(many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the
natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish
they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward
and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if
they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them
through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something
that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?
year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified
forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to
Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I
had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked
to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the
next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful
of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself:
in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m
resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking
back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly
helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place
this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me
again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these
challenges are forever…
training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to
take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature
beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who
speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my
favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush
green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I
notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I
sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have
been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths
in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE.
I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the
changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in
the middle of THIS season.
the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite
musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”
from “Fiddler on the Roof”
it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those
days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we
were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think
back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas;
staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic
family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring
and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily
married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.
like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day,
year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and
new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.
autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings
leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies
or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a
time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or
letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about
different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I
wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?
live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple
times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and
youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding
countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the
fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the
soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the
hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest
season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!
year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:
The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.
farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready
for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of
past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over
the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels
in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the
fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the
fields to plow one more time before spring planting.
brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):
the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a
hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to
cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks
of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears
across the empty fields.
challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate
fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these
potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the
farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges
the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather
is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding
destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and
replant entire fields.
for LUSH GROWTH:
the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and
lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops
thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a
single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying
attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons.
There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.
this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth
is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a
time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are
AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:
summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are
beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating
for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot
summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.
this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a
transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable
or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled
with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be
disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed
pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.
it’s time for a PAUSE:
slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall
off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As
eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.
farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry
but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy
day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of
waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…
& NOISE are not always bad!
time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and
helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the
crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The
neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is
actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!
year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:
the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with
bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over.
The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming
community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered.
The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze
what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can
be improved for next year’s projects.
What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?
I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to
my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising,
finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder
how they might apply in your life?
Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.
helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives.
Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…
first Saturday in September is International Forest Bathing Day. This is a day
to celebrate being in nature while accessing the health benefits of immersing
oneself in the atmosphere of the forest or other nature locations. A guided
Forest Therapy Walk is a way to disconnect from our hectic, stressful lives and
connect with the natural world.
“We are a part of nature, not separate from it.”
has been an explosion of interest in this practice that improves well-being.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy provides extensive research-based
training which blends new developments in the field of nature connection with
ancient traditions of mindfulness and wellness. By the end of 2018, there were
more than 700 certified Forest Therapy Guides working in 46 countries—and that
number is growing rapidly. I trained with Cohort #29 just one year ago, and
Cohort #45 just finished their initial training retreat.
Forest Bathing Day
This year on Saturday, September 7th, there will be more than 70 guided walks offered around the world. (Check this map to see if one is being offered near you!) I am guiding a walk from 10:00-12:00 in Mt Vernon, Ohio. To honor this day and encourage more people to experience this simple way of being in nature, this is an any-donation-accepted walk in lieu of my usual fees. You can see more information and register HERE (walk-ins also accepted for this event). If you can’t make it to this walk, check HERE to see what other walks are currently scheduled, or contact me to reserve your own private walk! (Read Things to Know Before Attending a Walk HERE)
a worldwide celebration on International Forest Bathing Day!
a walk with a guide. Or simply find your favorite nature spot and spend time
sitting or walking quietly, noticing the sounds and sights around you.
Curious about Forest Therapy? Read FAQs HERE, relevant blog posts HERE and a list of other resources HERE Just in case you think this is a bunch of hooey and is of no benefit to you…you need to read THIS POST which gives helpful tips on how to avoid nature connections!
The practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide begins with an 8-day training intensive which I attended in September 2018. (You can read more about that week HERE and HERE.) On five of the days, we were given a guided Forest Therapy Walk in the surrounding woods and grasslands. These short haiku poems came flowing into my mind during one of those walks. Combined with photos, these poems give a glimpse into what you can expect when you go on a guided Forest Therapy Walk with me. (But don’t worry—no poetry is expected on the walk! Haha)
walk begins with a brief introduction. I welcome participants and let them know
what to expect. I share any potential challenges they should be aware of and
tell them a little bit about the health benefits of using our senses to connect
with Nature. As a guide, I do not give assignments or teach information about
nature. Instead, I offer a series of “invitations” which give activity ideas
for each participant to use in a way that feels best for them.
Gather in, welcome Many words, introductions Now … let’s get silent
Choosing the right words Language of invitation It’s art, not science
BEING PRESENT IN NATURE WITH OUR SENSES
We begin each walk by taking time to notice our surroundings, using one sense at a time. This helps us to focus on our present location, and begin to connect with Nature, quieting our brains that are so often in overdrive.
Get out of your head Notice what is calling you Drop in to heart-sense
Birds call, crickets sing, Water burbles a rhythm Music of nature
My feet, supported My cheek caressed by light breeze I am welcome here
WHAT’S in MOTION?
Each walk continues with physically slowing down. We choose to temporarily let go of our hectic schedules and looming to-do lists as we focus on what is around us as we wander. Any time our brains pull us back to daily stresses, we simply notice “What’s in Motion?” in the landscape around us as a way to continue our connection with Nature.
Still quiet waters Nothing moving til fish…JUMPS! Circles drift outwards
Light breezes flutter Delicate flowers dancing Hummingbird joins in
Forest Therapy Walk continues with 2-4 additional invitations. For each walk, I
choose these in partnership with the surrounding landscape, taking into consideration
the season, the weather, and the participants on this walk. There are hundreds
of invitations I could use during this part of the walk. The following are two
examples from the training walk when I wrote these little poems.
BRIDGES: From Here to There
much of life, we are faced with frequent choices of where to go and what to do
next. Walking across a physical bridge can help us consider other moments in
life where we are balancing two different positions, activities, decisions or
needs. Often, neither side of the “bridge” is right or wrong, but it is
beneficial to be mindful of such transitions.
Possibilities From head to heart, here to there Stay or move, your choice
Forest behind me Man-made lake in front of me Satoyama zone
At the simplest physical level, we live in reciprocity with trees on this earth. We breath out carbon dioxide and exchange it for the oxygen which is exhaled by trees. In this invitation, participants are invited to wander and notice any part of the landscape which they are drawn toward. Perhaps they will choose to simply relax and find peace in this place. Or perhaps they will find other ways to share with Nature around them.
Mighty forest tree Big branch leans, reaching t’ward me Pregnant with walnuts
I reach for the tree Gently caressing the bark Hand-shaped space for me
Red bird flits closer With a flip and a flutter Creative muse comes
We sit together. Tree gives me words, songs to share Reciproci-tree!
CIRCLES OF SHARING
our walk together, we occasionally stop and gather in a circle. Each
participant is offered time to briefly share what they are noticing or to
simply stand in silence for a moment before passing the “talking piece” to the
next person. Most of the time, we finish a guided Forest Therapy Walk with a
Tea Ceremony, to celebrate our time with Nature and share any last words with the
forest and with each other. (One of the things I greatly appreciate about these
guided walks is that no one is ever pressured or expected to talk. This is
truly a time for everyone to interact with Nature and with each other in ways
that feel most comfortable to them.)
Nature shares with me We gather to share heart-sense Eternal circle
Tiny cup of warmth The forest enters into me Tea ceremony
One last word to share With Forest and companions The walk is complete
(photos of man with hand on heart and of me by tree were take by Annabel O’Neill)
Life is uncertain. Life is sometimes chaotic. And we make it worse by over-filling our calendar and our to-do lists which makes life hectic and draining. I’m now two months into the mentored practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. It is exciting to discover new skills and activities that can counteract all of this craziness of modern Western life! “Sit-Spot” is one of these practices I am now using regularly.
“What will you do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver–
Each week during training, we are expected to spend 2-3 sessions with the practice of “Sit-Spot.” This simply means finding a place outdoors where we can sit quietly for 20+ minutes. It could be a beautiful hidden place deep in the woods. But to be most effective in building a regular habit, a Sit-Spot should be somewhere close to work or home, where you can sneak outside for 10-20 minutes each day. My most used sit-spot is on a corner of an unused porch that faces into the neighborhood backyards. I can’t manage to focus my mind enough to be successful with meditation. But I enjoy this form of being quiet and present in Nature. (I compare Meditation, Forest Meditation and Forest Therapy HERE.)
Now that I regularly spend time in a tiny corner of my outdoor world, I am noticing that Sit-Spot gives me 6 specific gifts:
It is an opportunity to PRACTICE STILLNESS of both body and mind. I rarely take time to let my body relax at the same time as allowing my mind to also rest (until I fall exhausted into bed each night.) This is an opportunity to let go of my busy-ness and notice what is around me. No making lists, updating my calendar, or scrolling through fb and emails. Simply allowing myself to “be.” (Yes, I admit, this is hugely challenging for me at times. Please assure me I’m not the only one!)
It is a gift to EXPERIENCE SILENCE—no talking to others, no demands from others, no droning background noise to life. (Even extroverted chatty me benefits from silence occasionally!) At Christmas, we often sing about a “Silent Night” – but how often do we actually experience one?! Studies have shown that human-made noise pollution adds significant amounts of unrecognized stress to our daily lives. It’s hard to completely avoid human-sounds, but we can try!
Sit-Spot is another way to form DEEP CONNECTIONS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD. People have lived closely intertwined with nature since the beginning of time. Today’s loss of connection is at the root of many of the maladies affecting us in our current chaotic culture. (You can explore some of the scientific studies and other resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) The practice of Sit-Spot helps us return to our roots—literally!
One of the most significant benefits of forming deep nature connections is it LOWERS STRESS & ANXIETY. There is something freeing about just allowing life to flow around me. It takes a few minutes of sitting still, but eventually my breathing slows, my blood pressure lowers, and I relax into the calm of simply being outside. This type of calming effect is certainly a gift! (I wrote HERE about how outdoor time is a game changer for my daughter who has huge challenges in these areas.)
By returning to the same place on a regular basis, I NOTICE SMALL CHANGES. I enjoy watching the tall grasses “dance” in a breeze. I see plants changing through the seasons. I feel subtle differences as weather systems approach. I hear insects and birds and begin to notice their patterns. When I sit regularly, Nature is no longer merely a backdrop for daily life, but becomes something to enjoy in and of itself.
Sit-Spot GIVES ME A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. The troubles and trials (and even celebrations) of my life are not the center of history or of the universe (much as I might want to believe otherwise! HA!) I laugh at the cheeky squirrels—stealing nuts from each other, stuffing themselves for winter hibernation, and wobbling their chubby way along the fence top. I mourn the deaths of birds and beasts. I enjoy the brilliant colors of fall leaves. As I connect with the natural world, I am reminded that everyone and everything is doing the best they can with their one wild and precious life…and that’s enough.
I invite you to join me in discovering the gifts found through a simple Sit-Spot outside. I would love to hear YOUR favorite things from connecting with the natural world. Please drop me a comment below!
Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…
As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.
However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)
Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:
We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)
Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!
When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!
Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!
Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!
So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!
(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)
PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.
“Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.” This song by the Carpenters has been resonating the past few gray, rainy days. Fog, mist, drizzle, shower, downpour, thunderstorm—we have seen all of the forms of rain recently!
Rainy Days & Me:
When it is dark and gloomy and oh-so-damp, I just wanna stay inside. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one?!) If I have to go somewhere, obviously, I dash to and from the car, hoping I won’t melt in the rain.
But really, I would rather just stay inside by a cozy fire, with a good book and a mug of tea. A relaxed, snoring dog is always a plus!
Or better yet, I would like to crawl back under the covers and doze the day away!
Rainy Days & Trees:
While we are hiding inside, what are the trees doing? Apparently they have different reactions to the rain… (This spring, I wrote about many fascinating new ideas about trees discovered in “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. You can read some of these mind-blowing facts HERE.)
Mr. Wohlleben explains that “Deciduous trees are shaped in ways that send rainfall toward their roots deep under the forest floor. This extra moisture at ground level helps the [surrounding] smaller trees and plants remain healthy as well.” I braved the rains to take photos of deciduous trees. I found most had soaking wet trunks, and leaves that funneled sheets of water from every branch of the tree (just like the author says).
Mr. Wohlleben continues the discussion of rainy days and trees by talking about coniferous trees. He points out that both their shape and having needles rather than leaves help these trees deflect the rain. The ground under their branches stays generally dry and is a good place to shelter during a rain storm…but watch out for lightning!
Rainy Days, You & Me:
“O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth, Is a tune for the blood to jig to, a joy past power of words.” –John Masefield
We don’t often remember the other lyrics from that Carpenter’s song: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down; Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you; Nice to know somebody loves me; Funny, but it seems that it’s the only thing to do; Run and find the one who loves me”
So on the next gray, rainy days, I’m going to try to find the joy and the dancing tune. I plan to join the trees! I’m gonna grab someone who loves me and head outside. We will laugh at the rain and play under the pines. Will you join me?!
Read about other songs of rainy days HERE and HERE.
In the comments below, SHARE your favorite way to survive a rainy day!
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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)
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.
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:
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
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!)
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.)
Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.
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
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
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.
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
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.