The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Challenges (page 1 of 7)

Let’s Raise Brave Kids (and forget “risky play”)

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part III in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.)

“Risky Play” versus “Brave Kids” – who cares which words we use? Is there some reason one of these phrases is better than the other? Isn’t this just a matter of personal opinion? I argue that we should all stop using the currently common phrase “risky play.” Words matter – they often invoke significant positive or negative emotional responses. Parents and “experts” around the world are discussing the importance of outdoor play for children. (See bottom of post for list of countries talking this topic.) Let’s explore how our words and actions can support our adventurous kids to better enjoy being outside.

joy in being outside

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “Brave Kids.” The words “risky play” imply danger and a need to protect our kids. Obviously, we are not eager to support dangerous behavior. On the other hand, we DO want our children to enjoy adventures, using curiosity and experimentation to explore the world around them. Although this type of discovery-based-learning has the potential for physical injury, it is also a natural and necessary part of children’s play which helps develop many significant skills and attributes.

brave kids jump glacier run-off

That’s a fine definition, but let’s go beyond the dictionary. Here are some examples of helpful activities to build adventurous brave kids. Most of us want our children to learn to walk, ride a bicycle, and swim. These are seen as important developmental milestones in our culture even though they involve risks of physical injury. Generally, we accept activities such as climbing, swinging, sliding, balancing, jumping, and hanging, especially if these things are done on a “safe” playground. It’s rarer for parents to encourage making fires, using a knife, or practicing the above behaviors in wild nature places. We need to let our kids roll down hills, climb trees, swing on vines, slide down rocks, balance on logs, jump off boulders and hang upside-down from branches! And we need to teach them how to safely make fires and use a knife.

brave kids climb rocks

But why should we allow “risky play” when it makes us anxious? What are the benefits of raising “Brave Kids”? I discussed this in more detail in Part I of this series (found HERE). In addition to the many physical, emotional, social, and academic benefits of encouraging outside time for our children, raising kids who enjoy adventure helps them appropriately judge risks, learn to try new things, and strengthens their self-confidence. It may be counter-intuitive but allowing our children to engage in exploratory play can even reduce their risk of injury!

That’s nice…but I don’t want my son or daughter to get hurt! How can I raise brave kids but still keep them safe? Like many aspects of parenting, this is a balancing act. We need to determine what is actually “dangerous” versus things that have an acceptable level of manageable risk. Then we need to train our children in how to make these judgements for themselves.

First, we need to look at ourselves. What are our own fears? What activities did we grow up doing? What things were we stopped from doing when we were kids? All of this plays into what we consider to be “dangerous.”

teen skiing at Killington VT

Here’s an example of how our own childhoods affect our beliefs and actions: my family grew up snow skiing in Vermont every year. We loved this special time together (and, of course, did not consider it to be dangerous.) In the summers, we sometimes went canoeing. That, too, was considered safe, but ONLY if we knew how to swim and wore effective life jackets. And then we grew up. My brother-in-law eventually joined us on family ski trips. We were quite surprised to find out that his family considered downhill skiing to be quite dangerous. After all, celebrities had died on the slopes! On the other hand, he and his dad and brothers went fishing in Canada each year—out on the water with no life vests even though they didn’t know how to swim. Now THAT was dangerous (in our opinion!)

brave kids and grandma hiking on the AT

Once we clearly see who we are and how our own upbringing has shaped us, we need to take time to consider the individual personalities of each of our children. This one is a risk taker, that one hates to try anything new. This one seems to always get hurt, that one is very aware of what her body can do. This one loves to be outdoors, that one hates the bugs and the cold or the hot sun. This one thrives on experiential learning, the other one prefers to learn from books or to watch others for awhile before trying things for himself.

What is our role as caregivers? We start by affirming our responsibilities as parents. Our job in all arenas of life is to give our children freedom to pursue their interests and build needed skills for healthy adulthood. This requires our support, encouragement and training/discipline to help them learn new things, make good decisions and manage risks and difficulties. As parents, we, of course, must protect our children from dangerous things which are genuine threats to their health and safety while still teaching them how to manage appropriate risks.

We need to find a balance in raising adventurous brave kids—not being overprotective nor negligent; not limiting necessary exploration nor pushing children into things they aren’t ready for; not making them fearful nor allowing them to be in genuine danger. This is where we need to remember what we learned about our tendencies and about our children’s personalities. Like most other areas of parenting, how we best support our children varies depending on individual strengths, fears, and personal preferences (theirs and ours!)

child wading in a stream

We also need to remember that getting bumps, bruises or scratches is not imminent danger. Nor is getting dirty or wet something to be avoided at all costs. When we head outdoors, we can plan ahead and bring a change of clothes, some towels, and a small first-aid kit. Learning to overcome small difficulties builds resilience to handle bigger challenges later in life!

Now that we know ourselves, and we know our kids, we can find the best ways to support each child in trying new adventures!

As stated at the beginning, words matter! Let’s guard our tongues and limit phrases such as “Stop!” “That’s dangerous!” or “Be careful!” These statements might make us feel better, but they are too general to actually teach our children safe practices. In addition, when we express our anxiety, we teach our children that we do not trust them, that they can’t handle challenges, or that we are the only ones capable of making good decisions. Instead, we need to use positive language to help our children consider what might happen next. (This article gives excellent suggestions of specific phrases and questions which help build confident kids.)   

Instead of hovering over our children (which exhausts us and them), we can build their skills and their confidence by offering our help without being pushy. As they demonstrate good decision-making and appropriate actions, we gradually give them more freedom. To support them as adventurous explorers, we can:

  • Model behaviors/attitudes about being outdoors and trying new things
  • Teach skills incrementally with supervision and grant greater freedoms gradually
  • Stay close enough to monitor their behavior but only step in if necessary
  • When we are uncomfortable with what our children are doing, take a 17 second pause to determine if this activity is an immediate danger or has manageable risks
  • Choose skill-building words (as discussed above) to support our kids

teen at a campfire

Let’s close with a step-by-step example: even though I’m terrified of simply lighting a match, my daughter Andowen became an expert campfire-maker while we were on our first long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Her mentor was a fellow hiker named “Blaze.” Each evening when we met up at a shelter, Blaze took Andowen with him to find appropriate tinder, kindling, and larger fuel in the surrounding woods. He had her sort it into piles near the fire-pit. He showed her how to stack the wood and how to light it without firestarters. Eventually, he had her try it under his supervision. And, of course, he taught her about keeping a safe distance from open flames and how to fully dowse the embers at the end of the evening. After many days of practicing with Blaze, the time came that we were alone at a shelter. Andowen was quite proud when she made us a campfire all by herself. (I quietly kept a close eye on her safety from a few feet away.) We took a photo of that fire, and when we showed it to Blaze later, he dubbed her the “Mistress of the Flame.” I’m still fearful of lighting birthday candles, but my daughter has the skills, confidence, and good judgment to make campfires for everyone to enjoy!

Now it’s your turn! What will you try from this post as you work to raise your own “Brave Kids” who pursue adventures?

_______________________________________

(Read about why I make sure to take my child in the woods…)

(When I did research for this post, I found significant discussion from multiple countries about how to support children while they safely and independently explore the outdoors. Articles were posted from Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, UK, and the USA. Books about similar parenting choices include “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather”  in Sweden, and “Achtung Baby”  in Germany.)

Why in the World Should We Raise “Nature Kids”?

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part I in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part II and Part III.)

In today’s culture, there are few “Nature Kids” to be found. (This is a big change from past generations. Read about my informal poll of favorite childhood activities HERE.) Most families today have busy schedules. We participate in school and work, lessons and sports, family gatherings and community groups. We pursue connection, entertainment, and knowledge through our electronic screens, often while we are on the go. We feel like we have no time to add anything else to our hectic to-do lists. When we add fears about safety and being uncomfortable with the unknowns of being outdoors (in ourselves or in our kids), it can be a hassle (or even an all-out  battle) to get our kids outside. Why in the world should we bother?

too many screens, stop electronics use

The NEGATIVES: Study after study in the past decades show this indoor, hectic lifestyle is not merely neutral. Our children are actually harmed by the lack of being “Nature Kids.” In his ground-breaking book “Last Child in the Woods,” (written in 2005) author Richard Louv challenged that the exploding rates of ADHD are actually symptoms of “Nature-Deficit-Disorder.” The same can be said for the current rise in sensory processing disorders, delays in the development of fine and gross motor skills, childhood obesity, and even pediatric mental health diagnoses. (There are an overwhelming number of articles and studies online which discuss this problem. Here are two I recommend: “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” and “Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good.”)

The POSITIVES: Okay, so those are the negative ways that too much inside time might harm our children. But why should we actively fight to help our children be “Nature Kids”? I have summarized the benefits of spending regular time outdoors in the following infographic:

infographics, benefits for kids in nature

Since childhood I have always preferred to get outside as often as possible. Once we had a family, because our kids were (mostly) homeschooled, we had plenty of opportunity for them to experience being “Nature Kids.” I admit that some of my now adult children prefer to spend most of their time indoors—but they still occasionally go for walks or drive to a park or a beach for some outdoor time. A few of my adult kids get outside regularly. And in the past five years, we have realized that our youngest daughter NEEDS extended nature time to be healthy. (Read more about this in “Outdoor Girl” and “Child in the Woods.”)

 

dragon trainer, nature kids

“To benefit your family, you do NOT need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness!”

The GOOD NEWS: With further research and through my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide, I found some good news for all of us. The many benefits of connecting with nature do not require large sacrifices in our normal schedules. Yes, my daughter and I enjoy living in the woods for weeks at a time as we backpack on the Appalachian Trail. BUT—you do not need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness! Studies show that even just 30 minutes of outside time each week bring long-lasting benefits. Surely, we can find that much time to improve our families’ health and well-being!

nature kids, family outside

Let’s head outdoors and begin to raise “Nature Kids.” Will you join me?

Sunrise-Sunset (Part 1) — Seasons Change

Sometimes (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?

A 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 day.)

sunset over lake with reeds, nature immersion, forest therapy

All 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…

My 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.

seasons change, winter, stream, dead leaves, nature immersion, forest therapy

For 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”

Sometimes 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.

vintage wedding, love, seasons change, in the beginning

Just 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.

sunset over frozen lake, winter, seasons change, nature immersion, forest therapy

(Read other posts about TIME and CHANGING SEASONS)

Changing Season: which season describes YOUR life?

It’s 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?

We 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!

1—the year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:

farming, plowed field,

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.

Disc Harrow, plowing, farming

The 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.

2—Spring brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):

Farming, Spring, New growth

Finally, 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.

spring floods, farming,

Some 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.

3—Time for LUSH GROWTH:

farming, summer fields, soy beans

Finally, 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.

soy bean closeup, lush growth, farming

In 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 progressing.

4—LOOK AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:

golden fields, farming, soybeans

Late 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.

soy beans, ripening, dying, farming

But 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.

5—now it’s time for a PAUSE:

dry fields, soybeans, farming, harvest time

Slowly, 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.

soybean pods, farming, harvest time

The 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…

6—CHAOS & NOISE are not always bad!

Harvest Chaos, Farming, Noisy Combine

It’s 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!

7—the year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:

Country Road, Farm field, Farming

After 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?

As 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.

It helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives. Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…

Finding the Bright Sunshine of Summer

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)!

Celebrating Bright Sunshine at the Beach

Looking 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.

Rustic Clock of Connections between Beings

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.

Sunset between the trees over frozen lake

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!)

In 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!)

certification, Forest Therapy, Forest Bathing GUIDE

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!”)

campfire, roasting hotdogs, camping

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!

New Baby, Big sisters

I’m 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!

kayaking at Ariel Park, water and clouds

After 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!

tractor pulling stuck car

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!

Workshop Leader, professional conference, Forest Therapy Guide

It’s been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure feels good!

Can a Health Crisis Be an Adventure?

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!)

vampires, phlebotomists

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.

guardian dog, healing cuddles

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.”

comfort blanket

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 1it was determined to be benign. Tumor became gangrenous so an emergency hysterectomy was scheduled (just two weeks after initial ER visit). Miracle 2after 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 3during 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 4the 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 5the 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!)

Dare to LIVE in Empty Moments

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.

Computer Geeks

 

 

 

 

 

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.

OhioPyle State Park, PA

 

 

 

 

 

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.

pallbearers for my dad's funeral

 

 

 

 

 

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.

sunset at Nokomis Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Finding beauty in empty moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Banff National Park, Alberta

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Grandparents rule!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Firefighters are heroes

 

 

 

 

 

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.

college graduation, ODU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

pondering, nature connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Don’t Screech!

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.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

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?!)

photo by Susan Heino

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!

please don't screech and scare 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!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

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!

sorry, I have to screech!

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!

biggest hiking hazard

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 & Trees

“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.

Driving 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!

Let sleeping dogs lay

Or better yet, I would like to crawl back under the covers and doze the day away!

Camping in the Rain

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).

deciduous trees on rainy days

Deciduous trees on rainy days

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!

Pines on Rainy Days

Conifers shed rain

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?!

its raining, its pouring

conifers shed rain

Read about other songs of rainy days HERE and HERE.

In the comments below, SHARE your favorite way to survive a rainy day!

A Contradictory Week — Forest Therapy Training Intensive

I just finished the initial 8 day training intensive to start the 6 month long process of becoming a certified Forest Therapy Guide. There were 20 students and 5 mentors at the training. It was a wonderful, exhausting, energizing, stretching, amazing, contradictory week. I’m still processing all we learned…and will share more details in the next few months.

One of the mentors put together this video to give an overview of the people, place, and activities of the week. (Keep an eye out for me–I’m in a number of the shots!) This training was held at Oak Openings Metro Park in the Toledo area. If you ever get a chance to visit, it is an amazingly diverse location!

I decided the fastest way to summarize this contradictory week jam-packed-full of learning and stretching was to make a chart:

Contradictory Week

Thanks SO much to family and friends who continue to encourage me and support me. That was hugely important to keep me at the training when I was exhausted and emotionally wrung out. (Shhh! I was even ready to quit a few times when I was overwhelmed!)

The most important thing I learned during this training is that I AM RIGHT WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE! Now I KNOW this is the right path for me to pursue…a knowing that is not just head knowledge but deep certainty in my heart.

If you missed it, you can see our training schedule and some of my own photos HERE

To learn more about the practice of Forest Therapy and what a Guide does, click HERE   (The Global Institute of Forest Therapy is the international organization that I am now–in 2020–going through the process of associating with for accountability, support and continuing education.)

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