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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: The Triumph of Eagle Cliff


Eagle Cliff, Sandwich, NH - Mj Pettengill
Eagle Cliff, Sandwich, NH - Mj Pettengill

Although sympathetic towards those who live in chronic pain, and as a wildcraft practitioner who provides healing solutions, I had never imagined that it would happen to me. Until last summer—the infected tick bite and the black mud incident—I have been a mighty woman. Of course, I have encountered broken bones and other injuries; I healed and moved on with my adventure-filled life. An integral part of my healing process involved months of physical therapy and the application of various plant medicinals both topically and internally. With immediate care, the threat of Lyme disease eventually passed. However, it was not so with the back/hip trauma. Alone while sinking deeply into thick black mud was terrifying. It was the final twisting and pulling myself to safety—the far bank of a dried-up pond—that caused the injury. Besides daily stretching, yoga, and short, safe walks around the property, I had not done any actual hiking. I only dreamed of it and wondered when I would reclaim my place in the blossoming fields and depths of the forest. Without access to the rich terrain, I was in danger of becoming like a rootless tree. Most of us know what happens. They weaken, stop growing, and fall to the ground. The sense of loss was urgent. I was unwilling to embrace frailty and longed for the mind, body, and soul nourishment that comes from merging with the land.

A combination of a typical heavy tick season and back pain kept me playing it safe. Since early spring, I realized that I was looking longingly out the window. The fear of ticks and Lyme disease plagued me. I used to face it—dress adequately, saturate myself with repellent, come indoors, and pull off ticks. It didn’t really bother me much; it is life here in the woods. I was vigilant. The one menacing insect that escaped my rigorous self-examination, embedding itself in my side, causing a potential life-altering illness, had ruined everything.

One step at a time, I re-entered the outdoor paradise where I live. Early spring brings with it an abundance of wild edibles and the emergence of medicinal healing plants. I was determined to blaze a trail through the swarms of black flies and be in it. Winters here are long, so shrinking away from spring didn’t seem to be the direction in which I should head. Just after the Summer Solstice—when the grasses are tall, the trees in full leaf, and the biting black flies have been replaced by mosquitoes and deer flies—my son invited me to go for a hike. I had returned to much of my outdoor activities, but still no hiking. He came from far away, so I couldn’t procrastinate. Not only did I yearn for the experience of climbing a mountain, spending meaningful time with him was a driving force behind saying yes. We made an agreement. If we reached a point where it was too much for me, I would find a nice spot and wait for him. After doing a bit of research, we chose a short but steep climb that I had done as a child. It’s called Eagle Cliff, overlooks Squam Lake, and of course, is surrounded by mountains. Within moments of hiking on the path, my son found a perfect walking stick for me. I will admit, I felt like a wizardess. Immediately, the trail was steep. I looked ahead and reminded myself that I did this as a child and would take my time. There were many rocks and felled trees that served as perfect sitting places. When the need arose, we took a break. The view through the trees from the bottom to the top inspired me to continue. I said silently, I can do this. I can do this. And each leg of the journey fueled me to reach the next turn. My son was very supportive and encouraging. His belief in me was more than what I expected. It exceeded my own. Not only was this reassuring, but I was proud to have raised a boy like that. After a few harrowing bends nearing the top, we arrived at the flat granite opening in the trees. The views are spectacular. Over the years, I recall swimming and looking up at the rock face of Eagle Cliff. This victory validated my healing. I am inspired to continue venturing into the fullness of what Our Mother has to offer. As long as I am here, I will be a part of the wild places that beckon me. I know how to see and where I belong.

Trusting in the woods provided an opportunity to reconnect with the stories of the land of which I belong. The harmony that sings within the green moss and rich brown earth beneath my feet, no matter how challenging, will always bring me home.