Hosted by author and adventurer Cindy Ross at her Schuylkill County cabin, the 2013 dinner for U.S. veterans walking the nearby Appalachian Trail became the initial step in a miles-long process to document how Mother Nature can heal severe PTSD.
"They say if you're doing the Appalachian Trail first as a veteran, it's your first 5 million steps towards healing," Ross said. "But it takes their whole lives to get back to who they are."
In her new book, "Walking Toward Peace: Veterans Healing on America's Trails," Ross chronicles the very raw and real stories of two dozen vets who used nature to fight severe PTSD.
They include Gilbert Cruz.
"Does PTSD ever go away?" I asked.
"No," Cruz said.
An explosion in Iraq severely injured the medic. Cruz said PTSD destroyed a marriage and nearly took his life several times. That is, until he met Ross, who also runs veterans nature-based nonprofit River House and discovered the outdoors.
"The tranquility of the birds chirping, waterfalls or breeze going through the trees," Cruz said. "I tell my daughter it's like white noise."
There is science behind the serenity. In June of last year professional counselor and proponent of "ecotherapy" Connor Moriarty explained how the brain changes when being outside.
"The pheromones and scents that trees produce naturally have almost an instantaneous physiological impact on us that starts to reduce cortisol, which causes stress," Moriarty said.
Walking off the wounds of war. Ross says it may be the best way to say thank you for your service.
"Take them out for a hike, show them this world. It's a wonderful thing to do," Ross said.