Creating Scotswood Retreat is a natural step for me. I have always loved work involving care and hospitality, and have been a nature-lover since my childhood growing up in rural North Carolina. I have a background in volunteerism and elder care. Professionally, I've been working with children and animals for almost 10 years. I had been living in the Washington, DC area for over 20 years but I knew I wanted to locate Scotswood in the southeast. I looked at many places, but in the end it was home that was calling me: I completed my work obligations in DC, packed my car, and moved back to North Carolina in November 2018.
In 2015 the first seed of Scotswood was planted. That year I started to think seriously about the things that really bring me joy, keep me healthy, and enhance my quality of living. I wondered how I could combine those things in a way that would make it possible for me to eke out a living, while also providing a good service to society. I wanted to create something unique that would combine my love of nature and my love of hospitality, and that would also be a service to society.
Like a lot of people who live in city and urban environments, I often felt stressed out, irritable, and anxious, with my sleep becoming increasingly erratic over the years. After a long time living this way I became so entrenched in anxiety that I gradually retreated from activities I loved, and I soon forgot how I felt being surrounded by the medicine of nature. All my energy reserves were used up during the work week, and when the weekend came it was typically spent just trying to reboot. Eventually, compounded stress and anxiety, in combination with bad eating habits and poor sleep, began to adversely affect my health - both physical and mental.
A few years ago I decided to get out of the city whenever I had time off work, always going southward to immerse myself in wild places. "I turned to the mountains from whence come my help". Little by little I started to regain my equilibrium, and started learning better ways to practice self-care, including how to eat for my stress issues. Soon, I was able to focus on my future with a clear mind. I got better at my work and engaged in hobbies that required me to learn new skills and boosted my confidence.
I started thinking more about the relationship between nature and caregiving. I was deeply moved by some articles that a friend had posted on social media about the high rate of military members struggling with mental health decline stemming from longterm exposure to occupational stress and traumatic events. I got more interested in this topic and discovered an epidemic of stress-related "hidden wounds" in every single branch of First Responder service. Statistics show an alarming trend. Military, law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, and even correctional officers all carry a burden of stress and trauma that is far too heavy to be shouldered alone.
Our world is in a chaotic state, and no one knows this better than America's First Responders. They are first on the scene - demonstrating grit, courage, and valor. They are at the front lines of our nation's safety and defense, and are the first to answer the call to be the face of American compassion during international crises.
As much as these brave men and women are "first to respond", they are also often "last to seek help". Anxiety, stress, insomnia, depression, dark and ruminating thoughts, addiction, chronic pain and tension, self-isolation, loss of hope and joy, broken relationships -- these are only some of the symptoms associated with exposure to prolonged stress and trauma. In addition to their mental, physical, and emotional struggles, front line responders shoulder the added burden of a stigma that surrounds the issue of mental health, and they face the grave danger of being unable to disclose their struggles in an environment of safety, compassion, and discretion.
Presently, I'm learning all I can about First Responder experiences and their struggles to remain resilient in the face of unimaginable tragedy and life-altering events. I continue to educate myself about their lives through online resources and podcasts. I hope to make Scotswood Retreat become part of the growing network of supporters of First Responders and hear about their experiences first-hand. I can't think of a more noble cause than to advocate for the wellness of First Responders.
At the same time I was receiving this eye-opening education, I was also discovering another world of "first responders" that desperately need our help.
There are more than 200,000 species worldwide that act as beneficial pollinators. About 1,000 of those are vertebrates such as bats and birds, while the rest are invertebrates such as bees, butterflies, and moths. Pollination is the intricate process by which animals and insects contribute to the fertilization of plants, trees, and other food crops so they can reproduce and grow. These not only include the plants which we humans use for food, but also plants we use for clothing, medicine, paper, and building supplies. As more and more land is carved out and dedicated to urban sprawl, city dwellings, manicured grass lawns, the introduction of foreign plant species into home gardens, and large-scale agriculture reliant upon toxic pesticides, the world of nature drastically shrinks, leading to an epidemic decline in numbers among wildlife and pollinators, especially bees.
It is because of the special interdependence between humans and the natural world that pollinators can rightfully be called "nature's first responders". We can help them and the solution is so simple: they need shelter, healthy food sources, and a safe environment free of stress and fear.
Really, their needs are exactly the same as ours.
We can help wildlife and pollinators by providing undisturbed natural spaces for them to shelter and nest in. By creating organic, healthy soil through composting and the introduction of beneficial insects that contribute to a thriving soil ecology. And by growing small-scale gardens of pollinator plants, plant species native to the regions we live in, and edible plants such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This is what it means to put into practice the principles of humane and productive growing.
Imagine solving your life’s most complex problems by returning to simplicity. It’s stunningly effective, and this is what Scotswood Retreat is all about. A walk in the woods, a warm bath, a cup of tea. Nature is a great healer and teacher. By being in natural spaces, breathing in pure oxygenated air, tuning into the sound of birdsong, getting our hands in the dirt, and experiencing the deep satisfaction of working as a partner of Creation, you can give your headspace a chance to decompress from chaos and anxiety. With enough consistent exposure, nature soothes the nervous system, settles the mind, relaxes the gut, and helps to facilitate a more restful sleep. For thousands of years in every place on earth people have turned to nature and self-care for healing and comfort.
First Responders' lives are precious, their work vital. We owe it to them to serve their needs wherever we are and with whatever resources we can gather.
Scotswood Retreat truly is a unique concept. It is a retreat, but aimed at your advance. A place of healing experienced by connecting with the flow of nature. If I can sum up Scotswood in one word it would be: RESTORATION.
And while Scotswood is not a place that can provide counseling or mental health services for the human component, I am fully committed to creating a very special space that fosters a therapeutic harmony between Man and Nature. A nurturing and uplifting environment where support of the whole person, respect for nature, and love for all living things intersect in one philosophy of care-giving. This is a joyful and life-affirming place, where you can rest your 12, restore your vitality, and re-establish your purpose.
~ Katie Smith + Founder of Scotswood Retreat + North Carolina + October 2018
I'm looking forward to establishing the VALHALLA MEMORIAL GARDEN in honor of America's fallen First Responders. Utilizing the principles of humane gardening, this meditative space will feature native species of trees, shrubs, bushes, and flowering plants which provide food and shelter for native wildlife and garden critters. Wildlife contributes to rich biodiversity, soil restoration, and a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.
FIELDS OF VALOR will honor active-duty and veteran first responders. This garden will feature plants and flowers native to the American southeast which attract pollinators. These beneficial species include "the Four B's" - birds, bees, butterflies, and bats - which directly impact the growth and health of hundreds of crops and plants grown for food, beverages, medicines, and spices. Pollinators literally help sustain human life. They are nature's "first responders".
Scotswood is committed to productive use of land, including soil restoration, composting, and organic growing. In our SAINT FRANCIS HEALING GARDEN we'll focus on medicinal plants, flowers, herbs, and other nutritional edibles. These contribute to soil vitality, encourage biodiversity, and provide the basis for functional eating. Expect endless opportunities for creative home-making and nature-inspired activities to promote wellness. I would like this garden to honor Scotswood's future friends and donors.
Scotswood does not currently have a physical location. I'm pouring my heart and soul into this effort. To function effectively the retreat needs at least 3 acres of land for growing and for overnight guest lodgings and facilities. My home state of North Carolina has a proven track record for land conservancy, and the safeguarding of wildlife and native plant species. The state maintains a strong alliance with all branches of First Responders. I can't think of a more perfect choice to create a restorative space that both meets the needs of First Responders and answers the call to greater stewardship of the natural world.
Restoration is an urgent mission. First Responders need and deserve our help. Nature needs and deserves our help. I'm passionate about forming a strong alliance around these efforts, and I'm ready right now. If you fall into any of the categories below, please reach out to me and let's see how we can work together:
I've been developing Scotswood Retreat in my spare time for the past 3 years. I'm a native of the Carolinas, and I live in the Triangle area where I work full-time with children. In my spare time I plan my small business. I love spending time in nature where I often practice photography. I take classes online and learn all I can about the world of plants, including medicinal and pollinator plants, and how to use them in home-making. I'm learning about "functional eating", an intentional way of cooking that utilizes food as medicine to support body systems that are suffering through prolonged exposure to stressful environments, anxiety, and poor sleep. You can keep abreast of Scotswood developments through my social media.