Suzanne Teune Finds Safety in Nature
When the mixed media artist feels alone, there’s one place that always offers her the comfort and support she needs: the wilderness
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Suzanne Teune told her story to producer Sarah Fuss Kessler for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s like there’s this belief in our society that it’s not abuse unless it’s physical violence.
I remember going over to a friend’s house who had a really supportive family and a healthy family dynamic, and just being so shocked at what I was seeing. And I remember her dad giving her mom a really beautiful compliment and just the kindness in that.
Right now I am in my art studio, which is about an hour outside of Asheville, North Carolina. So you might hear some wind and rain, birds singing. There’s cars going by.
I just finished graduate school in art therapy and clinical counseling, and I’ve worked in mental health for over a decade. I think I’ve always really been a painter and a drawer. Then I started using textiles. My mom used to sew a lot, so I learned from her.
Right now I’m using black walnut ink for the most part, because I have been foraging from the landscape. And since I live here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there’s a lot of black walnuts around.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. My dad was verbally and emotionally and psychologically abusive, so there was just a lot of fear everywhere. There was definitely a lot of yelling and screaming. If it was just that, then I don’t think that’s necessarily abuse. I think that abuse is taking advantage of a power imbalance to control someone else.
My mom felt very trapped in her marriage. I remember sitting in the van with her in our driveway late at night. I was about five. She told me that she would probably get a divorce if it wasn’t for us kids. That was my earliest memory of that conversation starting, and then it just was ongoing for the next 30 years. I feel like that was 90 percent of the things that my mom and I talked about.
So many people would say things to me like, “Oh, you should be grateful for your parents,” or, “Oh, well, your dad shows you his love by supporting you financially.” I heard that a lot. Actually, I don’t think it’s a helpful response.
I’m estranged from my entire family now.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, there was not a lot of nature around, not a lot of access to nature. But at the end of the block there was this little corner of grass called Dorset Park. So you would walk down this path, and then I guess it was a creek. It was something that was sort of creek-like, if you know the Chicago suburbs at all. But there were cattails growing up around it, and long prairie grass.
When I was young and I didn’t have a car, I was able to go there and I would crawl into that little nook. I could pretend that there weren’t houses around, and that there wasn’t mowed grass behind me, and feel like I was in this little prairie space.
It really did become this magical place for me where I was able to go and feel held by nature. Even though it was really small, it became something really special. I would dance around in circles, and I would make up poetry when I was there, and pray a lot. It did feel very healing. Just this little place that I could go to get away from my dysfunctional house environment.
I ended up going to Wheaton College in my hometown. They have an outdoor wilderness leadership campus. They take people on backpacking trips in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. So I did that as an incoming freshman.
There was a leader named Andy and a leader named Eric, and I looked up to them so much. And I think it was being around these really stable, healthy people that I knew I could trust, and I think that is definitely related to them spending lots of time in the wilderness. From there, my love of the outdoors grew.
At this point in my life, it’s super important to me to make sure that I get out in nature. It’s super important for my sanity, I can tell that I need that, and I crave it.
I just spent the last three years in New Mexico. There is a town called White Rock, where there’s a trail that goes down into the canyon by the Rio Grande. And whenever I felt stressed out, I would just go there and sit in the canyon. There was this beautiful spring-fed pool, an idyllic pool, there that I would just hang out in.
Every time I went there, something magical happened. There was a flock of sandhill cranes that came through. They’re so high up in the sky, and they do this circular motion, and they make this honking noise. So beautiful.
One time when I had been really stressed out, there was a lightning storm. And I was just watching this beautiful lightning on the other side of the canyon.
I went there all the time and just felt really held.
For me, I think it’s been a journey of realizing that the landscape is conscious and alive and we can communicate with her, with Mother Earth. And that’s definitely been part of my healing journey, because I have felt alone a lot in my life. I didn’t have anyone in my family I felt really safe with. But then as I started to realize that the landscape is alive, and I can go and talk to her and feel held and feel loved by her, then it’s really hard to feel alone in the world.
Suzanne Teune is a mixed media artist who creates portraits on fabric using natural dyes and inks. She is passionate about healing, and has worked in the mental health field for over a decade as a wilderness therapy field guide, a recovery coach for CooperRiis Healing Community, and an art therapist. You can view her art and find out more about her here.
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