I remember the day when I found purpose again, deep in a thicket of knotweed. I was there with a group of students, and this was our first encounter with that invasive species. I drifted away from the others and wrapped myself in my thoughts, fears, and insecurities, and worked alone. Before long, the laughter from my classmates became faint sounds, and I found that my only companions were the ghosts of my past, in a dense forest of giant knotweed. I pressed my stocks down as was our mission, not breaking, just bending in preparation for treatment. I came across a young Western Red Cedar, the “tree of life.” But this one was close to death, suffocating under the shade of the knotweed, and strangled by ivy.
It looked how I felt inside, crushed under the weight of life after war, life in transition from the military, life without identity. I became incensed. I focused myself into tearing away the ivy from that young cedar. I stomped out knotweed like Godzilla stomping a city. I was mad, frustrated at my current state of being, the current political climate, everything and everyone. The knotweed was everything in my life I hated, and the ivy was a noose. I didn’t care for myself much, but if this was the last good thing I ever did, that tree would live.
By the time my tantrum ended the cedar stood three feet tall, a beacon of survival, signaling the end of a storm. At that moment, the rage fell from my soul like shattered glass. I found a new mission in life and a new identity. As in the military, I found that I could be a part of something bigger than myself. It was a dramatic, instant change, years in the making.
That’s eco-therapy. As I dive into a thicket of blackberry, hacking away and removing the plants from a native riparian zone, I emerge from the fight, cut and bleeding, but having won the battle. Under my feet the blackberry stems lie on the ground turned to mulch. I can see that change and I can feel it, and when I come back in the fall and plant something new, I can see those new plants grow and sustain life, and I breathe the fresh air which cleans my soul.
Jeremy Grisham, Field Coordinator
Veterans Conservation Corps
Abridged from The Repetition & Avoidance Quarterly, Fall, 2012: p. 8