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Bring Me the Ocean
Nature as Teacher, Messenger, and Intermediary
by Rebecca A. Reynolds

Stone Walls

We arrived at the hospital with spring and began planting violets, Johnny-jump-ups, and geraniums indoors with the elderly residents.
Bill, eighty years old, quietly dug his hands into the soil, planting violets in pots. As he worked, he began talking about his life before the institution. His voice carried the same sureness as his hands. "I once had a farm. I built all the stone walls on my one hundred acres, built them all myself. I ran fifty head of dairy cows, milked them every day for forty years. I planted fields in corn, hayed the other fields, and groomed all of them of rocks for the stone walls. Every spring there would be more rocks to weed. They'd come up like trolls, popping up out of the thawing ground, pushed upward by the frost heaves of winter. It was hard work. I loved my cows."
For the next half hour he re-created his farm for us. "I had a huge garden," he said, "I grew a few violets too. I had chickens." As he talked, he planted, gently pushing the earth around each set of roots.
Behind him, Lori, a staff member who had known him for ten years at the hospital, wept quietly. She knew what medicines he needed, knew what he would and wouldn't do in the hospital, but she and the other staff had not known about his farm, about his stone walls, about his cows.

Moments like this allow staff to reexperience their patients, to see them interacting in a fresh way with new experiences, eliciting the power of their memories and creating the strength of new, shared thoughts and stories. Being institutionalized removes people from their familiar surroundings—from their city block and the hot smell of tarmac; from the sounds of their own kitchens; from the feel of the wind or the ground under bare feet; from growing potatoes and sunflowers. The loss of familiar surroundings can be difficult. For many people, the natural world can offer a bridge linking past experiences with their new situation, and not just through nostalgia. The natural world brings the vibrancy of the past into the present.

All excerpts from Bring Me the Ocean,
Copyright 1995 by Rebecca A. Reynolds

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