My Journey to Discovering Outdoor Nature Therapy

A Wellness through Nature spotlight story brought to by retired United States Army Veteran, Mike Buckley.

I retired from the United States Army in August of 2017 after more than 32 years of active duty. Six deployments, three combat tours –a lot of time overseas. My family and I moved to Cazenovia, New York in the fall of 2014 while I was at an academic fellowship at Syracuse University and decided to stay because the local community and schools were wonderful, and it is a great place to raise sons.

Retiring and transitioning from the military has been a significant and somewhat difficult process. Beyond the issues of returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the process is made more difficult by the loss of social identity. Spending more than three decades immersed in, and identifying with, a vocation and then to have it withdrawn can make for a difficult transition.

I spent the year at Syracuse researching alternative treatments for PTSD and depression and discovered in my studies that nature and outdoor therapy often have a better impact and effect on improving mental health than several of the flagship pharmaceuticals commonly prescribed and with none of the side effects. Of note, it has been shown that twenty minutes a day surrounded by nature can have a great impact on your daily well-being.

I thru-hiked the Arizona Trail in 2018, a journey of 800 miles in the backcountry and mountains of Arizona. The effect was life-changing. Since then, I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya, Africa, completed the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and climbed Mt. Wheeler near Taos, New Mexico. Most recently I biked 1,000 miles in 27 days just to see if I could.

Several months ago, the non-profit “Warrior Expeditions” asked me if I would be part of a select group of veterans to take part in a “proto-type” ride of the Great American Rail Trail, a 3,745-mile rail trail/bike path that once completed will travel across the country from Washington D.C. to Olympia, Washington. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has delayed the start until 2021. Because of this delay, my intent is to ride the same distance, 3,745 miles, but along the local roads around and near Cazenovia. Which by the way, I think is some of the best road cycling in the world!

From these experiences, I have had the opportunity to share my story at venues across the country to speak on the benefits of outdoor nature therapy. If I can do anything at all, it is to help raise awareness that there is a different path than a pistol or a bottle of pills, every mile is worth it.