The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Connect with Nature (page 1 of 2)

Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

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

OHIO Friends—let me know via the below contact form if you would like to be a “guinea pig” on one of the guided walks I need to lead to complete the practicum process. The first few walks are free in exchange for giving me feedback!

Training Schedule for Forest Therapy Guide Residential Retreat

My residential training has finally started! Wondering what I’m doing each day on this Intensive Retreat? Here is a peek at the Training Schedule for this 8 day course which kicks off the 6 month certification program to become a Forest Therapy Guide. (This week started off with the extra challenge of heavy rains for the first 3 days and 2 nights of training … much of which is outdoors!)

they didn't list dealing with rain in the training schedule!

The Intensive Class is always located close to a Nature area with good trails to experience guided Forest Therapy walks. I chose to apply for the course which is being held at a metro-park in NW Ohio. This is only a few hours’ drive from my home. To save money, I am tent-camping at a nearby campground. (You can see a list of course locations HERE.)

camping for training intensive

Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.

training schedule begins

Days 2-3 (Sun/Mon) – First Experiences

  • Mornings: Teacher led Forest Therapy Walk and Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoons: Debrief the walk experience, using a mapping process
  • After Break: Content Session (Lecture, Q&A, Discussion, Experiential Activities)
  • Evening: More content

training schedule includes walks less by instructors

Days 4-5 (Tues/Wed) – Practicing Skills

  • Mornings: Participants guide each other on a Forest Therapy Walk & Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoon Sessions: Same training schedule as above, learn more “invitations” and guide skills
  • Evening 4: Group campfire to share personal nature stories

training schedule includes a campfire for storytelling

Day 6 (Thurs) – Honing Skills

  • Learn more Forest Therapy techniques and skills
  • Prepare to guide a public FT walk with 1-2 other participants
  • Prepare for our 6-month practicum, completed locally via Skype under the guidance of an instructor/mentor.

many instructional content sessions in the training schedule

Day 7 (Fri) – Put It All Together!

  • Morning: 2-3 Participants work together to lead public Forest Therapy walks (My piece is to make the forest tea and guide the closing Tea Ceremony for our group.)
  • Afternoon Sessions: Debrief and more content sessions

we learn about, practice, and experience closing tea ceremonies

Day 8 (Sat) – Conclusions

  • Morning: Structured solo experience with time to reflect on the week and to consider personal goals
  • Afternoon: Content Session/Q& A time
  • Closing Ceremony (and group photo, of course!)

THANKS SO MUCH TO SUPPORTERS!

I very much appreciate the encouragement and the donations from family and friends to get me to this point. I am excited to finally move forward toward being a certified Forest Therapy Guide and starting a practice of my own to help others connect with Nature.

Don’t worry! I will continue sharing what I learn in future blog posts. You can read more about Nature/Forest Therapy HERE. You can help support me to reach my full certification HERE.

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well!

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

The Best Things about Car Camping

As you know, Daughter and I spend much of our outdoor adventure time backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This involves sleeping in the woods—either in a small tent or in a primitive 3-walled shelter. (Read more about it HERE ) But occasionally, when we go on road trips, we are reminded of the glorious benefits of car camping.

“Car Camping”: driving to a place where you camp close to your car so loading and unloading is easy

Here are some of the best things  about driving to a campgrounds to spend a night outside:

COMFORT:

With no need to count every ounce that we must carry on our backs, we can enjoy the comfort of lounging in lawn chairs. To fight the bugs, we can easily bring a mosquito coil or even an entire screen house.

Macedon NY City park, mosquito coil and lawn chairs

Most campgrounds provide each site with a fire ring, wood for purchase, and a picnic table. No balancing on a log with dinner on our knees? Ahhhh…luxury!

Relaxing at Ohio Pyle State Park

A CAR IS HANDY:

When we head to a campsite with our car, we can bring a cooler filled with fresh food and cold drinks. We don’t have to worry about weight, so fruit and salad can be included along with hotdogs and buns, condiments, and, of course, ingredients for s’mores. Backpacking food gives us the fuel we need to hike; Car Camping food fills our bellies and our souls!

yummy, juicy food is possible when car camping

Having a car handy makes it easy to run to a nearby town for food, for entertainment, and for more ice for the cooler. The car becomes a huge locker to store all of the extra “stuff” we might need or want on our adventure. It also means we don’t have to hang a “bear bag” to keep critters away from our goodies. Hallelujah! (Read about the trials and tribulations of hanging a bear bag while backpacking HERE and HERE)

The back of the car is filled with stuff, including hikers who need a ride!

EXTRA FUN:

When we go on a backpacking adventure, the hiking itself is the primary “fun” of the trip. With car camping, we still have walking trails right outside our tent door. We can leisurely wander those paths for a few hours without the stress of pushing to get to the next flat ground to set up camp for the night.

National Parks have many locations for car camping 

With easy access to our car, we can also take advantage of entertainment in the surrounding area. We might take a canoe trip, explore a cave, do some antique shopping, or just go have dinner in a quirky restaurant. Having options is delightful!

Lots of opportunities for fun when car camping

BETTER SLEEP:

It is usually more comfortable to camp near our vehicle. We aren’t exhausted from a day of hiking up and down mountains, but we often sleep better with a few “luxuries.” We can bring our favorite pillows and blankets…

We can bring blankets and pillows from home when we car camp, Acadia NP

Sometimes we choose to bring our large tent which has space for … COTS! Not as comfy as a bed, but surely less hard than sleeping on the ground.

Sleeping on a cot when car camping is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground

Car Camping Comparison:

We prefer to spend extended time in the mountains and woods. That means we will continue backpacking and sleeping far from our vehicle. But occasional trips to a campground are still enjoyable. Some of our favorite parts of camping are available in both settings. We will never grow tired of waking up to bird-song and watching trees sway in the breeze from our tent “windows.”

We can still see trees from our tent when we are car camping

Sitting around a campfire is a perfect end to a day spent outdoors. When backpacking, we rarely have the energy to start a fire, plus most hikers are asleep by the time the sun sets. But sharing stories and laughing with friends around a crackling fire is a special treat whenever it happens.

Chairs, Tripod, and lots of food are possible at a campfire when car camping.

ALTERNATIVES:

Not sure if you want to “rough it” in a tent? Remember, many places have cozy alternatives. Consider renting a cabin at a state park. Or try more unusual options such as a caboose or a tepee. (Read about our Tepee Dreaming HERE ) On your next vacation, plan to sleep a night or two in NATURE!

Car camping is not only sleeping in tents, it includes alternate lodging as well.

I would love to know how YOU choose to spend time outdoors—whether you take a day-trip or spend a weekend sleeping in the woods. Let me know in the comments…

Get to Know Me!

When I discover a new blogger to follow, I dive deeply into their website. I read all the pages, poke into their archives, and fully explore their explanations of who they are and what they value. (What? You don’t do the same? You mean everyone is not the same curious Story Seeker that I am?? Shocking!) I recently realized that many of my readers enjoy the blog posts I write, but have yet to discover the wealth of background information shared on my website. Pull up a comfy chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me. To get to know me and better understand my story, here are some of the highlights:

get to know me, coffee mugs

Let’s share stories and get to know each other!

Foundational to my life are relationships with family and friends—in-person and online. I surround myself with people who are supportive as I reach for my dreams and I love challenging others to do the same. Life is sometimes chaotic and/or painful. That’s when it is important to be part of a community for mutual encouragement and support. When I learn something, I can’t wait to share information and experiences—via homeschooling, classes and seminars, and regular blogging. (My current blog about the adventures of connecting with Nature is, of course, found HERE. You can also get to know me by exploring my archived blogs—about turning 50 HERE and about life in Navajoland HERE.)

grandma, mom, big family

I’m a family gal with treasured friends around the world!

 You can read my own summary of who I am and what I do on the “About” page (found HERE). Wondering how the Blog/Website got its name? My entire life can be seen through the lens of “The Big Epic.” (Read a brief explanation HERE. Links from that page will take you to more in-depth information about Epic Adventures in my life.)

get to know me, poppies,https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/

I’m a Story Seeker who craves the pursuit of Big Epic adventures.

I keep talking about Nature Therapy and Forest Therapy Guiding. What in the world does that mean? (Learn about this practice by reading the answers to Frequently Asked Questions HERE. Read why I was inspired to become a Forest Therapy Guide HERE. And find a collection of my favorite resources about this subject HERE.)

sunset, Thomas Knob, AT hikers

I’m a Nature Girl who needs regular time in the woods for balanced living.

As my regular readers know, in less than one month I will start my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. (Read more about this process and ways you can support me HERE.)

What else would you like to know about me? Ask away in the comments below so you can get to know me better. And, of course, I would love to hear YOUR story! Tell me more about who you are and what dreams you are pursuing.

(Formal Portrait above was taken by the wonderful Jo Blackwell. If you are ever in Britain, look her up! https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/ )

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there?

Work Hard to AVOID Nature Connection!

Seems like everyone these days is urging us to get outside, disconnect from our electronics, and connect with the non-human world. But what if we LIKE our indoor, multi-media, virtual world? Here are 5 ways to avoid the risk of nature connection. (On the other hand, if you want to access the enjoyment and the health benefits of time in nature, just do the opposite of these suggestions!)

satire, ways to connect with nature, nature therapy, disconnect, nature connection

(Learn more ways to connect with nature HERE. Read about how nature connection helps my daughter manager her anxiety HERE. Consider ways to be an advocate for others HERE. )

Meditation vs. Forest Therapy: What’s the Difference?

When I describe the practice of Forest Therapy, many folks assume it is merely doing meditation in an outdoors location. There are actually three different practices which look very similar to each other. Traditional Meditation, Forest Meditation, and Forest Therapy all have the goal of balancing life, resetting priorities, and bringing inner calm. However, the actual practices are different. Let me explain…

Meditation focuses the mind inwards; Forest Therapy focuses the senses outwards to Nature…

In Traditional Meditation, we are taught to withdraw our senses and focus inward. We work to find peace inside of self. As part of the process, we need to resist multiple thoughts, coming back over and over to an inward focus.

Sitting Pose, Meditation

Forest Meditation is a blend of traditional meditation with the health benefits of being outdoors. In this practice, we are taught to open our senses to our surroundings as we observe the world around us. We connect with nature in order to make outside peace become part of our inner being. With this practice, we allow our thoughts to just “go with the flow.”

Meditation, Standing Pose, Outdoors

If meditation works well for you, that’s great! Personally, no matter how many times I have tried to meditate, I end up either agitated or bored. My mind usually jumps from thought to thought to thought. Plus, emotion plays a big role in how I perceive the world and interact with it. Doing meditation outside is a help, but it is still difficult for me to find calm when I’m focused on the hard work of clearing my mind.

Forest Therapy is a perfect fit for me! In this practice, our goal is to reawaken the senses as we immerse ourselves in the forest. Noticing what we are feeling in the outer world (physically) and inside ourselves (emotionally/spiritually) is a much more intuitive practice for me. Often with the help of a guide, we learn how to allow a focus on nature to clear the mind and lessen negative emotions. In addition to reducing stress and bringing peace, Forest Therapy is a gentle way to rejuvenate energy and add strength to inner healing.

I am excited to find a calming practice that fits well with my personality and passions. Traditional meditation feels like a difficult task to master. But Forest Therapy simply brings new dimensions to spending time in nature, an activity I always enjoy. I am intrigued to explore this practice in my personal life. And I’m excited to help others learn this method of connecting with nature. I have been accepted into the 6 month training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. My cohort begins our mentoring program with a week-long intensive in September. (You can read more about this HERE )

I invite you to join me in exploring Forest Therapy practices. If you make a donation to my Go-Fund-Me Campaign, one of the rewards for donors is a week of daily emails giving mini-invitations to try on one’s own. (Find more info about rewards HERE and donate HERE). Late this fall and through the winter, after I complete my initial training camp, I will need local “guinea pigs” to take on practice Forest Therapy explorations. And by this time next year, I will be offering 7 week sessions to help stressed-out folks experience Nature’s healing via guided Forest Therapy walks.

Weeping Willow — Tree of Comfort

What do you think of when you see a weeping willow tree? For many people, these drooping trees remind them of grief and crying. For me, these graceful trees bring a feeling of comfort and contentment. Why the difference? I have happy memories of spending many hours under giant, peaceful willow trees.

When I was growing up, we visited my grandparents in rural Minnesota every summer. The house filled up with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Sometimes I loved the chaos and the fun. Other times I needed an escape. The giant weeping willow tree behind their house provided both enjoyment and respite.

drooping tree branches, willow fronds

The tree was so large that its drooping branches swept the ground. The quiet, green grotto around the trunk was a perfect place to hide for a raucous game of hide-n-seek amongst the cousins. Other times it made a quiet hideaway to sprawl on the ground and read a book. For that matter, it was a calming place to just lay there and stare up into the branches that were softly dancing in the wind.

Eventually, the family farm was sold and my grandparents moved to town. I could no longer go outside and stand under that venerable tree when I visited them. It felt like something was missing from the family gatherings.

Many decades later, my husband and I moved to our own little farm. The bank of the pond was a perfect place to establish my own weeping willow tree. It was ironic that only days after the sapling was planted, my grandma passed away. The new willow tree has grown and spread. Its drooping branches now sweep the ground. It still transports me back to those days of fun and comfort for a young girl amid the chaos of gathered family.

serenity, tree planted by the water

Read about special trees HERE and HERE. Do you have a childhood memory of a favorite tree? I would love to hear it! Please tell me about it in the comments below.

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