How I Became A Forest Therapy Guide
Here is the deeper story of how I became a forest therapy guide.
I believe the spirits of Emerson, Thoreau and transcendentalism resides in the waters, soil, plants and animals of that place. As a child, I embodied these ideas naturally.
My parents encouraged me to play outside by myself and I became, like Thoreau, a self-appointed inspector of the phenomena of nature.
I never even understood the full impact of these ideas on my development until much later in my life- long after the childhood that taught me to be friends with trees, to redirect rivers, and to navigate by the light of the moon. There are moments when I revisit my childhood home and I go to the sit spot of my youth and I wonder if I’m sitting next to Thoreau’s ghost and his favorite tree. These are the moments when I feel like I know myself.
When I was in twelfth grade, I had a teacher named Bill Schechter, who was another influence that I would not recognize fully until later in life. Mr. Schechter taught class from a rocking chair covered in civil rights memorabilia he had collected from his trips through the Deep South. His classroom had beanbags, we listened to 60’s rock music, and he was both intimidatingly brilliant and at times unbearably eccentric. He once took us on a field trip to New York City to retrace Holden Caulfield’s journey in Catcher in the Rye. He showed us something of the real world, and he was a good man who I learned much from.
I remember feeling like these were holy texts, that they spoke to me in a way that I recognized viscerally but I could barely begin to understand intellectually.
It was particularly Walden that awoke something in me. Reading Walden made me return to the forests of my childhood. Like the trip to New York, I was living in the text; I was in all the same places that Thoreau had been.
I was, literally and metaphorically, walking in his footsteps.
In the last week of my senior year, my classmates and I joined Mr. Schechter at the site of Thoreau’s cabin at dawn to read the final chapter. I remember feeling chills on the last paragraph:
“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.
Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
There is more day to dawn.
The sun is but a morning star.”
Standing in a circle, reading the final chapter, we created and crossed a threshold in time and space, and I remember feeling as if I understood myself and my aliveness in a radically new way.
It was simple and beautiful and connective and liberating. It was an effortless awakening. I didn't need to be taught; I had become my own teacher by simply paying attention to my subjective awareness of the world around me, feeling connected to myself and to the world that I was living in.
As a guide and a trainer, I try to follow three precepts: honor simplicity, dwell in not knowing, and do not be precious. Thinking back, all these were seeds planted in the wilderness of my mind when I was walking around Walden Pond and supposed to be sitting in a calculus class. Those seeds grew and now here I am; I’m exactly where I was meant to be.
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