The healing power of nature on the Appalachian Trail
From VOA Learning English, here is the Health and Lifestyle report.
On a recent sunny day, hikers stood at an entry point on the Appalachian Trail near Hawk Mountain in the US state of Pennsylvania. Some rested and drank water as they prepared to continue hiking the 3,508 kilometer hiking trail. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine in the north to Georgia in the south.
One of the hikers is Mario Kovach, a veteran. On his right arm are the last names of many soldiers permanently written or tattooed – Solesbee, Bell, Schwartz, Seidler, Miller, Moss – to name a few.
They were all members of the US Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. And they all died in battle. They had the dangerous job of defuse bombs. This was also Kovach’s job for 20 years in the Air Force. Kovach retired in 2018. He completed five tours of duty in Afghanistan without serious injury. However, his mental health suffered.
So, he treated his sanity on the Track and in other places in nature. He shared his healing experiences on the trails with an Associated Press reporter.
“Nature is nothing that man controls,” Kovach said. He added that it was both the natural environment and the peace and quiet that helped him heal.
Cindy Ross is a longtime writer and hiker. His latest book is Marching Peace – Healing Veterans on America’s Paths. These are the veterans Ross serves through the non-profit organization called River House PA. Her experience with some of the veterans who hiked the trail in 2013 led her to create the organization. “Thru-hiked” means that they have traveled the entire 3,508 kilometers.
Ross describes the organization and its surrounding natural environment as places where veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can heal.
PTSD is a condition affecting soldiers who experienced extreme conditions during war. But it develops in anyone who has experienced a shocking, frightening or dangerous event.
PTSD is about reliving the trauma over and over again. It includes physical responses like a rapid heartbeat. People with PTSD can have bad dreams and scary thoughts. They can also be easily surprised, feel tense, have trouble sleeping and are angry explosions
One study suggests that up to 30 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Many Vietnam veterans are still affected.
Veterans also commit suicide in greater numbers than the general population. Suicides in the military have been called epidemic. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2018, nearly 18 veterans committed suicide each day.
The number of those who committed suicide has declined among veterans who received care through the department. However, experts say a lot of work remains to be done.
Kovach is one of the veterans Ross wrote about in his book. Both men and women have gone through extreme experiences. In many cases, they came close to suicide before discovering the healing power of nature.
Ross worked with the veterans agency and word got around the program. Besides hiking the trails, activities include different types of boating.
Paralyzed veterans can go specialty mountain biking on the trails. And at the end of the day’s activities, they all meet up to have dinner together around a fire.
“At least a few of them would cry and say, ‘It was the best day of my life,'” said Ross. They also tell Ross that they have to do it with their family and children. Veterans often tell him that a day in the wilderness was what saved their lives.
Last fall, Kovach helped start the “Felix Project”. This is a non-profit group for soldiers facing survivor guilt and other conditions. He said the goal is to reduce military suicides.
He said there were other ways to heal. But, a day in the woods – or a week, or a month – is among the best.
“It doesn’t cost anything,” he said. “You don’t take any medication. And you can do it anytime.
And that’s the health and lifestyle report. I am Anna Matteo.
Daniel Patrick Sheehan reported this story for The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in this story
walker -not. a person who walks a long distance for fun and exercise
stress -not. cause or feel physical or emotional tension
Track -not. a footpath, usually in nature
defuse –V. remove part of an explosive device so that it is no longer harmful
traumatic –Adj. causing someone to become very upset in a way that can lead to serious mental and emotional issues: trauma -not. a disordered mental or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
tense –Adj. nervous and unable to relax
explosion -not. a violent expression of feeling
epidemic -not. the rapid and sudden spread of something harmful or unwanted
paralyzed –Adj. unable to move any part of the body such as the arms or legs
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