(many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the
natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish
they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward
and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if
they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them
through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something
that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?
year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified
forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to
Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I
had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked
to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the
next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful
of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself:
in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m
resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking
back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly
helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place
this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me
again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these
challenges are forever…
training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to
take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature
beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who
speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my
favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush
green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I
notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I
sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have
been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths
in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE.
I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the
changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in
the middle of THIS season.
the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite
musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”
from “Fiddler on the Roof”
it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those
days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we
were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think
back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas;
staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic
family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring
and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily
married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.
like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day,
year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and
new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.
autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings
leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies
or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a
time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or
letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about
different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I
wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?
live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple
times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and
youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding
countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the
fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the
soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the
hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest
season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!
year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:
The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.
farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready
for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of
past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over
the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels
in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the
fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the
fields to plow one more time before spring planting.
brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):
the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a
hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to
cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks
of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears
across the empty fields.
challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate
fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these
potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the
farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges
the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather
is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding
destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and
replant entire fields.
for LUSH GROWTH:
the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and
lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops
thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a
single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying
attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons.
There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.
this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth
is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a
time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are
AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:
summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are
beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating
for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot
summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.
this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a
transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable
or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled
with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be
disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed
pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.
it’s time for a PAUSE:
slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall
off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As
eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.
farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry
but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy
day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of
waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…
& NOISE are not always bad!
time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and
helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the
crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The
neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is
actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!
year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:
the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with
bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over.
The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming
community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered.
The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze
what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can
be improved for next year’s projects.
What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?
I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to
my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising,
finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder
how they might apply in your life?
Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.
helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives.
Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…
first Saturday in September is International Forest Bathing Day. This is a day
to celebrate being in nature while accessing the health benefits of immersing
oneself in the atmosphere of the forest or other nature locations. A guided
Forest Therapy Walk is a way to disconnect from our hectic, stressful lives and
connect with the natural world.
“We are a part of nature, not separate from it.”
has been an explosion of interest in this practice that improves well-being.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy provides extensive research-based
training which blends new developments in the field of nature connection with
ancient traditions of mindfulness and wellness. By the end of 2018, there were
more than 700 certified Forest Therapy Guides working in 46 countries—and that
number is growing rapidly. I trained with Cohort #29 just one year ago, and
Cohort #45 just finished their initial training retreat.
Forest Bathing Day
This year on Saturday, September 7th, there will be more than 70 guided walks offered around the world. (Check this map to see if one is being offered near you!) I am guiding a walk from 10:00-12:00 in Mt Vernon, Ohio. To honor this day and encourage more people to experience this simple way of being in nature, this is an any-donation-accepted walk in lieu of my usual fees. You can see more information and register HERE (walk-ins also accepted for this event). If you can’t make it to this walk, check HERE to see what other walks are currently scheduled, or contact me to reserve your own private walk! (Read Things to Know Before Attending a Walk HERE)
a worldwide celebration on International Forest Bathing Day!
a walk with a guide. Or simply find your favorite nature spot and spend time
sitting or walking quietly, noticing the sounds and sights around you.
Curious about Forest Therapy? Read FAQs HERE, relevant blog posts HERE and a list of other resources HERE Just in case you think this is a bunch of hooey and is of no benefit to you…you need to read THIS POST which gives helpful tips on how to avoid nature connections!
The practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide begins with an 8-day training intensive which I attended in September 2018. (You can read more about that week HERE and HERE.) On five of the days, we were given a guided Forest Therapy Walk in the surrounding woods and grasslands. These short haiku poems came flowing into my mind during one of those walks. Combined with photos, these poems give a glimpse into what you can expect when you go on a guided Forest Therapy Walk with me. (But don’t worry—no poetry is expected on the walk! Haha)
walk begins with a brief introduction. I welcome participants and let them know
what to expect. I share any potential challenges they should be aware of and
tell them a little bit about the health benefits of using our senses to connect
with Nature. As a guide, I do not give assignments or teach information about
nature. Instead, I offer a series of “invitations” which give activity ideas
for each participant to use in a way that feels best for them.
Gather in, welcome Many words, introductions Now … let’s get silent
Choosing the right words Language of invitation It’s art, not science
BEING PRESENT IN NATURE WITH OUR SENSES
We begin each walk by taking time to notice our surroundings, using one sense at a time. This helps us to focus on our present location, and begin to connect with Nature, quieting our brains that are so often in overdrive.
Get out of your head Notice what is calling you Drop in to heart-sense
Birds call, crickets sing, Water burbles a rhythm Music of nature
My feet, supported My cheek caressed by light breeze I am welcome here
WHAT’S in MOTION?
Each walk continues with physically slowing down. We choose to temporarily let go of our hectic schedules and looming to-do lists as we focus on what is around us as we wander. Any time our brains pull us back to daily stresses, we simply notice “What’s in Motion?” in the landscape around us as a way to continue our connection with Nature.
Still quiet waters Nothing moving til fish…JUMPS! Circles drift outwards
Light breezes flutter Delicate flowers dancing Hummingbird joins in
Forest Therapy Walk continues with 2-4 additional invitations. For each walk, I
choose these in partnership with the surrounding landscape, taking into consideration
the season, the weather, and the participants on this walk. There are hundreds
of invitations I could use during this part of the walk. The following are two
examples from the training walk when I wrote these little poems.
BRIDGES: From Here to There
much of life, we are faced with frequent choices of where to go and what to do
next. Walking across a physical bridge can help us consider other moments in
life where we are balancing two different positions, activities, decisions or
needs. Often, neither side of the “bridge” is right or wrong, but it is
beneficial to be mindful of such transitions.
Possibilities From head to heart, here to there Stay or move, your choice
Forest behind me Man-made lake in front of me Satoyama zone
At the simplest physical level, we live in reciprocity with trees on this earth. We breath out carbon dioxide and exchange it for the oxygen which is exhaled by trees. In this invitation, participants are invited to wander and notice any part of the landscape which they are drawn toward. Perhaps they will choose to simply relax and find peace in this place. Or perhaps they will find other ways to share with Nature around them.
Mighty forest tree Big branch leans, reaching t’ward me Pregnant with walnuts
I reach for the tree Gently caressing the bark Hand-shaped space for me
Red bird flits closer With a flip and a flutter Creative muse comes
We sit together. Tree gives me words, songs to share Reciproci-tree!
CIRCLES OF SHARING
our walk together, we occasionally stop and gather in a circle. Each
participant is offered time to briefly share what they are noticing or to
simply stand in silence for a moment before passing the “talking piece” to the
next person. Most of the time, we finish a guided Forest Therapy Walk with a
Tea Ceremony, to celebrate our time with Nature and share any last words with the
forest and with each other. (One of the things I greatly appreciate about these
guided walks is that no one is ever pressured or expected to talk. This is
truly a time for everyone to interact with Nature and with each other in ways
that feel most comfortable to them.)
Nature shares with me We gather to share heart-sense Eternal circle
Tiny cup of warmth The forest enters into me Tea ceremony
One last word to share With Forest and companions The walk is complete
(photos of man with hand on heart and of me by tree were take by Annabel O’Neill)
We all love the excitement of mountaintop experiences, don’t we?! We shout to the world about the beautiful views and bask in the bright sunshine of praise and congratulations given for our accomplishments. Far less often do we talk about endless winter, about getting stuck in swamps down in the valleys or about the hard slog of climbing those endless dark mountains. It has been a long, long winter for me, filled with struggles and challenges. I’ve been emotionally climbing up and down endless hills. But it feels like I’m finally emerging into summer. I’m so ready to celebrate the bright sunshine of SUMMER (both physically and emotionally)!
back over the past six months, it has been a season of inward work. I’ve
started many blog posts but got lost in the forest of words and never finished
any of them. At some point (perhaps) I will go back and share more details but
for now, here is a summary of my long, dark winter and times I found hints of
sunshine along the way.
Finishing the second half of the mentored practicum to earn my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide offered many lessons—material to be learned, skills to be practiced, and experiences to be processed. All of this, of course, led to deeper personal growth. During regular sit-spot time (which you can read more about HERE), I mapped the interconnections of the creatures and plants around me. To show those relationships, I made a colorful clock. And I gathered photos and poetry into a little book.
I spent a long winter day at a nearby park on a “pilgrimage” from sunrise to sunset. It was a time to take my questions with me onto the land, asking God for a clear vision of my calling. Of course, the day I had scheduled for this ended up being one of the coldest days of the winter, with hard winds blowing and fresh snow falling. I alternated walking under the trees with wrapping up in a zero-degree sleeping bag to warm up. I found beauty in the frozen land and I soaked up moments of bright sunshine breaking through dark storm clouds.
During these months, I was swimming in a sea of grief, trying to keep from sinking under the waves. There was new grief at watching a beloved “son of my heart”/friend destroy himself with addiction. There were more waves of grief at missing our son who died 11 years ago. There was recognition of struggles and challenges some of my kids are walking through…and resulting grief that I can’t “fix” things for them and make it all better. (Where in the world is that magic wand when you need it?! I must have put it in a “safe place” which means it will never be found! HA!)
the spring, I figured out a way to incorporate Forest Therapy into my Tree of
Life experiences. And I completed the training to become a certified Forest
Therapy Guide. YAY! That was a bright sunny moment! Now I am working to make
some long-term connections for ongoing Forest Therapy walks. And I have guided
my first few paid walks. (If you live in central Ohio, contact me for more
information about how YOU can schedule a walk with me!)
This spring, I was sad to face realities after two surgeries last fall. (If you haven’t heard about my medical adventures, read about them HERE.) Daughter and I had hoped to make another trip to the Appalachian Trail this spring. We tried a few days of camping and day hiking in southern Ohio…and realized I’m not yet recovered enough for the rigors of a full backpacking adventure. Maybe in the fall… (At least we still had fun together in the woods and Daughter is still the “Mistress of the Flame!”)
As the season changed, the good moments started outweighing the heavy ones. I still wasn’t ready to write about life, but I found many more moments of bright sunshine to celebrate. Our oldest son is engaged. (Can’t wait to welcome his beautiful gal into our family next spring…) Our youngest daughter discovered a college that is a perfect fit for her interests and her challenges. She is also gaining life skills with a summer job at the library. We got to “babysit” our grand-dog and our grand-dragon. (Isn’t that a delightful word? Pablo is a bearded dragon-lizard.) And our newest grandbaby was born, giving me 5 days to visit and spoil his big sisters. Welcome to the world, little Wilder!
finally back to spending more time outdoors again. I’m sleeping each night on
my screened porch—waking up to bird song. For my birthday, I bought a sit-on-top
kayak. I still enjoy wandering in the woods, but have discovered the joys of contemplative
time, slowly paddling around a lake or down a river. And the wild colors of my
kayak still make me smile every time I look at it!
searching for over a year, we finally found the perfect-for-us piece of land to
purchase. We plan to park our RV there and use it as a getaway. Soon we will own
33 acres of steep hills, ravines, and woods. It has a pond and a running
stream. Hubby discovered it also has a slick clay mud-pit…but that’s a story
for another day! HA!
I finally found the bright sunshine of summer (physically and emotionally) on a current trip to California. Soon I will write about the adventures of multi-day train travel across the USA. Our lego Tiny-Me figures have discovered new places to explore. I found more imaginary places that don’t really exist (a quest started with Daughter in NYC last summer). I have enjoyed spending time with oldest daughter and her husband. When my knees rebelled against the exertion, I thought I might be stuck forever atop the steep hills of San Francisco but I finally tottered my way back down to the ferry. And I am excited to be currently attending a professional conference about Forest Therapy. I’m even leading a workshop here tomorrow!
been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure
Life is uncertain. Life is sometimes chaotic. And we make it worse by over-filling our calendar and our to-do lists which makes life hectic and draining. I’m now two months into the mentored practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. It is exciting to discover new skills and activities that can counteract all of this craziness of modern Western life! “Sit-Spot” is one of these practices I am now using regularly.
“What will you do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver–
Each week during training, we are expected to spend 2-3 sessions with the practice of “Sit-Spot.” This simply means finding a place outdoors where we can sit quietly for 20+ minutes. It could be a beautiful hidden place deep in the woods. But to be most effective in building a regular habit, a Sit-Spot should be somewhere close to work or home, where you can sneak outside for 10-20 minutes each day. My most used sit-spot is on a corner of an unused porch that faces into the neighborhood backyards. I can’t manage to focus my mind enough to be successful with meditation. But I enjoy this form of being quiet and present in Nature. (I compare Meditation, Forest Meditation and Forest Therapy HERE.)
Now that I regularly spend time in a tiny corner of my outdoor world, I am noticing that Sit-Spot gives me 6 specific gifts:
It is an opportunity to PRACTICE STILLNESS of both body and mind. I rarely take time to let my body relax at the same time as allowing my mind to also rest (until I fall exhausted into bed each night.) This is an opportunity to let go of my busy-ness and notice what is around me. No making lists, updating my calendar, or scrolling through fb and emails. Simply allowing myself to “be.” (Yes, I admit, this is hugely challenging for me at times. Please assure me I’m not the only one!)
It is a gift to EXPERIENCE SILENCE—no talking to others, no demands from others, no droning background noise to life. (Even extroverted chatty me benefits from silence occasionally!) At Christmas, we often sing about a “Silent Night” – but how often do we actually experience one?! Studies have shown that human-made noise pollution adds significant amounts of unrecognized stress to our daily lives. It’s hard to completely avoid human-sounds, but we can try!
Sit-Spot is another way to form DEEP CONNECTIONS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD. People have lived closely intertwined with nature since the beginning of time. Today’s loss of connection is at the root of many of the maladies affecting us in our current chaotic culture. (You can explore some of the scientific studies and other resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) The practice of Sit-Spot helps us return to our roots—literally!
One of the most significant benefits of forming deep nature connections is it LOWERS STRESS & ANXIETY. There is something freeing about just allowing life to flow around me. It takes a few minutes of sitting still, but eventually my breathing slows, my blood pressure lowers, and I relax into the calm of simply being outside. This type of calming effect is certainly a gift! (I wrote HERE about how outdoor time is a game changer for my daughter who has huge challenges in these areas.)
By returning to the same place on a regular basis, I NOTICE SMALL CHANGES. I enjoy watching the tall grasses “dance” in a breeze. I see plants changing through the seasons. I feel subtle differences as weather systems approach. I hear insects and birds and begin to notice their patterns. When I sit regularly, Nature is no longer merely a backdrop for daily life, but becomes something to enjoy in and of itself.
Sit-Spot GIVES ME A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. The troubles and trials (and even celebrations) of my life are not the center of history or of the universe (much as I might want to believe otherwise! HA!) I laugh at the cheeky squirrels—stealing nuts from each other, stuffing themselves for winter hibernation, and wobbling their chubby way along the fence top. I mourn the deaths of birds and beasts. I enjoy the brilliant colors of fall leaves. As I connect with the natural world, I am reminded that everyone and everything is doing the best they can with their one wild and precious life…and that’s enough.
I invite you to join me in discovering the gifts found through a simple Sit-Spot outside. I would love to hear YOUR favorite things from connecting with the natural world. Please drop me a comment below!
You aren’t imagining things. I indeed disappeared from the world for a month or so… I’ve had an unexpected health crisis and am slowly recovering. I’m finally clear minded and more even-keeled emotionally. So, while I spend much of each day physically recovering on the couch, I have plenty of time to ponder. Since I write about epic adventures, I’ve been wondering about the similarities and differences between a health crisis and an adventure…
Rather than leave you wondering, here are the basics before we move on to consider adventures. I had some slightly out-of-the-ordinary female symptoms for a number of months. My doc and I were quite comfortable just monitoring the situation with no action needed unless things changed. Then in early October, I started having a bit of spotting and aching. Things progressed rapidly—within just two weeks, I had 4 visits to the Hospital ER, multiple tests including a biopsy, was admitted to the hospital on day 13 and had emergency surgery on day 15. Whew! This health crisis wasn’t just a roller coaster…it felt more like a powerful, fast moving hurricane. (And I have the bruises to prove I was in a battle…HA!)
I wrote a blog post in March considering whether my daughter’s robotics team was an adventure. (You can read that discussion HERE.) When I look again at the criteria I laid out, I think this health crisis was close to being an (unwanted) adventure:
Personally Stretching and having an Uncertain Outcome: Definitely true! It’s fine when I CHOOSE to step outside my comfort zone. And I’m okay with trying something new even when it’s not clear how I will do. This time, however, I was given no choice. I dislike being sick and I hate feeling like life is out of my control. If I didn’t choose the risks, it doesn’t feel fair that I’m stuck in the situation. Maybe someday I will get better about accepting these unexpected challenges as part of life…
Requires Perseverance, Hard Work and Finding Appropriate Mentors/Information: In this case, I kept pushing hard to get medical providers to take the spiraling pain and increased bleeding seriously. I finally found a specialist who is amazing at listening, researching, and acting. Good thing I did—having a tumor turning gangrenous would have had a very bad outcome if treatment had been delayed! Even when I was curled up and crying with pain, I’ve learned to keep fighting. (Thanks, Appalachian Trail backpacking trips for helping me deeply internalize these lessons! Read a post about the challenges of a long-distance hiking trip HERE.)
Makes a Good Story Later: Oh, yeah. There’s an amazing surprise ending to this story! Even the doctor was surprised… (Scroll to bottom of this post for more details…) For now, I’ll just comment that even my daughter’s dog knew something was terribly wrong. For the past three weeks, she has been glued to me, cuddling beside or on top of me while I have spent most of my time on the couch. Now, however, I must be mostly cured—the dog is back to spending all of her time with daughter.
BUT…was it an Adventure? My criteria for something being an adventure also includes it being an “enjoyable activity.” Nope, nope, nope! Even with my comfy blanket dragged with me to every hospital visit, this health crisis was in no way “enjoyable.” Thus, I vote that although it had some things in common, this emergency was NOT an “ADVENTURE.”
However, when I take a further look at the introductory pages on my blog, I think this past month might well fit the definition of a “Big Epic” (which is a larger category than just adventures). This crisis was certainly a change from normal routines. And it was a life transition. (You can read more about these definitions HERE.) I am learning (again) the significance of making time to rest. I am learning (again) to set aside my independence and allow others to help. And I am learning how much I LONG to get back outside and continue building my new practice as a Forest Therapy Guide.
I would love to hear about YOUR unexpected adventures and life transitions! Post a comment here on the blog or on my fb page…
(FURTHER DETAILS: (Saga started in early October) Pain was caused by a large tumor. Miracle 1—it was determined to be benign. Tumor became gangrenous so an emergency hysterectomy was scheduled (just two weeks after initial ER visit). Miracle 2—after I was in the OR, the surgeon discovered that my body had already “delivered” the tumor on its own so no surgery was needed after all. With a more accurate biopsy of the tumor, the surgeon referred me to an oncologist because a very few of the cells were determined to be abnormal. I argued against a hysterectomy (after all, a miracle made the previously scheduled surgery unnecessary), but the oncologist insisted we schedule the surgery after all. I had outpatient “robotic” surgery (in early December, just two months after all of this began). Miracle 3—during the surgery, a very small tumor was discovered, hidden in the far corner of the uterus. This was sent off for biopsy. When the results came back, it was a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer that is never found before it has spread throughout the abdomen and become a Stage 4 cancer. Miracle 4—the oncologist said this cancer was never found so early. She called it a stage 1 cancer, although there is nothing in the literature about early stages.Miracle 5—the treatment? A complete hysterectomy…which had already been completed! No further cancer treatments needed! (Monitoring for the next few years…) Neither surgeon can explain how this series of events happened. Both agree that I am more than lucky….and both are comfortable saying that my outcome is indeed miraculous!)
Every one of us will have empty moments in our lives, times of struggle, pain, or disappointment. But those empty moments do not have to define who we are. My son shared this poem with me a few years ago—discovered for a presentation he made in college speech class. It continues to resonate for me, in various seasons of life.
Right now, our family is celebrating joys, walking beside each other through challenges, and dealing with unexpected medical concerns. (Reasons why I have been quieter than usual on both social media and here on the blog. I’m giving myself grace to rest when needed…) I pulled this poem back out a few days ago to remind myself of the important things in life. Perhaps it will be an encouragement to you as well!
The Invitation (By Oriah Mountain Dreamer)
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
I always treasure hearing the stories of others. I would love to (virtually) sit with you as you share about your empty moments. And I would love to (virtually) dance with you to celebrate the moments you feel truly alive! Please leave a comment below!
You can read a story from my grief journey HERE. Or read a story about fun times HERE.
Don’t miss out! If you enjoy reading my stories and ponderings, please sign up to receive email notification each time I publish a new blog post. (Side bar on a computer, scroll to bottom of page if reading on a mobile device)
Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…
As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.
However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)
Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:
We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)
Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!
When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!
Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!
Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!
So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!
(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)
PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.
“Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.” This song by the Carpenters has been resonating the past few gray, rainy days. Fog, mist, drizzle, shower, downpour, thunderstorm—we have seen all of the forms of rain recently!
Rainy Days & Me:
When it is dark and gloomy and oh-so-damp, I just wanna stay inside. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one?!) If I have to go somewhere, obviously, I dash to and from the car, hoping I won’t melt in the rain.
But really, I would rather just stay inside by a cozy fire, with a good book and a mug of tea. A relaxed, snoring dog is always a plus!
Or better yet, I would like to crawl back under the covers and doze the day away!
Rainy Days & Trees:
While we are hiding inside, what are the trees doing? Apparently they have different reactions to the rain… (This spring, I wrote about many fascinating new ideas about trees discovered in “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. You can read some of these mind-blowing facts HERE.)
Mr. Wohlleben explains that “Deciduous trees are shaped in ways that send rainfall toward their roots deep under the forest floor. This extra moisture at ground level helps the [surrounding] smaller trees and plants remain healthy as well.” I braved the rains to take photos of deciduous trees. I found most had soaking wet trunks, and leaves that funneled sheets of water from every branch of the tree (just like the author says).
Mr. Wohlleben continues the discussion of rainy days and trees by talking about coniferous trees. He points out that both their shape and having needles rather than leaves help these trees deflect the rain. The ground under their branches stays generally dry and is a good place to shelter during a rain storm…but watch out for lightning!
Rainy Days, You & Me:
“O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth, Is a tune for the blood to jig to, a joy past power of words.” –John Masefield
We don’t often remember the other lyrics from that Carpenter’s song: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down; Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you; Nice to know somebody loves me; Funny, but it seems that it’s the only thing to do; Run and find the one who loves me”
So on the next gray, rainy days, I’m going to try to find the joy and the dancing tune. I plan to join the trees! I’m gonna grab someone who loves me and head outside. We will laugh at the rain and play under the pines. Will you join me?!
Read about other songs of rainy days HERE and HERE.
In the comments below, SHARE your favorite way to survive a rainy day!