Veterans Recreating at Middlecreek

Another great River House PA Veterans’ event- this time out at Willow Point at Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon/Lancaster line. Tim Minnich, board member, pulled out supper to the point, where we watched the great show of snow geese and made everyone around us big time jealous with Irish beef stew over baked potatoes, crusty bread, and pecan and apple pie. We all had a great time chatting and being together, especially our Veterans, Mike Schnurr, Dan Stein, Corrin Meck, and Ryan Allman. It has been a long isolating winter for us all so it was wonderful to get outdoors and celebrate the natural world in each other’s company.

Walking Toward Peace-Veterans Healing on America’s Trails

By Cindy Ross

An inspiring narrative about finding purpose in the outdoors, healing in nature, and hope for veterans

NEW APRIL 2021

Walking Toward Peace explores the intimate stories of veterans who have wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through a process called “ecotherapy,” spending time in nature to promote healing and mental health, they have found new tools to deal with issues resulting from combat experiences: survivor’s guilt, nightmares, lack of trust, depression, hypervigilance, thoughts of suicide, and lack of purpose. Some veterans profiled here have gone to extremes, spending months on long-distance expeditions such as hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail or canoeing the 2,320-mile Mississippi River. For others, however, brief excursions in the outdoors can offer an opportunity for healing.

Author Cindy Ross shares current research and perspectives of professional therapists and provides information on organizations devoted to healing veterans in the outdoors. Through the veterans’ collective stories of wartime traumas and their present lives, what becomes clear is that anyone suffering from any form of PTSD may discover the powerful comfort and healing that can be found in the outdoors.

Cindy Ross writes about healing through nature for a variety of publications, including Stars & Stripes, Military Times, Yoga Times, and Appalachian Trail Journeys. She is director of River House PA – Healing in Nature, a nonprofit that coordinates with Pennsylvania-area Veteran Affairs hospitals to take veterans into nature to hike, paddle, and mountain bike. Ross is the author of seven books and lives in New Ringgold, Pennsylvania.

Praise for Walking Toward Peace

“Walking and hiking, especially in an ancient wilderness, can heal the mind and body. I say this with certainty after my own 3300 mile walk across America. Read this book as a reminder. Read it as an inspiration. Whether you are trying to manage PTSD or the daily struggles of life, this book is for you. It should be on everyone’s shelf.”

Rory Fanning, author, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America

“Cindy Ross has written a book that is an ode to those who serve, an accounting of the true costs of that service, and the stories of healing that only the natural world can bring. Each profile offers courage, hope, and example to all those who have been lost, offering a guide and companion to walking in and with the wilderness to find peace.”

— Shannon Huffman Polson, author, The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World

“In Walking Toward Peace, Cindy Ross reveals some of the most essential ingredients necessary for veterans healing from the horrors and invisible wounds of war. She shares the stories of two dozen wounded warriors who immerse themselves in nature, giving them compassionate witness and amply demonstrating how nature, storytelling, and community are homecoming elements for all warriors. Ross provides these healing examples in a generous and accessible manner.”

— Edward Tick, PhD, author, Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After War

“Cindy Ross’s Walking Toward Peace is a window into the psychological wounds inflicted on America’s combat veterans, as well as a thoughtful consideration of the therapeutic value of long‐distance treks in salving those wounds. I found the book to be highly engaging, thought‐provoking, and a welcome addition to the literature on the health promoting properties of nature‐based recreation.”

— Daniel L. Dustin, PhD, author, Nature’s Grace: America’s Veterans and the Healing Power of Nature

“The stories of the Veterans and the professional studies Ross cites in Walking Toward Peace give a scientific basis to the power of Mother Nature. And, as a person of African American descent, I am happy to see her address Veterans of color and the issue of why more are not attracted to the natural world and the need to engage them in outdoor activities.”

— Anthony Jackson, Major General, US Marine Corps (Ret) and former Director, California State Parks

Walking Toward Peace provides a rich map to the healing power of long‐trail hiking, with way‐points provided by military veterans from Earl Shaffer to men and women coming home today from countless deployments around the world. . Readers will realize, however, that the power is in the journey, not the destination, and will be impressed by Cindy Ross’s adroit writing and trailside intimacy with many of the veterans she meets along the way. I invite you to join in the journey of this book and find some healing of your own.”

— Stacy Bare, US Army veteran, adventurer, and filmmaker, Adventure Not War

“I am elated by the stories Cindy Ross shares here of how individually and collectively these valiant warriors are able to find solace, peace, and a return to sanity in the comforting arms of our Mother Nature. I hope this book helps enlighten others like me, and reinforces the respect and gratitude we owe our defenders and our shared life support‐system, Nature.”

— Audrey Peterman, author, Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care

Available for excerpt, book review and/or author interview Media & events contact: Tess Day, Publicist, Mountaineers Books, 919‐619‐3318 Tessd@mountaineersbooks.org

Available for excerpt, book review and/or author interview Media & events contact: Tess Day, Publicist, Mountaineers Books, 919‐619‐3318 Tessd@mountaineersbooks.org

“Combining first‐hand accounts with compelling and current research, Cindy Ross focuses on the soldiers’ capacities and abilities, broadening their personal strength to heal and, overtime, improve their mental, spiritual, and physical health. She has provided a beautiful, thoughtful, and useful book that will indeed help veterans but, I would add, also other survivors of trauma.”

—Joyce Mikal‐Flynn, EdD, FNP, MSN, author, Anatomy of a Survivor: Building Resilience, Grit, and Growth After Trauma

“While many can speak to the restorative aspects of nature, this book magnifies the power of the wild to heal wounds that seem too deep. The intense memories experienced by these veterans are so raw that the pain seems untouchable until they are immersed in the forest, where the adversity of the walk and the healing stillness of nature together offer restoration and wholeness.”

— Beth Jones, Certified Nature Forest Therapy Guide

Walking Toward Peace helps put a face not only on the trauma that war inflicts on our veterans, but also the promise that nature provides them for healing and hope. Cindy Ross helps us to witness examples of this transformation and also understand that nature isn’t a miracle cure—but it is a powerful first step in the long journey toward a peaceful soul.”

— Teresa Ana Martinez, Executive Director, Continental Divide Trail Coalition

“These stories of warriors finding true solace on the trail show us the resilience of these men and women and how, through connecting with nature and all the pleasure and pain that comes with the physical commitment of a long‐ distance hike, healing is possible.”

— Sandra Marra, President and CEO, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

“Cindy Ross listens, as she hikes with these men and women, to stories that are usually only shared with fellow vets who can truly understand. Walking Toward Peace will inspire all those seeking a moment of grace and a path toward healing.”

— Kevin Ferris, co‐author, Vets and Pets

“When we honor our veterans, it is tempting to forget their humanity. Cindy Ross opens a window to the whole stories of men and women deeply affected by war and their time in uniform. She asks the reader to understand that they are not all angels or heroes, but simply individuals who did their duty and want to come home as best they can. Her book offers perhaps the most important tribute we can provide our veterans: the truth.”

— Mike Gambone, author, The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society

Walking Toward Peace places you in the hearts and minds of veterans from different generations and service branches as they struggle with wartime memories. Ross masterfully captures their stories of healing and redemption as they travel the Appalachian Trail and other long‐distance routes. This is a must read.”

— Brigadier General Jerry Otterbein, US Air Force (Ret)

ABOUT MOUNTAINEERS BOOKS: Anindependent,nonprofitpublisherbasedinSeattle,WA, Mountaineers Books has crafted award-winning books on outdoor recreation, travel, and adventure since 1960 with the publication of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, now in its 9th edition. Including imprints Skipstone and Braided River they have over 700 books in print and/or e-book. New titles out this season include: Mud, Rocks, Blazes by Heather “Anish” Anderson, A Shape in the Dark by Bjorn Dihle, Orca by Lynda V. Mapes, and more. http://www.mountaineersbooks.org.

240 pages, 17 b&w illustrations, 6 x 9, paperback, $19.95, ISBN 978‐1‐68051‐303‐5

Available for excerpt, book review and/or author interview Media & events contact: Tess Day, Publicist, Mountaineers Books, 919‐619‐3318 Tessd@mountaineersbooks.org

GILBERTO CRUZ-AYALA- another Veteran Success Story

Some of you might remember Gilbert as the veteran in the wheelchair that always wanted to attend River House events, be they hikes or paddles. We got the other vets to push his chair over roots and through gravel on the trails, and muscled his chair down to the lakeside to lift him into a canoe. He loved being in the natural world and we made it happen for him.

Well Gilbert has made a remarkable recovery after being confided to a chair for 10 years as well as struggling with pain. He attended some intense, alternative pain release therapy and is now WALKING on his own! I don’t want to give too much away as Gilbert is one of the stars in my upcoming book, Walking Toward Peace- Veterans Healing on America’s Trails, which will be released April 2021, but I do want to celebrate Gilbert here for another reason.

Since all events were cancelled with the Lebanon VA, who Gilbert normally attended River House events with, we could not hold hikes and campfire dinners for the whole of 2020. This was making Gilbert very unhappy, for he needed his time in not only nature, but with his fellow veterans. He approached me and asked if we could do a private hike with the PTSD group that he is a member of. Gilbert reached out to all the vets, invited their spouses and their children and together, we hosted two very successful outings in the last few months.

Gilbert wasn’t sure at first that he could be a good leader and talk his fellow vets into coming out, as this group as a whole often has trust issues, especially when dealing with folks who are not in their military family, as most of us at River House are not. But Gilbert was hugely successful and managed to not only get a nice group out but they all had a great time as well! As usual, board member, Tim Minnich made the group delicious food like Louisiana gumbo.

Todd and I went to New Mexico to hike for a month during the beautiful fall season and Gilbert was wishing he could have another scheduled hike. “You can do this yourself,” I encouraged him. “They all know you and trust you (there are about 20-25 members in the PTSD group). Do a pot luck or have them all bring a sandwich for a picnic if you all want to share a meal afterwards. YOU are the glue that holds that group together, Gilbert” and he glowed with satisfaction and pride, knowing how he was helping his fellow veterans and himself at the same time.

So today on Veteran’s Day, I celebrate Gilbert, who had the courage to not only seek alternative therapy for himself, but created a way to get himself and his fellow struggling vets out into nature, even during a pandemic.  

Spotlight on Patrick Dougherty, Veteran Organic Farmer

We have something to celebrate here at River House, PA- one of our veteran friends, Patrick Dougherty is enjoying phenomenal success as a Veteran Organic Farmer. He enrolled in Rodale Institute’s Farmer Veteran Program earlier in 2020, a 4-month program where he  

focused on apiary studies. Pat learned how to plant, harvest, compost, run tractors, and then gravitated towards apiary studies. Pat had never gardened before coming to Rodale, couldn’t even care for a houseplant without killing it. But at Rodale, Pat found his bliss.

For the last month now, Pat transitioned to the Pocono Organics Farm in the Pocono Mountains of PA. The owner of the raceway began the organic farm and built a home for veterans to live in while they learned and worked. Pat is working with hemp, growing vegetables, doing greenhouse work, composting, etc., and he’s discovered that he absolutely loves to farm. “I have even begun to eat more healthfully,” he comments.

“Organic Farming feels like a calling for me. I have a big purpose in my life now, I actually love going to work. Every other job I had, I was going nowhere. I was depressed for forty years, and I never want to go back to that darkness again. This is like a dream come true.”

And Patrick, we are so, so happy for you and celebrate with you on this Veteran’s Day.

Veterans Ask For Help and They Received

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When my veteran friends from the Lebanon VA Medical Center alerted me that there would be no more outings in this time of Covit19, I was not surprised but I was disappointed for them. Then, I began to get personal messages from them, telling me how much they needed to get out for a hike and into nature. Some were even hanging on by a dangerous thread. It made me realize even more so, that we at River House PA are doing important work for our veterans, even though it might feel minor sometimes, when you look at the vast number of suffering military.

 

But then I got an opportunity to help big time. A group of three of some of my favorite boys were enrolled in a fantastic veterans organic farming school at Rodale Institute. Their program was covered tuition wise by their GI Bill and they were also given a stipend for food and rent. But they needed a house. When I shared their dilemma with Todd, he told me that he and his house painting partner, Bob Scheidt, just finished working on a beautiful wood frame home outside of Kutztown, that sits up on a forested hillside and overlooks the Sacony Creek. The owner was a veteran himself. I made the connection and met the guys and took them over to see the house, and the owner. They immediately fell in love with this dream house that promised to deliver incredible peace and a connection to nature. A deck that protrudes into the rhododendron, a living room with massive glass windows for a stellar view, a new kitchen, hardwood floors, each having their own bedroom- almost too good to be true. School began at the end of March and the guys wanted to be moved in by mid-March to get settled. The owner allowed them to live there rent free the first two weeks in exchange for some work around the house. Between a 30, 40 and a 50-year-old, they had a vast amount of varied skills and knowledge amongst them and could help the owner, who is not that young and not that healthy. A win/win for all.

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The boys needed furniture though, so I put it out there on Facebook. People came out of the woodwork to help- a bed and mattress in Reading (Gretchen Kaag) Eight Oriental rugs of various sizes in Schuylkill Haven (Deborah Cooper). A coffee table and a hassock in New Ringgold (Susan Mc Cartney). And an entire house of furniture in Pine Grove (Karen Gelting). The guys rented a U-Haul and on three different occasions, traveled to these FB friend’s homes and gathered their free, gifted home furnishings. The generosity of these “strangers” was incredibly heart-warming.

 

The guys are settled in their new home, in their own rooms, taking turns making meals for everyone, are doing work around the property, but now their school at Rodale is on hold. I get concerned that they will run out of things to occupy them. Staying busy and focused is very important when you are trying to build new healthy habits and not be tempted to fall back into their old ways of being.

 

I am so proud of these veterans. I wish I could go for a hike with them, bring them dinner, but feel I should practice social distancing. They need to learn to work together and live together too. I sometimes coach them like a Mother Hen and tell them to make sure they stay on each other and call each other out if anyone starts to slip. They all promised me that they have each other’s backs.

The boys are willing to work, if anyone has a need near Kutztown. (Their home is located a few miles north off of Rt 737.)  They could use an old car that is good enough just for short runs into Kutztown for supplies or getting to school once it begins. If anyone has one, let me know. (There is only one of the three veterans that has a car). Sometimes all someone needs is a leg up to help them start anew. As the Director of River House, I thoroughly enjoy working with the VA’s and bringing out veterans into nature who are enrolled in their re-hab programs. But helping these guys get a new start in their lives is really what makes me the happiest. This is the kind of work I feel most qualified to do. I know a lot of people, am connected to many and have found social media and amazing tool for helping one another in times of need. Thank you for caring. And if you have a moment, send out some good energy or a prayer for these guys, Will Wendling, Mike Gavin, and Pat Dougherty, for strength and support and continued healing in their lives. Thank you!

 

 

Yoga and an Autoharp Concert Event to fight Winter Doldrums

A great event with River House PA partners- the Lebanon VA Medical Center and St John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg. Since winter conditions were not ideal for hiking outside, we scheduled an autoharp concert by Keith Brintzenhoff, of Toad Creek Ramblers Bluegrass Band; and a yoga class with Ed Folk. Afterwards, Tim Minnich made a fabulous dinner of pulled pork and homemade mac & cheese, Caesar salads, and brownies and ice cream. Thank you Susan McCartney for making it all happen and for Keith and Ed’s generosity of their time and talents

Duncan Corn Maze FUN!!!

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Another great evening at the Duncan’s Corn Maze in Robesonia, PA- Thanks to Loretta Duncan and Donald Duncan Jr. for hosting our Veterans and their families from the Lebanon VA. They kept the maze open just for us as the event was postponed from a rainy wash out back in October. It was a bit chilly but the warming campfire and the friendship, as well as the visit to the sweet calves was all worth it! It was great to see so many youngsters having a fun time. This event and our Boy Scout Campout weekend the first week of October are two events where we encourage the Veterans to bring their families so they can all recreate out in nature as one big family. That’s what we want them to go on and do- keep going outside for peace and healing (when they get out of re-hab) and sometimes take their families with them. THANK YOU! WE missed you Tim MinnichAnn Marie Schnur and Mike Schnur!

Back at it with the Lebanon VA Medical Center

Happy to say we are back at it again here at River House PA, after a summer off while the Director and her husband mountain biked the Rockies. Here we are with the Veterans from the Lebanon VA Medical Center, enjoying a walk at the Hamburg Trail. Everyone took a turn pushing Gilbert’s wheelchair and we had as much fun doing it as he enjoyed the ride. Afterwards, we had a fabulous seafood boil at our home at the base of Hawk Mountain. Tim Minnich, once again, made us speechless with his fabulous food and we were treated with the presence of Ranger Veteran Travis Johnston, who drove all the way from New Mexico with his girlfriend Kaya, to be with us. Made some homemade ice cream and some great memories- thank you all! especially Ida Carvell and Amy Cook for bringing the Vets to us.

AN UNUSAL GIFT FROM THE EASTERN PA WATER POLLUTION CONTROL OPERATORS ASSOC.

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Blessings (and money!) comes to you in strange ways when you are in this business of helping others. Early in the year, I received a message from an organization with a very unusual name, the EWPCOA- the Eastern Pennsylvania Water Pollution Control Operators Association, a 75-year old organization that networks and trains wastewater operators in the eastern half of Pennsylvania. The purpose of the Association is to advance knowledge and to encourage the exchange of information for the betterment of our communities. At first, I couldn’t figure the connection when they contacted me via River House PA, but it was our river and water connection.  I was invited to speak at their monthly meeting and share what we do. If they approved, we would be the recipient of the funds they gather at their annual picnic. They stage many games of chance and then select a non-profit every year to donate it too. In 2018, a Veterans organization was the chosen group and River House PA fit the bill.

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Our board member, Tim Minnich, graciously offered to attend the picnic and clam bake and shared information on what we do at River House PA. His job was made easier by the beautiful fold-out poster display that board member, Todd Gladfelter made. It highlights all the different groups and activities we have become famous for and are so successful at. The EWPCOA gifted us $750 to go towards our organizations’ operating costs and annual liability insurance. Thank you everyone. It sure is nice when we can put our energy and efforts into helping and not fund raising.

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“This is Peace” at RiverHouse

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We had a great afternoon with the out patients at the Lebanon Medical Center with Ida Carvel, rec therapist. We had some older Veterans who could not walk very far but we had a nice stroll around our property, gave them a tour of our orchard, let the goats out for some “pet therapy,” taught them about growing mushrooms on our cut oak logs, and of course, had a delicious meal around the campfire. One Vet sat down on her chair around the fire and immediately said, “This is peace.” That is why we do what we do at RiverHouse PA.