel warm and melty with her dew, and her hot heat, and her slick wet leaves, and her soft moss. She pulses with life. Her thunder and lightning and cool rains are a testament to her vitality. She is what she is. Women of color have been in touch with nature since the dawn of time—using nature’s powers to track their moon cycles, to regulate fertility, to heal through herbs, to create divine elixirs and tonics and meals to nourish their bodies. There is something quite natural and organic about healing with nature’s rhythms. Alongside her. It makes sense that I was starting to feel so alive. This is the way that women before me had healed.
One day, in the late afternoon, I ventured into the hills for what I had imagined would be a quick two mile hike. I tended to get lost out there, though—lost in my head, lost in the act of letting myself feel and release everything that I couldn’t feel and release around other humans.
The sun started to set, and at first it was gorgeous. The moon looked heavy and dense and started to settle into a faint gray color—the way it looks in children’s books. Too beautiful to be real. Then, panic slipped up my spine and into the back of my throat. I imagined little white eyes staring back at me in the dark of the night, a swift whoosh of wind that crept up across my body as the mountain lion leapt into the air to pounce, his heavy paw on my shoulder as he began the act of ridding himself of me. I imagined all of the ways in which I was to die that night.
And I began to run. Twigs snapping under my feet and branches snagging my shorts as I attempted to navigate the trail without a headlamp, without a lick of faith.
I made it down the hill in one piece, though. When I was safe inside my cabin, I thanked my lucky stars, and hit the hay. I was fine. It was all in my head, as usual.
The next day, I told a coworker about my little escapade in the woods. She looked at me with concern. “Don’t ever run. That’ll scare them and they’ll be more likely to attack you,” she said.
She instructed me to make a noise—to clap my hands or hum to myself in order to make my presence known. This would let them know that I was there, that they should stay back.
They’re out there. Not just the mountain lions, but your old lovers, the credit card bills that are stacking up, the fights that you had last spring, the guilt and the shame, the racist on the train, the folder full of rejection letters. There is power, though, in letting the mountain lion know that you’re out here, too—and that you’re ready. Hum to yourself. Hum so loud that you convince yourself of how real you are. It has been this dark before and you woke up the next day. You may have been sore and scared, but you woke up the next day. Let him know that you’ll make it down the hill alive, right as night falls. Let him know that you’ll sleep warm and hard despite how much your heart was pounding on the way down that hill tonight.
An Intuitive Radish Salad
-A few handfuls of radishes, sliced into coins
-A bit of crunch from raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, or pecans
-A small handful of dried, unsweetened fruit such as raisins, currants, cranberries, blueberries, or mulberries
-A cup or so of warm grains such as quinoa, brown rice, or millet
-A cup or so of shredded greens
A good vinaigrette typically involves three parts oil and one part acid. Below are a few examples of dressings for your salad:
-Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, salt and pepper
-Olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, a small glug of honey, salt and pepper
-Flax oil, balsamic vinegar, a touch of maple syrup, salt and a small shake of cayenne pepper
-Olive oil, lime juice, grated ginger, a touch of maple syrup, salt and pepper
-Raw, untoasted sesame oil, tamari, lime, rice vinegar, a drizzle of raw honey, salt and pepper
Toss all of the ingredients together and top with your dressing. Eat your salad while looking out the window, or while journaling, or while wearing your favorite outfit. Have seconds, of course.
Lauren Nixon is a Food and Wellness Educator who guides youth and adults in creating healthy, nourishing relationships with local, sustainable food through cooking instruction and educational workshops. She has had the pleasure of working with sustainable food and environmental education organizations including FoodCorps, Urban Nutrition Initiative, Raices Eco Culture Micro Farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Hidden Villa, and many more. Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenNNixon or at www.laurennixon.com.
Read Lauren's article on growth through ritual in our first issue.