Many people know that a walk in the woods can help to clear your mind, but one local musician has discovered that time spent in nature can also help your brain recover from trauma.
In February 2015, Hendersonville resident and acoustic guitarist Eric Congdon suffered a severe concussion after another driver ran a stop sign and struck his vehicle. Congdon says his other physical injuries were thankfully minor, but he was surprised and frustrated by the impact of the brain trauma. Though he had been playing guitar for more than 30 years — performing at local venues and events such as Hendersonville’s Rhythm & Brews concert series — when he picked up his instrument after the accident, he found it was impossible for him to play.
“I would try to play guitar and all of a sudden the room would start to spin, and I would fall over and pass out,” Congdon says. “My neurologist said, ‘Your brain can’t process that right now. You think you’re just sitting there playing guitar, but your brain is having to work really hard and it just can’t handle it.’”
Congdon says not being able to play slowed his recovery and darkened his mood. He was forced to cancel a string of performances and, unable to return to work, spent most days sitting around his home. “I was physically weak and mentally depressed,” he says. “For maybe two months, I couldn’t really play my instrument at all, and that was a long time for me.”
So, Congdon decided to take a walk. With either a guitar, a bouzouki or a mandolin on his back, he began to go for hikes, first to Moore Cove Falls near Brevard and then to other waterfalls in the Pisgah and Nantahala forests.
“I was the only person there, so I just started playing music,” Congdon says of his first excursion. “I’ve always done a little bit of hiking, but I would not describe myself as an outdoor enthusiast. But I think something about how peaceful and still it was out there was able to unlock something for me.”
Early in the mornings, Congdon would set out for a new location in the forest, “looking for small adventures that would push my mind,” he says. He would sit by the waterfalls and improvise songs, recording each session on his iPhone. Gradually his fingers began to move with greater ease. “I think when you have an injury like what I have, it really disconnects you from your personality,” he says. “But when I was walking in the woods, it was like the first moment that I felt reconnected to myself.”
Congdon has uploaded the videos he recorded to his YouTube channel, adding information about each location for other hikers to discover. The series, called “Hiking Jams,” has also been shared by the online publication Romantic Asheville and the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority.
Currently, Congdon has shared nine videos in the series. He says he is still in recovery, gradually easing back into playing publicly, but he will be returning to the Rhythm & Brews stage for a show in September. In the meantime, he plans to continue the music video series, hoping to collaborate with other musicians and expand the territory he explores on his hikes.
“There’s so much to see in the woods around here, so why not keep it going?” Congdon says. “Though, I guess I’ll have to come up with a lot of music.”