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Debra’s Awakening to Nature

On July 17, 1987--I will never forget this night--I had an experience that changed my life forever.

I was living in Inverness, California, a village about 35 miles north of San Francisco, in a forest on a peninsula that separates a beautiful bay from the Pacific Ocean. Having grown up in suburbia and then moving into the city, living in such a rural place was a radical departure for me. But two years earlier, I had woken up one morning and knew it was time to move to a place where I could experience nature more directly. It was so clear to do this that I got right up and went looking for a place to live that very day. Once I made the decision to move, everything opened up immediately, and I went from renting a tiny studio apartment in the city to buying a whole two-bedroom house in the woods, for the same monthly payment.

With the exception of going to Girl Scout camp for two weeks every summer from ages eight through sixteen, and an extra-curricular nature study course in grammar school, I had not directly experienced nature in my whole life. For the first time, I became aware of nature as something immediately present--it wasn’t “out in the wilderness” somewhere. For the first time, I experienced the natural progression of wild flowers appearing from nothing in the spring into full bloom and then disappearing completely until the following spring when they would appear again as if by magic. For the first time, my neighbors were deer and raccoon.

For the first time, I witnessed the whole cycle of watching green leaves unfurl from bare branches to their graceful flutter to the ground in the first winds of winter. A huge plum tree hanging over my cottage burst into pale pink blossoms each February to let me know spring was on its way and summer meant collecting blackberries for breakfast from the bushes growing wild in my front yard. Each day of winter was obvious as I shivered from my warm bed to the wood stove, where I actually had to light a fire for heat. The moon caught my attention too, occasionally shining through my bedroom skylight, as it made its monthly rounds.

I lived there alone and quietly for the next two years, without the constant activity of city life. I had never been alone like that before, nor had I lived in a natural ecosystem. I completely loved it.

On this particular night, the coastal wind was blowing harder than usual. It had just gusted up unexpectedly to almost gale force after a long period of summer calm. I went outdoors and felt it whipping around my body as the 200-foot trees swayed and creaked as if they might break at any moment. It felt very powerful to me, like a wind of change. Without thinking, spontaneously I said aloud, “All right, wind, if there is something in my life that I no longer need, take it away!”

Immediately, the lights went out--a power failure--but only in my house. I looked across the street and next door and the lights were still shining though the windows into the dusk. My assistant, Mary, was inside adding new names to the newsletter mailing list in the computer, and that went out also. Within a few seconds, the power came back on and we started up the computer again. No sooner did Mary begin to enter names, the power went out again. When the power came on, we loaded the list again, and for the third time, the power went out. We gave up for the night.

The next day I was out all day. As I was driving up the winding road to my house that evening, I suddenly knew that Mary had been unable to load the mailing list because it had been damaged in the power outages. Sure enough, there was a note waiting for me, with exactly that message.

I burst into tears. My whole business revolved around that list and I didn’t have a backup. Terrified and alone, I cried all night. I called every friend and family member and nobody answered the phone. I called suicide help lines and nobody would talk to me. I was all alone and had just lost my business.

The following morning the sun was shining, the wind was calm and I had cried all my tears. Only one option seemed clear to me. I said out loud, “OK, if I am not to do the work I have been doing, what am I to do?” And then, with utmost clarity, I became aware of the words, “Learn how to live in harmony with Nature, and write a book about what you learn.”

This whole experience was so dramatic in the way that it happened, I felt I had no choice but to follow this new path, even though I had no clue where it would lead, what would happen, or even what the next step was. But since that day, as I keep taking the step before me, the next step becomes apparent. And along the way, since then, my life has unfolded in wonderful ways I could never have predicted or imagined or asked for. I’m still working on that book, and every day I understand more about nature and become more able to write about it.

At first, I attributed this experience to something “beyond myself.” It was only many years later that I realized that everything that occurred was the result of my own command for anything I didn’t need to be taken away. And so it was.