A wall of blue and white ice, Houston Brook Falls loomed overhead, adorned with icicles and clumps of snow.
“Many people have told me they’ve had spiritual experiences here,” Victor “Vic” Morin of Abbot said as he watched people approach the frozen waterfall.
In the middle of the woods of Pleasant Ridge Plantation, the waterfall is always taking on a new shape, he said. In the spring, for instance, after a heavy rain, water rushes over the angular rock in a series of arcing cascades, and mist from the falls reaches visitors on nearby ledges.
Vic Morin has visited Houston Brook Falls many times as the leader of Connecting with Nature, an outing group with the purpose to promote wellness and community through wilderness excursions, big and small.
The program is run by The JD Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to suicide prevention in Maine. The foundation was established in memory of William Jody Day, Cheryl Morin’s son and Vic Morin’s stepson, who died by suicide in 2005.
“After I lost my son to suicide, I started taking my wife out on little walks and showing her the birds and different things,” Vic Morin said. “She told me one day, she said, ‘Oh my God, it’s just done so much to help me. You ought to be doing that with other people.’”
So he did, calling the program Connecting with Nature.
Almost every week, Vic Morin organizes group outdoor adventures that are free for the public. Trips range from easy bird walks to trekking the 4,000-foot Bigelow Range.
“Everybody is welcome,” Vic Morin said. “We’ve had people as young as 2 and as old as 92.”
“It’s about nature, but it’s also about forming a sense of community,” he said. “We have people here who’ve formed friendships. It’s incredible. It isn’t just a bunch of people. We’ve actually all become friends.”
In the five years the program has been running, he estimates they’ve completed about 200 hikes and thinks about 200 people have attended at least one outing so far.
“Connecting with Nature has changed me and my life so much,” said Sandy Holt Snide, a wildlife photographer from Parkman who attends most of the outings.
Snide used to spend much of her time alone outdoors, she said, looking for things to photograph. But her excursions were limited because she wasn’t sure where to go.
“With Connecting with Nature, I have visited places I may never have found on my own, climbed mountains I know I would never have climbed alone and kayaked on waters on which I had never kayaked,” she said. “I have also made great friends, so I’m no longer alone on my ventures, causing less worry for my husband.”
For the frozen waterfalls hike on March 14, the group totaled 24 people, including several newcomers. In addition to visiting Houston Brook Falls, the group snowshoed a mile into the woods to visit the nearby Moxie Falls, which at 90 vertical feet is one of Maine’s tallest and most scenic waterfalls.
“I feel bad for communities that don’t have this type of thing going on, where they can get together as a group and go out and enjoy the outdoors,” Mark Young of Dover-Foxcroft said as he ate lunch on the ledges surrounding Moxie Falls.
“I just think it’s really good for the soul to get out in the woods,” said Barbara Jones of Newport, who travels from her home in Newport to attend the outings. “I immediately clicked with this group. I think there’s a sense of camaraderie and a real sense of wanting to make people feel welcome.”
Vic Morin is a big part of that.
“He’s an amazing person,” Young said. “I think his personality rubs off on everyone.”
Originally from Limerick, Vic Morin used to be an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. Nowadays, he’s more focused on “the other aspect” of enjoying the outdoors, he said. He prefers observing and photographing wildlife, identifying plants and foraging for wild edibles. Two years ago, he studied and passed the test to become a registered Maine guide.
Spending outdoors has always been an important part of his life, he’s come to learn that it’s essential for his overall health, especially during certain times of year.
“For me, getting over depression — especially winter depression or spring depression — I always found that just being out in nature is really good for that,” Vic Morin said.
Connecting with Nature is just one of the many programs provided by the JD Foundation. They focus on suicide awareness and prevention, as well as common contributing factors of suicide, such as depression and bullying. Cheryl Morin travels to schools, churches and community groups throughout Maine to give these programs and from the office in Abbot helps connect people to local resources.
She doesn’t typically go on the Connecting with Nature outings, but she greets the group at the JD Foundation office, the Morins’ home in Abbot, and often invites them to return after the outing for hot chocolate and snacks.
For information about The JD Foundation Connecting with Nature program, visit thejdfoundation.org/nature-walks or find it on Facebook at facebook.com/connectingnature. Programs are free, but donations to support the foundation’s work are happily accepted.