Full Nester: A Journey Through Our National Parks

Full Nester: An Ecotherapy Journey Through America’s National Parks

And without warning, they put him under.
And I would never get the chance to speak to him again.
In two days, he was gone,
a young, amazing boy named Riley,
gone at the age of 13,
taken from his family by leukemia.

What saved me though
was the same dragonfly that visited me in my garden
just about every day thereafter.
And I knew it was my son’s soul
in that dragonfly.
And he was saying,
“Mom, I’m ok. I’m really ok.”
It was then that I knew that love never dies.

And every day, I was healed just a little more in nature.
The birds, the butterflies, the squirrels, the trees and my dragonfly
who visited me in that garden
and surrounded me with
the most powerful and beautiful love
taught me that nature is the ultimate healer.
And I now believe that nature can heal us all.

It is time to fully grieve what I have lost
What we have all lost
and to celebrate what remains.

I have a trailer and a truck. I’ve rented out my house and given notice.  For me, it’s time to pursue my dream.

It has been 10 years since we lost Riley. But in so many ways it seems like yesterday. We tell the grieving that they’ll feel better in time. But will they? Does time really heal all wounds? It would be nice to think so. But my experience has taught me that certain wounds remain open for the rest of your life. When someone important in your life dies, a piece of your heart is gone, leaving you fractured.

But what if we could look at the loss in a different way? What if there was another avenue to understanding that life continues after our loved ones are gone? What if they continue to watch over us and are still part of our lives? This has been my experience. And I began to understand this while sitting in stillness in nature after my son passed away.

Riley taught me how to see the connections between all of earth’s beings, past, present and future. I was propelled on a spiritual journey and began searching for an educational program where I could study healing in nature or Ecotherapy. I received a graduate certificate in Ecotherapy in 2013 and started dreaming of visiting all of our National Parks and offering nature-based healing programs along the way to support others through loss and transition. But the timing wasn’t right.

I was nourishing and raising my daughter Shelby.  Being her mom and watching her grow up and flourish has been the greatest gift. 

But now, I’m in the middle of my fifth decade.  My daughter is grown and I have a story to tell. The stories of women my age are often left untold.  But it’s this stage in life, when we are no longer fastened to the responsibilities of raising kids that we can venture out. We can step into our power and follow our dreams. And we can move from being an empty to a full nester. 

In January of 2021, I will leave Portland, OR to travel across the country with the goal of visiting all 63 National Parks in one year while sharing my son’s story and celebrating life and all the beauty that remains. I will begin my Ecotherapy journey at Pinnacles National Park in California and end my trip at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, in Riley’s honor, fulfilling his unrealized dream from Make a Wish.

I’m being called to the wilderness to reconnect with nature and explore who I am now – determine what I still want to accomplish – and how I can be of service to others. I hope by sharing my experience with loss and grief that I can introduce ways the grieving can work with nature to find solace. I will seek joy and meaning while fulfilling my dream which has been stirring inside me for the past seven years.  

While there is no perfect time to venture out and pursue your passion project, and I realize there will be challenges due to the coronavirus, I will follow CDC guidelines throughout my trip. I’ll likely need to stick to myself, so will plan on sharing Ecotherapy methods through writing – videos – photos – art and ceremony – and maybe even a little song and dance along the way.

If you feel a connection to my journey please consider supporting my trip, so I can reach all 63 National Parks.  Funds will support my food, gas, propane and RV site fees.  Please consider sharing my story with your social networks using the link to my GoFundMe page.  Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

Follow my trip on Facebook here...@lauraelmoreecotherapy
Riley, Shelby and me on our last summer vacation together at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, 2009
The three of us in the Narrows at Zion National Park, 2009
Shelby and me at Yellowstone National Park, 2013
Grand Teton National Park, 2013

We made it to Machu Picchu! Peru, 2014
Shelby and me, Yosemite National Park, 2019
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 2019
My inspiration...my son, Riley
My home away from home for the next year.

Donations (42)

See top
  • Jamie West
    • $50 
    • 2 yrs
  • robin spicer
    • $50 
    • 2 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $75 
    • 2 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $100 
    • 2 yrs
  • Jill Feeney
    • $100 
    • 3 yrs
See all


Laura Elmore
Portland, OR

Your easy, powerful, and trusted home for help

  • Easy

    Donate quickly and easily.

  • Powerful

    Send help right to the people and causes you care about.

  • Trusted

    Your donation is protected by the  GoFundMe Giving Guarantee.