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Forest provides ‘reservoir of beauty, peace, freedom’ in time of health crisis

By Guest Columnist DEBRA PEARSONretired educator with Atlanta Public Schools

Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a strong societal response to a health crisis. I am a member of the age demographic that is most at risk for coronavirus infection. I have thus been sequestered in my home for several days. Yet, I have replaced social isolation with the company of the forest. Within my backyard is my salvation: a reservoir of beauty, peace, and freedom.

Debra Pearson

My home sits on an acre of land, half of which is a small backyard forest that is populated with dozens of native trees, shrubs, vines, and wildflowers. A near tragedy occurred in the forest in 2014, when a neighbor whose backyard was adjacent to mine decided to clear cut all of the trees that grew on his property. He used my forest as a felling ground for the trees he destroyed. Several mature trees on my side of the property line were destroyed in the process.

From that experience, I took ownership of the forest and hired an arborist to assess the health of the trees that my neighbor claimed were dead and needed to be removed. The arborist confirmed definitively that my small forest was indeed a thriving treasure of native trees and plant biodiversity. He also suggested that I create a walking trail around the border of the property, and suddenly a small paradise – once hidden – became accessible to not only me but my neighbors as well. On any given day, a neighbor can be seen quietly walking the trails in reflection and peace.

Debra Pearson, 8

Folk art welcomes all to the urban forest Debra Pearson has nurtured in her backyard. Credit: Debra Pearson

The forest has been a great refuge during this very challenging time. I enjoy its blessings every single day. It has been my temple for reflection, meditation, and physical activity. As I am forced to distance myself from others, the forest is my therapy for connection. In the forest, all feelings of stress and uncertainty are cast away

I have reminded my family and neighbors that the forest is an offering of nourishment for their mental, physical, and spiritual health, and that now more than ever is an important time to take full advantage of its benefits. Just yesterday, I saw my neighbor, an octogenarian, sitting in the forest sunlight, having her morning coffee. It was a beautiful visage. I am delighted and honored to share this sacred place

Note to readers: Debra Pearson, in addition to being a retired 30-year educator with Atlanta Public Schools, currently serves as board member for EcoAddendum


Debra Pearson, 6

A pet owl keeps watch over the gateway to the forest in Debra Pearson’s backyard, which serves as Base Camp for pupils to learn about trees, birds, plants and poetry when they gather at the home of the career educator with Atlanta Public Schools. Credit: Debra Pearson


Pupils learn about the forest and its creatures in EcoAddendum’s Forest Camp 2019. Credit: Debra Pearson


Debra Pearson, 4

A youngster hurries to see the next surprise in EcoAddendum’s Forest Camp 2019. Credit: Debra Pearson


Debra Pearson, 7

Note-taking is one way pupils remember the lessons of EcoAddendum’s Forest Camp 2019. Credit: Debra Pearson


Debra Pearson, 5

An experienced eye spots and shares a wonder in EcoAddendum’s Forest Camp 2019. Credit: Debra Pearson


Debra Pearson, 2

Pupils’ attention doesn’t appear to wander as they take in the lessons of EcoAddendum’s Forest Camp 2019. Credit: Debra Pearson


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  1. Lisa Frank March 24, 2020 10:28 am

    Well said, Debra. My backyard sanctuary is saving me as well during difficult times.Report

  2. Bernadette April 4, 2020 1:36 pm

    Debra, I have fond memories of touring your garden following a wonderful brunch you hosted for the group. There are not many Saturday mornings that I recall so vividly. Thinking of the trail, trees and plants offers me a moment of respite and renewal. I am breathing deeply. Thank you for sharing!Report


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