News

Join me under a shady tree next week

The average American spends 93% of their life indoors.

When I read statistics like this, I wonder what and who is being considered as an “average” American.  I think about choice and privilege and I consider those among us who are confined to prisons, detention centers, hospitals, schools and homes and all our various institutions and industrial complexes.  I think about those among us who will not be permitted to go outside for the remainder of their natural lives.  I go through the complex reasons why those of us who have the choice to spend more time outside don’t, and I consider the factors that keep us inside.

I write this during a heat wave in Boston and as I listen to the hum of nearby air conditioning units,  I imagine all the air conditioning units on my street, in my neighborhood, in this city, country and globally.

My mind then goes to the cooling refuge of a shady tree and I imagine a light breeze on my skin.  I imagine the sound of bird song and the cacophony of the natural world.  I imagine dragonflies and butterflies and lush green offering fractal light patterns and a sense of calm.  I imagine the Earth dreaming through me and dreaming through this tree that I sit with.  As my mind stops thinking, I begin to embody the most basic level of aliveness.

Join me under a shady tree next week.

My July Newsletter

The Witness Trees of The Emerald Necklace

In Boston, there is a chain of parkways and waterways that connect many of the “jeweled” green spaces and gardens called The Emerald Necklace (ENC).  From Franklin Park and the Arnold Arboretum to Jamaica Pond and Olmsted Park, along the Riverway to the Fens in Back Bay, this corridor makes it possible to bike or walk from parts of Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Roxbury all the way to the Public Garden and Boston Common all the while in green and forested settings.  I make a point of taking the long way into town whenever possible so I can meander my way along the muddy river and continue the ancient conversations with the more-than-human world which I find helps me cope with the more human-centric elements of “downtown”.

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This past winter I was walking along the ENC when I found myself particularly struck by a grove of trees on the corner of Brookline Ave and the Riverway.

To give a bit of context, this area is home to many world renowned medical research facilities and institutions.  Places like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s,  Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School put this area on the map as a destination for life saving cutting edge medical technology.  This is a place where many lives have begun, ended, or been profoundly altered in various ways.  Right on this very corner once stood Mass Mental Hospital which was once home/prison to many of Boston’s misunderstood castaways.

I was alerted by a grove of trees on this corner.  There was something about the way their branches twisted and reached that caught my attention.  The feeling was swirly and feral.  It was impossible for me not to pause at these trees.  They were loud.  I looked up at the trees as if to say “What is it?!”  I turned around to try and take in what they have been witnessing for many decades when it occurred to me that these trees have been rooted right here while all these hospital buildings and roads have been built, torn down, rebuilt and so on.  I looked down at the roots and the soil and I imagined the interconnections of these trees and this medical industrial complex.  My imaginal sense was tuning into decades worth of stories being released from these hospitals the same way that trees release chemicals.  I pictured the higher branches reaching upward as if to absorb lost energy that couldn’t find its way back down into the Earth.

I’ve since formed a relationship with this grove of what I call “witness trees” and whenever I am passing thru,  I always stop to pay my respects to this sacred little piece of land tucked along this strip of medical industry.

The trees along The Emerald Necklace tell many stories.  They move so much slower than the human world.  They not only offer a greener way to travel through the city, but they also purify the air and are home to many migrating birds.  There is much to explore along the Emerald Necklace.

Join me on June 9th at Olmsted Park in witnessing the “witness trees” of The Emerald Necklace.

This walk is free and sponsored by The Emerald Necklace Conservancy.

Space is limited.

REGISTER HERE:  https://www.emeraldnecklace.org/event/forest-bathing/

ENC Forest Bathing

 

Lilac Therapy

Lilac Therapy Blue

Every May, visitors flock to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts to breathe in the fragrant lilac collection and witness the array of color.  This flower has a history of medicinal use and if you have ever spent time inhaling this sweet fragrance you may have noticed a sense of calm and relaxation.  Spending time connecting with nature has been scientifically proven to treat stress-related illnesses and lilacs are considered potent medicine when it comes to symptoms of anxiety.  May can be a time of unwinding as we transition into a new season under a warmer and brighter sun.  Whether you’ve been visiting the lilac collection for years or have yet to experience them, I invite you to unplug, de-stress and recharge on a Guided Lilac Therapy Walk.

This is a two hour therapeutic experience that combines wandering, sitting, and resting.  We will cover no more than a mile, leisurely meandering through the collection as I guide us through a sequence of gentle sensory-opening invitations that welcome us to notice more of our surroundings.

Experience the healing power of the Lilacs!

Register: http://my.arboretum.harvard.edu/Info.aspx?DayPlanner=1758&DayPlannerDate=5/15/2018

April Newsletter

With the transition into spring comes lots of options for going on a Toadstool Forest Bathing Walk. With warming temps and plentiful rain, there is so much in motion in our local forested areas. Join me in slowing down to experience the buds, the birds and the unfurling prehistoric greenery during this miraculous time of new and reawakening life.


I have three walks coming up this week on Thursday April 5th, Saturday April 7th and Sunday April 8th.
Info & Registration


Announcing a new series of Forest Bathing Walks
at Moose Hill in Sharon, Massachusetts!
Discover Mass Audubon’s oldest wildlife sanctuary in a whole new way on this slow-paced guided therapeutic combination of leisurely walking, sitting, and observation.
This is a chance to unplug, slow down, and de-stress
through a series of gentle sensory-opening invitations that welcome us to deepen our connection with nature.

Register for Moose Hill

 

Interested in a Private or Individual Walk?
Learn More

Share Toadstool Walks April Newsletter with your friends, family, coworkers, team, students and teachers.

Forest Bathing Day

 

What is Reciprocity?

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We tend to look at nature as a collection of things: plants and trees and fungi appear as objects that can only be acted upon, rather than engaged with. But what happens when we look at them as living beings with teachings to impart to us? In this week’s article, guest writer Tam Willey explains how opening one’s self to a reciprocal relationship with nature can help us grow – and heal.

What is Reciprocity?

If we are part of an animate earth that is constantly inflating or deflating in response to what is being taken or given, should we consider how we engage with it?  If every splash has an infinite ripple effect, then how do we want to splash?

“Attention is the doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity.” 
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
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I met an Ash tree on my first day of Forest Therapy Guide Certification Training when we were invited to go off into the forest and converse with a tree. Given the limitations of the English language and the personal ways we connect with the land, trying to describe these experiences can be challenging and exposing.  At the same time, sharing our unique stories about what we notice and how we engage with the natural world can support and inspire others on the path towards deeper land connection (or reconnection).  This is a form of reciprocity.

I’ll refer to this tree by the name ‘Ash,’ and I will use ‘they,’ ‘them,’ and ‘their’ pronouns for Ash since we don’t have an animate word for “it” in the English language.  Using inclusive language helps me pay closer attention.  My path towards creating an ongoing practice of land reciprocity started in a human-centric world exploring race, class, gender, privilege, and the various -isms and phobias that perpetuate views of superiority and inferiority.  As I continue to unpack my Western conditioning as a white American of Eastern and Western European descent, I find myself peeling back the layers of human dominance.  By referring to Ash as ‘it,’ I fail to acknowledge that Ash is a living, breathing, animate being.

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“To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we thus block our perceptual reciprocity with that being. By linguistically defining the surrounding world as a determinate set of objects, we cut our conscious, speaking selves off from the spontaneous life of our sensing bodies.”​
-David Abram, The Spell of The Sensuous

By acknowledging Ash as an animate being, I am more likely to form a relationship, opening the door for reciprocity and healing for not only humans but also for the trees, waters, and all the beings of the natural world – also known as the more-than-human world.  As a gender variant queer person, using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun has become fairly routine in my community. Adapting, modifying, discerning and reclaiming parts of the English language can be empowering and even fun.  If using inclusive language is a new concept for you, or if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then I invite you to learn more. Setting the intention for Inclusivity will make the difference between being able to form that relationship or not.  Inclusive Language In Four Easy Steps

Respectfully, I began to introduce myself to Ash in my own quiet way without spoken language. I acknowledged Ash’s place in the forest and looked around, taking in the mushrooms and leaves and dry stream bed nearby. I reached my hand out and explored the woven textures of Ash’s bark, following the pattern with my gaze up into the impossibly high canopy, ablaze in sunlight.  I then looked down and wondered how deep Ash’s roots went below the surface. Were they as deep as Ash was tall?  Was Ash photosynthesizing right in front of my very eyes?

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My thought web led me back up into my thinking brain. As if waking up from a dream, I suddenly remembered where I was. A wave of insecurity washed over me and I found myself asking the question, “Am I doing this right?” I looked around and noticed my fellow Forest Therapy Guide Trainees all engaging with their trees in their own way.  I shook my head, laughing at myself and remembering that there is no exact science to how to converse with a tree.  However, there is a load of research about what happens to our brains and bodies when we spend time being open with trees.  From increased cerebral blood flow to stronger immune defenses, there is plenty of evidence demonstrating how relaxing in nature supports human health.

I stopped critiquing my conversation with Ash and began asking for support in bringing my best self to this training by being an active participant and not hiding in the shadows of self-doubt.  I had been anxious about the training and meeting a group of strangers, an issue that only arises in the human world.  In the forest, no one questions my gender or identity and I am reminded that I am natural and connected to the earth. Part of what drew me to wanting to become a Forest Therapy Guide is to be able to hold space for others who have internalized feelings of being unnatural, separate from, or even wrong.

I stepped back from Ash looking up and down and around, wondering what I could possibly offer and if it would be good enough. I leaned in and exhaled purposefully into the weave of Ash’s bark, offering a few dozen concentrated blasts of my carbon dioxide. I felt my heart rate slow and thanked Ash in my own way until the sound of a crow call told me it was time to say goodbye.

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In an industrialized civilization where consuming is in and conserving is out, living in gratitude and holding ourselves accountable requires hyper-vigilance.  Reciprocity is a path towards healing and an effective coping mechanism in treating stress-related illnesses that result from living in a rapid, industrialized environment.  It can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash. It can be leaving some kind of offering of natural material from your own body or from the forest floor as a way to honor or acknowledge a tree or a place. It can be creating a small structure, like a fairy house or an altar. It can be a form of activism or a regular monetary donation. It can also be a random act that isn’t explainable in words. When we practice reciprocity, we can face our human experience with fewer symptoms of stress, anxiety, boredom, self-hatred, rage, and crisis.  We are less likely to cause harm.  We are less likely to internalize feelings of inferiority, and less likely to act under the illusion of superiority.

Guiding a Forest Therapy Walk is a practice of reciprocity in and of itself.  From start to finish, there are many opportunities to listen, notice, acknowledge, ask, and give. I always ask the land for support before I guide a walk.  I might ask for qualities like self-assurance, clarity, openness and patience. I recently asked an elder Cedar of Lebanon evergreen for support in remembering all the informational details I intended to share with my walk participants. As I asked for this clarity of mind, a small sprig dropped down from high up in the canopy, bouncing off on my head and onto the ground. I picked them up and tucked the little one into the fold of my hat, offering back a personal gesture of gratitude in the form of a bow. During that walk, whenever I found myself nervous or lost, I touched my hat, feeling for the cedar sprig. Later that day, I had a strong urge to pass on this little cedar sprig to another human.  I listened to the message and gave the offering.

“A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning.  It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it.  And yet it appears.  You only role is to be open-eyed and present.”​
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Tam is an ANFT Forest Therapy Guide in Practicum and began guiding walks in Fall 2017 at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, MA, where she has lived since 1998. She works locally as a self-employed Handy Person and a teacher and custodian at The Eliot School. Tam has extensive experience working with LGBTQ Youth through BAGLY and The Theater Offensive’s True Colors. She also works as the Community Liaison for The Venture Out Project with whom she has guided Forest Therapy Walks and is currently planning a Nature Connection Retreat for May 2018. Tam has firsthand experience of the healing benefits of spending time in nature and strives to make her walks inclusive and accessible.  
For more information about Tam, visit her website: ToadstoolWalks.com

The Gifts of Forest Therapy: Post Winter Solstice Reflections

5AM seems to be my rising time lately.  As my brain and heart are so full, I feel the urgency to rise and start my day before I can fully open my eyes.

Yesterday was the winter solstice and I watched the sunrise on top of Bussey Hill in the Arnold Arboretum with a new/old soul whom I met in November. It was one of those feelings you get when you meet someone and you are pretty sure you have known them for lifetimes and there is almost an instant ease.  We connected over white pine tea and Tarot and discovered that we both tend the same land and foster relationships to the local trees and natural areas.  We realized that we have practically been walking in circles around each other in our favorite meandering spots in the Arboretum talking to Eastern Hemlock, Norway Spruce, and the wide variety of conifers that live right here in our community.  She invited me to join her in welcoming back the light by watching the sunrise and introducing me to meet a Birch Tree that she has been hangin with.  I was delighted.  She invited another friend too that I know from around town and the three of us met on top of the hill.   The sky was clear as the golden sun came up and out came all the little last minute ritual items from everyone’s pockets.  We did some formal letting go and bringing in in our own way.  We wrote things, burned things, infused things, drank things, said things and did our nature connection thing in our own ways that we do and talked about our various inspirations and practices.  It was very cold but we were filled with light until our extremities were too numb to linger and we ceremoniously descended the hill and went our own ways.

Later that day I went to a birthday/solstice party for someone who was turning 91 whom I met on my first Forest Bathing Practicum Walk this past September. She tromped around with me and nine others on a full three hour long walk on a cool misty morning. She brought and offered so much life and wisdom and soaked up the experience like a sponge.  We’ve kept in touch ever since and now we share a small meditation circle.

At her birthday/solstice party, I met some other friends of hers.  One of whom I learned went to the same elementary school as her in Holland in the 30’s.  She shared with me that she had survived the Holocaust and had been through the camps and lost her family.  This was the first time that I have met a Holocaust Survivor.  I thanked her for sharing this information with me.  She was very open about her story, saying that she makes a big effort to educate kids in school about what she went through.  I acknowledged the importance of that.  Meeting this woman yesterday on the winter solstice was timely and profound in many personal ways.  And I know this was just the beginning of another new relationship.

Last year at this time I was putting out some heavy intentions.  There had been a build-up of pressure inside myself that brought an urgency to pursue some things that scared me.  I then learned that astrologically I was right on time in making a big change in my life and that I am in the midst of my “midlife transits.”  So I have been harnessing this momentum towards deeper connection and leaning into the natural world while finding ways to hold space for others to do this too.

This practice has sustained me through my own share of challenges and painful experiences this past year.  But I don’t wish 2017 away.  No.  I have learned so much and gained new perspectives.  I was able to cope with the pleasures and agonies that come with the human experience without adding too much extra drama or story lines to events that are traumatic in nature and need no embellishments.

This willingness to face life on life’s terms with tenderness has enabled me to form deeper relationships with humans of all kind and with the more-than-human world.  In essence, I feel like I have metaphorically crawled out from under a rock this year and as I step out of the shadows I will always love and appreciate the rock.   As I welcome back the light, I am filled with gratitude for the companions of yesterday’s solstice.

 

A Nature Connection Retreat!

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Did you know that spending time connecting with nature has been medically and scientifically proven to treat stress-related illnesses?   From increased cerebral blood flow to stronger immune defenses, there is loads of research about what happens when we relax, unplug and open our senses to the natural world.  

 

Toadstool Walks is teaming up with The Venture Out Project for a long weekend of Relaxation, Restoration, Rejuvenation, Reconnection on 40 acres of land not far from the Columbia River Gorge in Washington. This is for folks looking for some downtime in a Natural setting in Queer Community. Whether you love the outdoors and are looking for a different way to engage with nature or are simply looking to unwind and connect.

There will be a series of structured daily offerings to support deepening our relationship with nature, each other and with ourselves. All offerings are optional. This is a time to recharge and recollect whether that means unplugging for a bit, sleeping, relaxing in the hot tub, journaling, storytelling, or just being, this retreat is intended to hold space for that.

$425
ALL INCLUSIVE  PRICE!
Includes:

  • 3 nights in your own bed in a large house along the Columbia River Gorge overlooking Mount Hood
  • Home Cooked Vegetarian Meals
    (Starting with dinner on Friday and ending with brunch on Monday)
  • Daily Forest Bathing Programming
  • hiking, hot tub soaking, evening storytelling, morning sun salutations, journaling, downtime, etc.
  • All you have to bring is you, exactly how you are.

Sign up before February 1st, 2018 and save $50!
Thats $375 if you sign up before February 1st, 2018.  $425 after that.

Register via The Venture out Project