The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Nature Therapy

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

I Need YOUR Help!

As many of you know, I was accepted into the training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. This training begins in September with a week-long intensive experience in NW Ohio, followed by six months of weekly mentoring calls and practical experience. By next spring I will complete my certification and will begin offering Forest Therapy sessions as a coaching business. (You can read more about this in the Nature Therapy tab on this website…)

I Need YOUR Help to get to this training. Will you CHEER ME ON? Will you DONATE? Will you SHARE my story with others?

Normally, our family figures out ways to personally pay for whatever projects we decide to take on. In this case, I have a one-time opportunity to complete training in my own state, rather than paying significantly higher transportation costs for a program in Northern California (or overseas!) at a later date. Unfortunately, this means we can’t just save money for a year or two to be able to cover the costs with cash up front. In addition, one son is finishing his final year of college plus hubby was unemployed last year. The time feels right to jump into this business opportunity that fits my passions…but the personal finances just aren’t available.

Thank You for your support!

The direct link to my Go-Fund-Me campaign is https://www.gofundme.com/ForestTherapyJill  From that page you can read a summary of my story (and find links back to this website and blog). You can make donations there and see the list of unique perks I am offering for donors. To share with friends, you can email them this direct link or you can click the fb button on my campaign page to share via Facebook.

Don’t miss the really awesome perks for DONORS. Check out the list HERE (or directly on the fundraising campaign page above). I know many of us are very tight financially right now. THAT’S OKAY! I also need folks to SHARE my campaign with their own friends who might be interested in helping me. And this “putting myself out there” to ask for support is an uncomfortable stretch for me. I need folks to CHEER ME ON (in comments, Facebook responses, and emails) as I start this new adventure! Please consider how you might best support me.

Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give me!

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

Become a Warrior Woman

My daughter, Andowen, spends much of her time as a Warrior. At first glance, folks might think she is just a quirky teen. If they bother to spend time talking with her, they discover this is more than childish costume play. Here are some of the reasons that each one of us should be like her and choose to become a Warrior (Man or Woman) this year.

We have always had a big box of dress-ups around our house. Some of our kids rarely used them, others spent years wearing costumes. As a mid-teen, Andowen still loves imagination play accompanied by appropriate outfits and accessories. We figured out a few years ago that spending time in costume helps Andowen lower crippling anxiety levels. As she explains, “when I’m in my own world, I choose the rules, I always know how to respond, and no one picks on me.” Even when she and I take long backpacking trips (which also lessens anxiety), she still wants time most days to retreat into her imagination. The woods are a fabulous setting to make her pretend worlds feel more real!

Recently, she and I had a deeper discussion about what she gains by becoming a Warrior Woman. She described how acting as a particular character helps her practice the positive traits they have. In many ways, those imaginary humans, elves, and time-jumpers have become her mentors for how to handle real-life. Andowen described the following characteristics of a true Hero-Warrior:

A Warrior Woman must be STRONG, physically and mentally. It is good to be physically fit. But when you aren’t, it is even more important to become strong in your thinking and decision-making. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming who you want to be! Andowen spends time making weapons out of sticks and string, then becoming an “expert” by using them in imaginary battle and hunting scenarios. She practices being focused, ignoring any outside distractions.

To become a true LEADER, it is not enough for a Warrior Woman to be brave or to step out in front of her companions. She must also know how to encourage others. She finds ways to bring out their best in both actions and attitudes. She leads by example.

Andowen is learning how to be SMART as a Warrior Woman. This includes knowledge—learning the wood-lore and skills needed for survival. But it goes beyond facts. Being truly smart means knowing how to choose your battles. As she says, “you must know when to do what, and what to do when!” Because Andowen sometimes struggles with navigating human culture and relationships, it helps her to practice being an elf. Because this lessens her anxiety, she better remembers expected behavior and responses!

As always, becoming the expert at something takes PERSEVERANCE. Andowen has learned this on long distance hiking adventures—never give up on a bad day. She also practices this trait when making “weapons.” Sometimes she creates the look she envisions. Other times she has to try over and over until she gets it “just right.” At home she uses cardboard, duct tape, wood, and cut-up clothes. (As seen in this year’s Halloween costume when she dressed up as Link from her favorite video game.) While on the AT, Andowen practiced how to safely use a pocket knife to smooth and shape sticks into desired “weapons.”

A real Warrior Woman moves through her world with CONFIDENCE. She knows what she needs to do and knows she has the skills capable of fulfilling her responsibilities. She faces new situations with courage. She builds on her strengths and past successes, knowing she can conquer any challenges that come against her. (Andowen was quite excited to meet a thru-hiker who was carrying a “real” sword! She claims owning a similar one would give her even more confidence…..)

Apparently an effective Warrior Woman is never surprised. She KEEPS CALM and thinks clearly no matter what she encounters. She studies each character she meets to determine if it might become an ally or if it is an enemy to be vanquished. In addition to regularly dressing up as a Warrior character, Andowen sometimes uses her creativity to experience life as other imaginary creatures. She decided it is awkward having a huge weighty horn on one’s head as a unicorn! Haha!

At the start of this New Year, as we set intentions and make resolutions for positive change, perhaps more of us need to consider how we would benefit from becoming Warrior (Men and Women)! Let’s listen to my quirky, costumed teen…and choose to pursue becoming better people.

Here’s to the WARRIORS—may we see them, may we raise them, may we be them!

Christmas Gifts–All Year Long!

The presents are opened; the food is eaten; the relatives have gone home. The Christmas holidays are over. But the very best gifts of Christmas don’t have to be packed away until next year. We can enjoy them all year long—especially by spending time outdoors!

May HOPE, LOVE, JOY and PEACE be yours, all the year through!

Some families and churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit on the wreath, reminding us to focus on the true gifts offered to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Even for folks who follow other religions (or no religion at all), each one of us longs to experience these qualities in our personal lives. Daughter and I have discovered that being in Nature gets us away from the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily living. Time in the woods brings us  these simple gifts:

HOPE: Anything feels possible when we head outdoors for adventure. Even when the trail is difficult and we have a bad day, we comfort ourselves that tomorrow will bring new beauty and fresh challenges. Out here there are always reminders that nothing is so dark that light cannot shine into the shadows…

LOVE: Being outdoors helps us experience different facets of this gift. We better love the earth itself when we spend time in Nature. For us personally, our love for the Creator God grows when we experience the beauty around us. We deepen our connections with others as we overcome challenges together. (Yes, even when we want to kill each other…we are still building relationship! Haha!)

JOY:  We are often reminded of this verse while we are hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; (Let the sea roar and all that fills it); Let the field exult and everything in it; Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Psalm 96:11-12) One particular morning, we were in awe to find this tree, singing for joy with arms raised toward the sunlight!

PEACE: Even science affirms that we need time in the woods to lower stress and counter the noisy, hectic world in which we live. It is never completely silent in the woods, but the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, wind blowing, and water flowing are calming, soothing noises. Sometimes we talk or sing while we hike together, other times we savor the peace that surrounds us when we walk in Nature.

As we put away the decorations of the Christmas season and look toward the beginning of a New Year, let’s make more time to get outdoors. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of Christmas all year long.

(I would love to hear which gift you want more of in the coming year. Please share your plans for spending time in Nature in the coming year by commenting on this post!)

Child in the Woods

“God has given me this child…and she is in God’s hands!”

I have had many folks question how we could consider taking our young teen on a long distance, multi-week backpacking trip. Although I usually just smile and make some inane comment about how much she enjoyed the trip, my thoughts scream out “I had no other choice! This is exactly what she NEEDED!”

We have tended to be “outside-the-box” parents, homeschooling our kids, letting them explore interests, and helping them pursue passions. This one, our youngest, has extra challenges. She is very smart and learns some things quickly. At the same time, most “book-learning” takes extraordinary amounts of work. She craves social contact, but lacks many of the skills needed to be successful in building relationships with peers. She is often at the center of a hurricane of emotions, made more unbearable and unmanageable with extreme anxiety. Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of appointments with therapists and doctors to find the help she needs to manage daily living. That’s no way to feel strong and successful in life…

child in the woods

Then we decided that she and I would spend a few months backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. As journaled here on this blog, I researched, planned, bought gear, and off we went. Along the way, we discovered that this is exactly what she needs! Being in nature brought anxiety and emotions to manageable levels. We could walk peacefully through most days. She enjoyed the social contacts along the way, with little of the stress that debilitates her in town.

Folks questioned how we could make her take this trip, focused on the physical dangers. We now realize that she and I will take many more adventures along the AT, focused on the personal healing that comes when this child is in the woods…

Lost and Found

Life changes when one takes on a “big epic.” A significant part of adventure is moving out of one’s comfort zone. Obviously, during that time frame, life is different than the usual routines of home. However, with most good epics, some changes are longer lasting. They continue even after returning back to “normal” life. Here are some of the things we lost…and found…on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail earlier this fall.

LOST:

  • Fears (of snakes, of spiders, of walking in rain, of the dark, of getting lost!!)
  • Long to-do lists
  • “Need” for lots of “stuff” (except books…we still need books…)
  • Weight (if you find it somewhere, please don’t send it back…)
  • Tastebuds (everything tastes great when you are starving and tired at the end of a long day of hiking…fortunately we have regained these now that we are home!)
  • Need to be in control of even small details (okay, so this is an ongoing battle…) LOST

FOUND:

  • Outdoor Skills (reading a topo map, making a campfire, pitching a tent, and more)
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Perseverance (gotta keep walking until there’s a flat place to camp!)
  • Muscles (and hip bones…who knew I actually have hip bones?! HA!)
  • New Friends
  • Attitude of partnership and companionship between daughter and me
  • Enjoyment in simple pleasures
  • Ability to reframe frustrations by choosing a different attitude
  • Need for regular exercise (We are working hard to not lose this one again. Hubby asked this morning what I had planned for the day. I was shocked to hear myself say that I *needed* to get out and walk, that I was feeling jittery without exercise. What a stunning change from the couch-potato I was before this hike!) FOUND

We look forward to returning to the Appalachian Trail for another long-distance adventure. (Is it spring yet?!) We want to reinforce the attitudes and life skills we found this fall.

Have you taken on the challenge of a “Big Epic” recently? What things were lost and found for YOU along the way??

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Most of the long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail are in a time of transition. One phase of life is finished and there is still uncertainty about the “what next?” This definitely described me last summer as I prepared for our big adventure. Hubby and I were trying to choose a direction to follow among many possibilities for the future. Hiking the Appalachian Trail seemed to make so much sense—take a long break from the demands of “real life” and sort out big questions along the way. hiking

Obviously, on challenging, overwhelming days (like the one I described HERE) the only questions being pondered are things like “can I manage to keep moving?” or “when can I crash for the night?” Even on good days, however, life questions rarely crossed our minds. In talking with other hikers, this was a common experience. The immediate overshadowed the ambiguous or unanswered.

“I’d set out to hike the trail so that I could reflect upon my life, to think about everything that had broken me and make myself whole again. But the truth was…I was consumed only with my most immediate and physical suffering. Since I’d begun hiking, the struggles of my life had only fluttered occasionally through my mind…I’d imagined endless meditations upon sunsets or while staring out across pristine mountain lakes. I’d thought I’d weep tears of cathartic sorrow and restorative joy each day of my journey. Instead, I only moaned, and not because my heart ached. It was because my feet did and my back did…” – Cheryl Strayed, “Wild”

We often used our thoughts to distract ourselves from frustrations of hiking including aches and pains. I tended to focus on finding safe footing or on how much further we had to go before stopping for the afternoon. I looked forward to enjoying a chocolate bar at our next break. I debated whether or not daughter had been doing enough “school” things or I plotted out my next blog post. Daughter preferred to remember lyrics or make up new ones to favorite melodies. She quoted extended passages from books, movies, and plays. She made up profiles for new imaginary characters and planned how she would later draw them. All of this kept our brains busy while hiking, but did nothing toward finding answers to big questions.

When we took a break on the trail or on zero days, we tended to live in the moment. We enjoyed the view or listened to birds sing or wondered about little critters we saw. We traded stories and information with fellow hikers. Questions that felt so important to sort through when at home, lost their urgency while enjoying the pleasures found in nature. overlook

We have been home for a month now. I’m still baffled as to the “what’s next?” I’m not sure what daughter and I “should” be doing. Some days I’m not even sure what we want to do. Hubby and I are trying (so far unsuccessfully) to figure out what work he will do as he finishes his career. We need to envision what retirement might look like and how to best prepare for it in the next decade. All things we were pondering before the AT adventure. All big questions. All still unanswered.

What we DO know is that the time spent backpacking was invaluable. It brought calm in the midst of the questioning. It brought enjoyment and practice living in the moment. Daughter and I look forward to spring. We still might not have answers to our life questions, but we are heading back to the trail for whatever gifts we will find along the way. hiking partners

Climb Every Mountain…

Lessons for the trail…Lessons for life!climbingThe Appalachian Trail seems to be constantly climbing up one side of a mountain and clambering down the other. This gets exhausting when it is repeated hour after hour after hour. Sometimes we just wanted to drop our packs and quit…but even that is difficult to do when there is little flat ground to be found. A common grumble when hikers get together is wondering just what the trail-makers were thinking and why the trail has to go up and over every mountain along the way rather than staying on ridge lines or meandering along the sides of mountains. Complaints were louder when the trail headed straight up and down. Sections with switchbacks or at least with log or stone steps were much easier to hike. (To be fair, those types of changes would be much harder to build when making trail…)

Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream. –from Sound of Music

Eventually we figured out how to conquer the steep climbs. It took trial and error to figure out what tips and hints from other hikers worked well for us.

  • Never look too far ahead. It can be discouraging to see how far you still have to climb!
  • Focus on the next step and the next one. Counting steps can help. (I used 25 steps, not 100 like some hikers suggested.) Take a short break for deep breaths and a gulp of water each time you hit that number.
  • Don’t hesitate to take a longer break and take off your pack if you find a good seat (boulder or fallen tree). Just don’t sit too long or your muscles will stiffen up and make the final climb more miserable!climbing break
  • Readjust the weight you are carrying. Tighter straps on the uphill and looser straps on the downhill use gravity to keep weight better aligned over hips.
  • Don’t fight the mountain. Work with the terrain and with your own body to find a rhythm that can be sustained.
  • Celebrate when you reach the top! Take time to look back on what you accomplished before moving on to the next challenge. Downhill climbs are also exhausting, but at least there is relief in switching modes and stressing different muscles…

After a few weeks on the trail, we realized our muscles were stronger and our energy had increased. With each mountain we put behind us, our confidence grew. We really CAN do this. In fact, now that we are back home, we quickly get bored with flatland walking. It’s not just the lack of beautiful views. It simply feels too easy. We walk up and down the little hills around here without getting out of breath or tiring muscles.

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

It was hard to believe we had really hiked the ridgeline above this town!

Looking back, we realize we did not just learn how to thrive while climbing up and down physical mountains. Those same techniques can be applied when facing difficult challenges in life:

  • Never look too far ahead
  • Focus on the next step
  • Take self-care breaks
  • Readjust expectations/manage heavy burdens
  • Don’t fight against the challenges but find a workable rhythm to move forward
  • Celebrate milestones reached and look back on what you accomplished

Wishing all of us JOY in the journey, even in the midst of difficult ups and downs! reaching the top

(Note: we finished this year’s big adventure on October 21. We will continue posting photos and thoughts from our AT hike for the next few weeks.)

This Is Really Happening!

This morning, WE STARTED OUR ADVENTURE! Hubby is driving back to Ohio after dropping us off at the trail.

Goodbye Hubby

Goodbye Hubby

We plan to hike 5 miles today—headed for a shelter with an area beside it to pitch our tent. After a hectic final week of preparations and last minute errands, it will be nice to step into life in the slow lane. There is something quite attractive about spending two months at slow speed, walking in the woods.

Hello Trail

Hello Trail

While planning for this trip, we have often been asked what we are most looking forward to on our long-distance hike. Here are a few things that are common to both of us:

  • We love ADVENTURE!
  • We relax and revel in spending TIME IN NATURE.
  • We look forward to extended TIME FOR THINKING.
  • This will be good for our HEALTH: stress relief, exercise, possible weight loss, relaxation.
  • We love BEAUTIFUL SCENERY—and walking in the mountains should provide plenty of this!

In addition, I am looking forward to hearing the stories of those we meet, having the opportunity to practice living in the moment, and enjoying a break in regular routines. Daughter wants to learn more about nature (especially weather observation and tree identification). She spends hours drawing fantasy people and creatures and anticipates improving her skills at landscape drawing.

We have also been asked what we anticipate to be most challenging about our trip. We have tried to plan in advance what alternatives we have in case of bad weather or injury or illness. In general, backpacking on the Appalachian Trail is safer than driving across town in a busy city. (I will write more about this topic in a future post…) Our concerns tend to be much less concrete.

I wonder about the following: Will spending two months together, day in and day out, strain our relationship? How will both of us really do with limited internet availability? Will we be totally and completely sick of the types of food we can easily buy and carry with us? What if one or both of us HATE hiking for this long? On the other hand, what if we LOVE it and don’t want to head back home to a sedentary, indoor life?

Here are daughter’s concerns in her own words: “Having to live with my mom for two months. Trying to figure out how to start a fire (or rather, help mom not burn the whole forest down!) All the walking for two months straight will be challenging because I’m not the most in-shape. I wonder how long it will take before I want to turn around and head back—an hour? A couple of days?”

As a reminder, we will be off-line until we reach the next town—in about a week. Thanks for following our adventures! We appreciate your encouragement and your support.

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