Self-Forgiveness Released a Burden I Didn’t Even Know I Was Shouldering

Craig Stanland
6 min readFeb 26, 2022

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

The sign comes into view. I make the left-hand turn, driving slowly through the rusty gated entrance. The sound of gravel beneath the tires makes me smile. I flashback to driving my go-kart on our gravel driveway. I park the Mini and walk to the kiosk. The Mianus River Gorge trail map is laid out in front of me. Where is the trail I’m looking for? Which one will bring me to the waterfall? This is why I came here today — to find the waterfall. I see the path I came in search of, and my hike begins.

Tributaries flow down the hillside, carving their way to the river in the valley. The elevation is no higher than 500 feet. It would be a stretch to call it a hike, more like a nice walk in the woods. The first buds of spring add a splash of green. The forsythia are like yellow bonfires sprinkled across the hillside.

Alone on the trail, the sound and pace of life in the city is a distant memory. Instead, I hear the orchestra of Mother Nature — water flowing over rocks, the birds emerging from their winter solstice. The treetops sway in the gentle breeze.

I ignore the “Trail Closed” sign and walk around the barrier. I hear the waterfall before I see it, my heart skipping a beat in anticipation. Walking up and around the bend, I find myself directly at the top of the falls — a sense of satisfaction in reaching my destination.

I enjoy this perspective for a moment before looking to the bottom. I see where I want to go. Nature has generously provided a seat to take in her glory, a branch, the height of a short stool running parallel to the ground. I watch as the once-raging water transforms into a mirror of calm.

I look at my cell phone, no signal. I smile, a moment of solitude. I feel gratitude for being here and for enjoying a part of nature. I’m grateful I have the money to rent a car, the freedom to experience this adventure, an impossibility not that long ago. It was just under a year ago that I was in federal prison, my freedom but a memory.

The sensation of gratitude fades. As it wanes, I feel a sadness filling the void. Then, like a dam bursting, it washes…

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Craig Stanland

I write about my journey from corporate success to federal prison and finding joy, mission, meaning, and fulfillment beyond professional and financial success.