Winter Wonder

It’s February. This winter has been pretty mild, but even so, our restless bodies and spirits let us know it was time to get outdoors and run, hike, and play. We decided to head northward for a weekend of snowy fun!Andre and snow ballWe left Columbus on Saturday morning of President’s Day weekend and drove to Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville, Ohio to go tobogganing and kickoff our weekend adventure.

The Toboggan slid so fast! Scott took our boys along with Harriett, and Amelie and I ventured the next ride on our own. I was petrified as we first started our descent; it was thrilling. As the boys ran ahead for another go with the toboggan, the girls and I hung back and played in the snow.

After a good night’s rest, a pancake breakfast, and a few rounds of family hide-n-seek, we dressed and felt naturally ready for Day 2 of our winter weekend outdoor adventure. When we arrived at Polar Blast Snow Tubing, the snow tube hills were too slushy because of the sun and unseasonable warmth that day. The staff there suggested we come back in a few hours, just as the sun was setting. We decided to head over to the Boston Mill Visitor Center, where the kids engaged in a scavenger hunt and got their junior ranger workbooks. From there, we headed to Deep Lock Quarry Metropark for more snow play, hiking, and discovering…

We made snow people, played in snowball fights, and went on a winter hike to see and learn about the Erie Canal.

Nightfall began to descend. We got some dinner and made our way back to snow tubing. What an experience! Our kids loved it and expressed a confidence in their ability to brave the tallest hills on their own. It was truly spectacular for our family. 

We snow tubed from 6pm until 9pm… we could have kept on going, but our 3-hour pass had expired and it was getting very late. We headed home and fell into a peaceful sleep. The next morning, we made a final stop at Lake Erie before heading home.

On the journey home, the kids worked on their Junior Ranger workbooks to later mail in and receive their first badge.

We are a blended family. We are so fortunate to have 4 children who love and care for one another, and even so, just like nuclear families, blended families require carved out special time to come together, laugh and explore, and reinforce bonding and family memory making. We find that the natural world offers our family a playground to come together more mindfully, slowing us down even as we speed down snowy hills and dash to dodge a snowball. We are a family that relishes camping, hiking, paddling, boating, fishing… and in these spaces we find ourselves and one another in special and invaluable ways. Soon we will be putting together programming to facilitate and invite other families to join us in outdoor adventuring and memory-making.

We invite you to stay tuned…

The art of forest therapy (based on shinrin-yoku)

Due to the long pause in my blog writing, there is much to catch up on! I hope to do so in the coming posts.

For now, I’ll focus on a recent adventure Scott and I embarked on: we traveled to Costa Rica for a week-long intensive training in forest therapy with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. Since our return to the Midwestern US, we have begun our 6-month long practicum in order to become certified forest therapy guides (also known as forest bathing, based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku).

ANFT picWhat is forest therapy, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku?

In a word? Beautiful.

It is also difficult to describe in words. Essentially, it is an immersive, guided practice in which we enhance our relationship with nature. The practice involves slowing down and listening to ourselves as we relate to and with nature, bringing gentle awareness to our relationship(s) with any or all aspects of the environment surrounding us. The physical and mental health impacts from this gentle practice are astounding… I hope to soon dedicate a future blog post to those impacts alone. Sunset at ANFT .jpegFor now, perhaps I can simply invite you… where ever you are as you read this… to notice the air around you as it touches your body with your inhale and departs, warmed, with your exhale… and to imagine that the air you meet longs for you just as your body longs for the air… and both you and the air are influenced by one another.

(pictured below is a forest therapy/forest bathing tea ceremony from our training in Costa Rica)

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While I love the rigor of backpacking and other higher-intensity adventures in the outdoors, I also deeply appreciate the gentle simplicity of cultivating conscious being. Though the forest therapy training was intensive, each day we practiced simply engaging in the practice of forest therapy ourselves for several hours. It was those moments, beyond any didactic content I learned, that held the most transformative impact.

While we were away in Costa Rica, we also learned of the passing of Mary Oliver, a beloved poet and native Ohioan. So, I will end with pictures taken during adventures in our Midwestern landscape and the words of Mary Oliver, whose poetry has been such an exquisite gift in my life and in the lives of so many others…

(most of the pics below were taken at Hoosier National Forest and Lake Monroe in Indiana in early November of 2018. The last 2 pics in this cluster were taken this February at Dawes Arboretum in Ohio, one of the places we will begin to offer forest therapy in our community).

“Everything That Was Broken”

Everything that was broken has

forgotten its brokenness. I live 

now in a sky-house, through every

window the sun. Also your presence. 

Our touching, our stories. Earthy

and holy both. How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.

(from Mary Oliver’s book Felicity, (2015), p. 61). Indiana national forest monroe lake

(picture above was taken one early November morning in 2018 at Lake Monroe, Hoosier National Forest).

Namaste.

Exploring the wild spring in Indiana, Ohio, & West Virginia

In late May through mid-June, we journeyed quite a bit… relishing weekends camping, hiking, and white water rafting in three strikingly different Midwestern landscapes. I notice how my experience of my interior world is intimately and deeply impacted by my environment:

Within the lush green and gentle falls in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I find myself feeling protected by the cover of forest canopy above, and lulled by the sound of trickle and light fall of water.

YSYS kids crossing waterYS waterfallIn the sandy expanse of the Indiana Dunes disappearing into the waves of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I am aware of my freedom, as well as the illusions of constancy I often cling to in life. I feel my surrender to the sand moving underneath my toes; the sound of the water rhythmically arriving and departing against the shore; the feeling of the breeze swirling around me… to the arrival and departure of my breath, of my thoughts, of each moment… to my ever changing and moving life.

IN dunes lake michiganUprooted rooted treeThe walk-in campsites at the National Lakeshore campground were lovely.  And during one of our hikes at the dunes, we had privilege of watching a bald eagle perched and gracefully take flight.

Rafting through the powerful rapids in New River Gorge, West Virginia, I was aware of my tiny size and the intensity of the forces around me. Those crashing waters! Those jutting rocks! That bright hot sun shining down on my skin! I was so small in the raft, using my little arms to push water with all my might, hands clutched onto the oar as I worked to maintain my balance and keep from being tossed into the water and rocks around me. My heart beat fast and my breathing was quick. And then we would pass through to calmer waters… and, as my heartbeat and breathing eased, I noticed the stunning nature around me. Then, helmets on, start to brace – we’ve got another rapid coming!

West Virginia New River Gorge sunset.jpgI am so thankful to find myself in each of these landscapes. For the land to bring me back to such different elements of my own be-ing. To be reminded of all the ways in which earth and I are truly one.

Geraniums in the woods

Easing into spring at Caesar Creek

As I witness the unfolding of leaves and petals, I notice my own physical and emotional being mirror their movements. From a position of snuggled up, holding in warmth to protect myself from frigid temperatures, I gradually find myself stretching out more, exposing my  limbs and feet to the sunlight, to the breeze, to the falling raindrops.

I find such an ease in this process of unfolding… as though there was a deep longing buried in winter that seems to emerge and eagerly soak up sunlight, raindrops, and as many floral scents in my landscape as possible…a reverberating exaltation… a resounding Yes!!

Unfolding bloom

This weekend my partner and I camped, rested, hiked, and mountain biked at Caesar Creek State Park in Ohio.

We found ourselves mesmerized by the movement of the water, by the brilliance of the sunset, by the chatter of the songbirds, by the dance and flicker of the campfire…

Spring has come back again. The Earth is
like a child that knows poems by heart.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Fog over a frozen lake

So often I hear about the gray gloom of Midwestern winter. While I certainly understand the impact clouds and cold can have on so many people for all sorts of reasons (none of which I discount), I’m going to let you in on a personal secret: I actually love wintertime.

So, from this loving place in me, I’ll offer a window into my little February jaunt to Buckeye Lake. buckeye lake elizabeth taking a picture.jpgThis was my first time exploring the area. I was lucky to be guided by a very special person who shared with me personal stories that had unfolded for him within this landscape. As we walked towards the thawing lake, I curiously listened to his rich stories of times past on this land.

I noticed how breathtaking the dense fog was over the snow and ice, how the chill in the air seemed to awaken my whole body, and how the slight movements of the thawing lake caught my eye… Such meaning those uniquely winter moments held for me.

And I’m reminded by a poem by David Whyte entitled “Enough”:

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

Autumn Reflection

Today we had a reflective outdoor practice at Highbanks Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Nobody participating in this month’s practice had met before, and each was entering the experience with a personal intention around releasing and letting go, in honor of the season. Together, we began by engaging in two guided grounding exercises to softly and fully mindfully “arrive” to greet the land, one another, and our own internal presence.

highbanks feet.jpgWe then began walking along a trail on metaphorical and meditative journey involving three chapters…

Chapter One: As we began to move along the trail, we quietly explored the earth’s supportive process of letting go in autumn and our own personal process of releasing and letting go.

Chapter Two: We slowed down our movement and noticed what happened in our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as we shifted off the trail, each of us finding an area that individually resonated and engaging in journaling, meditation, or simply resting.

Chapter Three: We returned to the trailhead and, as we did, noticed what we were leaving behind, as well as the support we have and need in order to transition and grow.

Highbanks tree oct 2017.jpg

Some of us expressed finding greatest peace when we were moving, with the rhythm and sounds of our feet as we took each step through the fallen leaves. Others expressed finding peace in the quiet, reflective resting phase of our journey.

Tar hollow pic

I loved most of all the scent of leaves, the sounds of the wind rustling the branches above us, and simply being in the company of such kind and compassionate people as we celebrated the earth’s fall season – and our own processes of letting go.

The 6-, 36-, and 66-year-olds set out for a backpacking adventure…

This was an adventure. We were the explorers. Neither the 66 year old nor the 6 year old had ever backpacked before. I (the 36 year old) seemed a trusty guide. The time was now.

Andre with treking poles and mommyWe arrived in at Zaleski State Forest on a Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect September day. The grandson and grandfather were excited and uncertain…would they be able to do it? Would their packs be too heavy? Would the hills be too steep? Would the night be too dark? The animals too wild?

They bravely set off on the trail.

Andre and mommy backpacking

pappers and Andre backpacking

Surprised by our physical strength and eased by the cadence of the backcountry, we three backpackers trekked for a few miles before it was time to set up camp. Night descended and curiosity enveloped fleeting fears. The adventurers found that nightfall was brimming with its own special wonders.

Andre and tree frog.jpg

What memories! We cooked together. We laughed and rested together. We talked about the wonders of life and death together, as we looked up at the trees, just beginning to show signs of autumn foliage.

Andre backcountry cooking.jpg

And so was our little journey, woven by three generations of humans together on a simple, beautiful adventure.

Pappers and Andre backpacking Zaleski

Easing into Natural Being

Children are some of my greatest teachers; their curiosity and zest for exploration often seems downright palpable. I love most when I’m out in the wilds with children – or with grownups who have the ability to access their inner adventurous child. It is with the young at heart (regardless of their chronological age) that I myself experience more fully the enchantment, the mystery, and the awe of our earth.

After an hour (or a day or a week) of submerging my feet in startling, soothing cool water, watching the way the shadows from the leaves above dance on the path, marveling at the beautiful design of a single blade of wild grass, and noticing the scent of soil and water as I breathe…

Blade of grassYellow Springs 2017

..I find I can exhale a little longer and fuller. I can think with more clarity and peace.

still water

Even as I return to the bustling dance of urban life, I am at ease.

Zaleski

It was late April. Both Russell and I thought that weekend we were going to be hiking at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, but for several reasons we last-minute decided to change our plans and instead drove an hour away to Zaleski State Forest in Ohio.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, this unfolded into one of those spontaneous, marvelous choice points…you know, the kind when you impulsively shift your course of action and discover yourself in a treasure cove?

Zaleski State Forest is the second largest state forest in Ohio and offers lovely backpacking trails. That weekend we listened to a beautiful whip-poor-will, apparently content to serenade the forest from a branch above our tents nearly all night long. We spotted a red-eft newt camouflaged amongst the leaves blanketing the forest floor.

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We raved over the showy orchid (Galearis spectabilis) blooming beneath the canopy of trees.

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We watched a coyote deftly move up a steep forest incline. We marveled at the moss, the lichens, the ferns, the fungi, the sunlight gleaming through the trees. There was nothing else we wanted for besides all that already surrounded us.

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As we hiked out of the forest that Sunday mid-morning, I felt my wakeful presence meet the fast cars on the highway and I was reminded of an essay I had read by Robert Greenway. He stated:

“…when consciousness opens full to wilderness and immerses itself in natural processes, the return is almost always a painful experience…In the painful ‘reentry’ experience we feel our newly open and connected beings congeal into hardened, separate, well-defended selves. Although unpleasant, this process is perhaps a unique opportunity to experience mindfully the cultural forces that normally operate outside our awareness…I counsel wilderness participants to leave the wilderness without regret, without holding on, to find healing in the transition, and also to plan for continuing transitions between wilderness and culture on a regular basis. It is also helpful to establish political and cultural relationships with the wilderness visited. Since all wildernesses are at risk – all are being damaged in one way or another – there are plenty of opportunities for such relationships. Of course, continuing with the wilderness group itself supports an ongoing healed relationship with nature.”*

As I return to my memories of that weekend, I find a collection of ordinary moments that became infused with the extra-ordinary. Perhaps this is what happens when we move into a state where being on earth itself is cause for celebration – and when we allow ourselves to ease into relating with the coyotes, the red eft newts, and the showy orchids.

My heart is wild and full.

 

*Passage taken from: Greenway, R. (1995). The wilderness effect and ecopsychology. Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 133-134). Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.