I am sure you have read somewhere on some blog post, some inspiration quote or some feel good news article that outdoor time is good for your mental wellbeing. And I am sure fellow outdoor lovers will agree with the feeling of fresh air bringing fresh healing to whatever rottenness you may have been experiencing before treading among the forest giants. Even a self proclaimed mountain woman myself I still would chuckle that maybe it is not as great as everyone likes to say it is.

That was the truth, at least until I met little Miss May.

The first time I laid eyes on this brazenly beautiful creature was on a rainy dark evening at a run downed McDonalds right off the blue line in downtown Long Beach, California. I lowered myself to my knees to softly say hello to this three year old creature in front of me. Her eyes sparked light against hazel crispness as she grabbed my hand in her tiny ones to declare- ‘ok you can be my mom now.’ I took a breath as I found myself pushed off kilter yet not truly surprised by her response. After my many years working with at risk families whose children need a home to land in for various reasons; all normal expectations are quickly dashed. Miss May in one breath of a second quickly nestled herself deeply into my shattered heart.

Miss May rubbed her eyes in confusion as I tried various sized boots on her feet the next morning. ‘What’s hiking?’ – she asked softly. ‘Well it’s just walking. Or maybe even skipping. And sometimes even dancing up mountains and in forests.’ She chuckled as her gaze left mine to stare into a world I was not privy to. ‘I don’t really go outside.’; was all she sighed as we found a suitable shoe to dawn on her Cinderella foot.

A drive later, a mountain climb later, a few snacks later, a few wild animal spotting later – Miss May crumbled into the hillside trail. I prepared myself for the unavoidable meltdown. We had hiked five miles and usually the first outing with our new babes results in protests within the first thirty minutes. Poor diets fueled by EBT cards mixed with no exercise constraints with urban lives; creates children just physically overwhelmed with running around like children should do. I looked to my husband and nodded that – yes this is the time to hoist her on his shoulders for a break. But much to our joined confusion, as he went to pick up her tiny body into his strong arms she fought back with tears and protests of no!

Miss May just wanted to walk.
She wanted to stay among the trees.
She did not want to leave.
She wanted to climb more mountains.
She wanted to find more waterfalls.
But her legs. Her tiny legs of grit and determination were letting her heart to wander down and her anger at her own inabilities filled the still air. Tears and wrestling later Miss May rested her tired head on my husband’s shoulders as she drifted to sleep.

I watched over the better part of the year when Miss May was in our family, her begin to thrive. She gave up her protest to only eat fast food. She ran more and out hiked us on every mountain. She laughed more. She sang more. She grew as strong as the beautiful light within her. The wilderness wrapped its delight around her as memories of past shelters, past cars sleeping and past cramped one bedroom state housing gave way to summer nights sleeping in tents underneath a vast sky.

I never really believed being outside can heal a person. I kind of thought we all simply want reasons to grant us permission to do what we find enjoyable. But then I met Miss May and everything changed.

I love you Miss May. I miss you. You will always have a place here if you need it once more.