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!

Nature Connection Retreat-TVOP.png

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.


  • 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


Forest Bathing at the Arnold Arboretum

I recently wrote this blog piece for the Arnold Arboretum:

Forest Bathing at the Arnold Arboretum

by Guest Writer: Tam Willey, Forest Therapy Guide in Practicum

October 31, 2017

When is the last time you took a long leisurely walk in a natural setting? Or sat under a tree and observed the many stories playing out in nature? Have you ever considered that when you touch a tree, perhaps this tree is simultaneously touching you? As humans industrialize at lightning speed, we have become more and more disconnected from the natural world – to the point where the term “tree hugger” is a derogatory put down.

Living in our urban, modern, industrialized civilization can be stressful. The cacophony of our phones, cars, computers, planes, trucks, barking dogs, crying babies, construction vehicles, machinery, yelling, and sirens can wreak havoc on our nervous systems. When we are stressed on a regular basis, we increase our risk for stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, headaches, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, moodiness and other mental impairments. Walking leisurely and sitting under trees not only helps us unplug and catch our breath, but it has also been medically proven to treat stress-related illnesses.

Forest Bathing

“Shinrin-Yoku” which translates to “Forest Bathing”, was coined in Japan in the 1980’s where infrastructure has been developed around specific forested trails to support wellness. Shinrin-Yoku is a prominent feature of preventative medicine and healing in Japan. It is practiced at designated Forest Therapy trails where visitors are met by medical and research teams that keep track of blood pressure and collect other data during the walk in order to show concrete evidence of the healing and preventative benefits.” Over thirty years later, there is a plethora of research studies showing how spending time relaxing in nature reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels, increases natural killer disease-fighting cells, increases energy, improves sleep and supports overall well-being. You can find a list of these studies here:

I first learned about Forest Bathing/Shinrin-yoku on a day-long outdoor retreat I had signed up for through a local meditation center in Boston. I had no idea what to expect. We walked into the forest slower than I had ever walked and as we were guided through a series of gentle sensory opening prompts, I found my awareness expanding in profound ways. Even though I had previously spent extensive time outside, I had never experienced such the gamut of emotion and immersion within 15 minutes of entering a forest. I have sought plenty of refuge in the mountains and forests on many a hiking, camping, canoeing, and cross-country ski adventure. While it was apparent that these adventures would leave me feeling clear-headed, chilled out, restored, empowered, and strong, I hadn’t before had this context for what was happening to me physiologically from spending extended time in the woods.

“Walking slowly in the wide forest with Tam, a relaxed and knowledgeable guide, opened my senses and brought out the peace waiting within”
-Lea, 90, Boston

Forest Bathing

I began familiarizing myself with the science and research studies describing the many health benefits of connecting with nature. I came to understand that the healthfulness of what I was experiencing had less to do with the number of miles I could hike in a day or the views on top of a rugged mountain. My restorative healing and sense of well-being was a product of deep intentional reconnection with nature in a reciprocal way.

I come from a lineage of railroad and factory workers. I see the effects of industrialized civilization on my family, friends, and community in various forms of stress-related illnesses, diseases and oppressions passed down from generation to generation. It is my intention to do what I can on my micro level to work towards breaking these cycles and bringing awareness to how we can heal ourselves, the earth, and support the wellbeing of all beings. I am committed to deepening my own practice of nature and forest therapy so that I can share it with whomever wants it.

“During the forest bathing walk with Tam, I felt like I was discovering an entirely new part of the world around me. The experience was one of peaceful calm and exploration.”
– Tyler aka “TofuPup”, 16, FL

I am trained through the Association Of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. This training both supports my growing nature connection and teaches me how to guide professionally. I am doing the bulk of my practicum work at the Arnold Arboretum. It involves a lot of observation, sketching, mapping, sitting and meandering. It also includes guiding a series of Forest Bathing Walks in collaboration with the Arboretum’s Event Programming. These walks have been well received and attendance has been full. If you have been unable to sign up for a fall walk I encourage you to sign up for one of my spring walks that will begin in March. I have had folks on my walks who have never been to the Arboretum before as well as those who have been regular visitors for years but have never experienced the collections in this way. One study I read showed that Forest Bathing is effective even for those who strongly dislike nature and don’t want to be outside. Studies show that it still works even if one is resistant while doing it. I find this an inspiring concept to sit with as a guide.

“This was the safest and most joyful I have felt in a long time. Tam’s facilitation is confident, kind, grounded in authentic presence. I live with the effects of complex PTSD and often don’t have an easy time relaxing or connecting in group activities. The miraculous support of nature and the skillful guidance of Tam made it so that I was able to be fully present and engage in each activity in a way that felt healing and nourishing to my heart and body.”
– Anonymous

Forest Bathing Scrolls

As I unpack my Western-conditioning and embrace my relationship with the more than human world, I find I am able to deepen my compassion, empathy and gratitude for not only my fellow humans but also for our waters, our trees, our animals, our bugs, my own self, and all the beings that I never really noticed or connected with before. My name is Tam, and if you feel so inclined, I invite you to hug trees with me.

Tam Willey
Forest Therapy Guide

Conifer Connection Forest Therapy Walk

Sunday, October 29th 1:00pm-3:00pm

Jamaica Plain


Specific Location and Details will be emailed upon Registration

Did you know that spending time connecting with nature has been medically and scientifically proven to treat stress-related illnesses? Start experiencing the healing medicine of Shinrin-Yoku as we connect with Cone Bearing Trees. Slow down, unplug, relax, and soak in the fresh coniferous wonder on this Guided Forest Therapy Walk.

Space is Limited

Find Out More And Reserve Your Spot: