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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: Any Painting, Dream, or Memory


Cotton Mountain, Holderness, NH      Mj Pettengill
Cotton Mountain, Holderness, NH Mj Pettengill

It was a perfect day for hiking. With the enduring call of the cicadas dominating the soundtrack, summer had turned the corner.


My son and I have determined that hiking for healing is powerful and effective. One of the guidelines for success is awareness—knowing when to rest and when to carry on. He leads the way.

At first, I struggled with this because I am not used to having an injury to consider. I want to dash up the trail as if nothing has changed. The good news is that by remaining active, my healing is progressing. It’s all about paying attention to my body and honoring what it is telling me.

This time, we chose Cotton Mountain, situated in Holderness, close to the farm of my childhood, where my mother grew up. The trails weave in and out of the mountains that overlook and embrace Squam Lake.

Soon after starting, we came across an open, dry gravel pit—a haven for wild medicinal plants—friends—that thrive in disturbed soil. If you follow the cairns carefully, you will find your way back to the shaded path. Usually, the earth is rich, black, covered with green moss and lichens, and is mostly shaded.

Although this is a short hike, the pitch quickly becomes moderately steep and rough with rocks and roots. In the past, we have taken care to spot the boulders and stumps that serve as resting places. Of course, this is on my behalf; my son could jog to the top and back with little or no effort, but this is a healing hike. Stopping to rest, slow down, and take water is part of it. Besides, if you rush through this experience, you may miss so much.

We witnessed an abundance of daddy-long-legs and the usual chipmunks dashing here and there. The call of an Eastern Pee Wee, Chickadees, and a Broad-Winged Hawk swirled about. A unique, guttural conversation between two Ravens that watched and waited high in the pine boughs echoed overhead.

For a fleeting moment, I considered going off the trail, just a little, perhaps finding a less vertical pitch. Going straight up was losing its appeal. As if reading my mind, my son found the perfect walking stick for me. It really does make a difference.

I understand the significance of staying on the path. Although, getting lost in the woods has brought about countless valuable lessons. The most important of these is realizing that I have never been lost but had simply wandered.

As a young girl, I was led to believe that staying on the well-worn passageways, conforming to where many others walk, is the only way to be safe. Should I find myself walking where the earth is no longer worn away—layered with old stories left behind—I must quickly find my way back. I never fell for it.

This is not to say that one could never get lost. It happens. I remind us of the possibilities of blazing a new trail, leaving behind our own untold stories, stumbling across new life.

Yes, staying safe has its benefits; no one should take risks that would cause harm. However, completing your own unique journey requires courage and trusting your own compass.

For those raised in an environment consisting of harsh criticism and a lack of nurturing, a fear of failure may arise, interfering with healthy growth and progress. Taking risks and making changes—even small ones—can be debilitating. In this limited version of our world, we may lose sight of the broad view, ultimately failing ourselves.

Through the act of self-assured risk-taking, I find comfort in stepping away from the footpath—where others expect to see me. Daring to meander through the densely wooded hills, embracing what the wilderness has to offer, I discover that it is both inside and outside of me. Shrinking away from the unpredictable may lead to nowhere.

I found myself persistently seeking a clearing—the light at the top of the trees—as it seemed to shift from one moment to the next. It was always there, but I was somewhat impatient. There was another lesson wrapped in that.

I waited for a signal, encouragement from the Ravens. Instead, they scolded me, reminding me of what I already knew but chose to ignore—one step at a time.

I pressed on, refusing the offer that my son made for taking a seat on a perfectly shaped stump. We were so close. The path rose to where the flickering green diminished, giving way to a granite ledge.

The ravens gave a final call before flying to another section of the ridge, daring me to follow. I watched them disappear and then continued to the highest point where I could finally look out over the world—Earth Mother—as beautiful as any painting, dream, or memory.