Travel near to go far

I woke up Saturday morning with a heavy heart. Disappointment, anger, sadness, irritation, and feeling annoyed on top of a poor night’s rest flowed through me. It’s been a rough few days with scattered emotions.

I had an event with Backcountry Women on Saturday planned that I was looking very much forward to. I guzzled multiple cups of coffee at home to feel alive and scored a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks instead of just a coffee due to a barista error. Or maybe the error was actually the universe looking out for me?

I coordinated a Guided Nature Therapy Walk with Patti Phillips from Nurtured By Nature in Pinawa, Manitoba. I quickly said yes when I was presented with the opportunity to coordinate. The description felt right and one that I could learn a lot from and apply holistically in managing my mental health.

A nature therapy walk is inspired by forest bathing, translated from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku. It is said that shinrin-yoku bridges the gap between humans and the natural world. All five senses; hearing, sight, sound, taste, and touch are engaged throughout a slow and mindful walk. Patti guided us and offered us invitations to connect with the forest that surrounded us.

Unlike hiking that commonly involves conquering the land with distance and lookouts, nature therapy connects you to the land. We acknowledged that we were on Treaty 3 land and listened as Patti said a few words about Indigenous culture and their devotion to the land.

I often talk about what the trail gives me and how nature provides for me. Humans consume nature and our planet is facing a climate crisis. We learned that sitting with nature and being mindful with nature is one small way that we can give back among the other individual initiatives we take part in. We can bare witness to nature’s growth instead of just passing through while we rack up steps on Fitbits and get our heart rate up.

There were five of us who attended the Guided Nature Therapy Walk and we each came for our own purpose. We opened our hearts to one another and shared our stories, observations, and thoughts. Even though I have insight into what brought the other women to the forest, our sharing was done in a circle of trust and for that reason I will only speak of my experiences.

I intentionally have no photos to share with you. I did not wish to view this experience through a lens as it is not one of my five senses.

We were assured that the rain would provide a unique experience with the forest and to not let it hold us back. I felt rain drops on my tongue. The scent of pine filled my nose. I felt moist bark crumble in my hand as I returned it to the ground. I heard birds calling out between raindrops striking the leaves. I saw vibrancy of colourful leaves among the darkness of the forest floor. I consider it an honour to be present in nature as the rain sprinkled from the sky.

I introduced myself to a tree who I felt looked a little lonely and broken. I noticed that the grass was packed down beneath the tree and I knelt down and looked out to the river, just as a deer would do too. The bark peeled and I traced my fingers in a nurturing motion. With embracing all five senses, I placed my lips on the bark and gave it a little kiss. Amusingly, the brim of my rain hat prevented me from easily placing my face near the tree and I needed to turn my head sideways. Yes, it looked like I was making out with a tree. It was a beautiful moment to just be with my thoughts.

We walked to the water for our final invitation. Water is always in movement and we sent a message to the universe through the water to deliver it to whoever needs to hear it. I climbed onto slippery rock near the shoreline, gripping with my hands to get near the reeds. I tried to put into words what my message was but I could only feel; strength, power, love, and kindness.

We concluded our walk with a tea ceremony and fruit. Patti forged edible plants from which the tea was made from. To my recollection, I believe we drank red spruce. An extra cup was filled with tea and we returned the liquid to the earth with spoken words of gratitude.

We shared more of our experiences and talked about finding nature that is accessible to us. We can travel near to go far. There is prairie grass growing in ditches, potted plants downtown, retention ponds with waterfowl, and the city of Winnipeg has an abundance of walking trails.

I left the activity feeling gentle and soft. A question had been posed to us before the walk, “do you ever feel lonely when you’re with a group of people?” We all responded yes. What we are lacking is genuine connection. I can’t speak for the other four women, but as the activities and conversations took shape, I felt I was right where I belonged.

On Friday night while I was trying to fall asleep, I had Feels like Home by Chantal Kreviazuk on repeat in my mind. I have not heard that song in ages and yet there it was, stuck in my mind as I struggled to drift off to sleep. I opened a browser window on my phone and typed the song so I would remember it in the morning.

I came across a quote by John Muir on Saturday evening, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.”

Feels Like Home now makes sense. Nature is my home.

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