• Hannah Eaton

Relationship Growth Happens in Nature

Growing up in New England, I spent a lot of time in nature. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the value of taking time to slow down and connect with the natural world.

It provided me with a sense of delight in the little details, like a blossoming flower at the beginning of spring, and a sense of wonder and humility, looking up at places like Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

I gained a sense of confidence and resilience as I looked out from mountain tops and successfully navigated unfamiliar terrain, deepening my connection with myself, my family, and the world at large.

By the time I entered college, I had developed a desire to share my passion for our natural world with others. I sought out opportunities to develop my skills as an outdoor leader, and to help facilitate meaningful experiences for youth and adults.

As I started leading more and more wilderness excursions, I met all different types of people. Some were avid nature enthusiasts, others, while curious about nature, had only ever explored places like Central Park.

A sense of wonder

A number of years ago, I led a full moon snowshoe hike one wintry evening with a group of international students. What was supposed to be a six-mile hike turned into a one-mile walk that culminated in two hours spent at a frozen pond taking in the night sky and spotting owls hovering nearby.

On the van ride over and during the first part of the hike, it was rather quiet—most people had never met before, and some participants had disclosed to me that they were somewhat anxious and afraid of going out into the woods at night.

As we came to the opening by a pond, the energy of the group shifted. I watched one 30-year old computer science student drop to the ground in pure joy. Pretty soon, everyone began to drop their bags to lay in the snow and star gaze. Every time they saw a shooting star dance across the sky, they would shout in delight. For some students from cities like Shanghai and Mumbai, this was literally the first time they had ever seen stars.

Deeply moved by the awe in my participants, I set aside my initial goal-oriented hiking agenda. As I watched alongside these otherwise serious grad students, they melted into a state of flow, wonder, delight, joy, relaxation, and connection with themselves and the world around them. It was as if the child in each of them had awakened. They all appeared lighter, even glowing.

On the way back, this group would have seemed like close friends and confident outdoors-folk to a stranger. They chatted away, recalling every detail about the stars, the moon, the owls, the animal tracks in the snow, the frozen pond, the novelty, and all of the beauty. One student who previously told me she was nervous about the outing came over and whispered to me, “I am so glad I came! It’s not as scary as I thought!” She tromped off confidently through the snow, continuing to snowshoe forward and take in her wintry surroundings.

Leading couples in the wilderness

In addition to my personal love for wilderness and my background leading excursions, my husband and I have had a long history of growth and connection in the wild. We met in our college Outing Club, where we were both Wilderness First Responders and outdoor leaders, taking students on various forms of outdoor adventures, like rock climbing, hiking, and backpacking.

From short walks in the woods, to living on multiple farms, to leading trips together, to spending extended periods of time in the mountains to connect and grow as a couple, the natural world has played a significant part in our story.

So when I became a Marriage and Family Therapist, I knew that I wanted to expand my private practice to include nature-based retreats for couples. I set out to create intentional experiences in the outdoors, purposefully designed for couples to unplug and proactively tend to their growth and transformation, without the distractions of everyday life.

While my husband and I love to go on outdoor adventures that totally push us out of our comfort zone, I wanted to create experiences that would appeal to a variety of couples—that would provide both comforts and stretching—to allow for rest, rejuvenation, and growth.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to lead group retreats in nature settings that offer some “front-country comforts” (like luxurious bedding and five-star dining experiences), while also offering customized retreats for couples who want the experience tailored to their level of adventure (like sea kayaking amongst Orcas and camping with more simple accommodations).

While the specific details of the retreats vary from one immersion to another, they all contain the same core elements.

Nature as the backdrop Every retreat is designed in a wilderness or nature-based setting. The research (and time-old wisdom) is cl