A few months ago, I read you can find trolls in a magical forest in Belgium. Of course I looked up and read that Thomas Dambo, a Danish artist, made rolls with old palettes, recycled wood, fallen trees and branches – with the help of volunteers from the region. On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Tomorrowland, a famous festival in and from Belgium. Of course this was on my to-visit-list as soon as I would be back in Belgium. Trolls, rescued wood and a forest setting… this is so… me.
This week, when I came back from the “country of trolls” and had experienced also some forest bathing there, I had some time to go “hunting” for trolls in this Belgian forest with my dad. The place of the municipality is “Boom” and could be translated freely as “Tree.” The golden yellow birch leaves sparkled in the evening sun. I also noticed that we were not the only ones who went looking for the trolls on a late rainy Wednesday evening. It feels encouraging when you notice art full of magic and mysticism gets people to nature.
Apparently, Thomas Dambo has made trolls all over the world and calls himself a recycle art activist. Did you see Thomas’ trolls somewhere?
By coincidence, I heard later that a young man in my parents’ street is also a sort of recycling art activist who is building a viking construction in the same forest where I will organise a forest bath this weekend (topic for the next post!).
It feels almost serendipity that I am encountering so many art works inspired by Nordic culture and using rescued wood…
Perhaps, as my trainers and mentors of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) said in some way, … that from the moment you take the journey of the guide, and deepen your connection with the land, the other beings… that “the right things” come to you… the things which are meant to you.
Last weekend I accompanied my Russian friend on her first forest bath. I had found another guide with ANFT that guides in Ekebergparken in Oslo. Two weeks earlier, I had asked the guide before what was the Scandinavian or Nordic way of forest bathing. So nature gave an answer. That weekend the first snow felt in Oslo. Read here my experiences of a forest bath filled with snowflakes and warmed by bonfire.
Forest bathing in snow
I had not experienced forest bathing in the snow. I tried to dress warmly, because I knew we would be not moving so fast, but I made a mistake with the shoes. So my feet were cold. Fortunately she went for invitations with bonfires and with wandering, and not sitting at the same spot. But the snow added something mystical to it. While the guide introduced us to the land of Ekebergparken, I felt mesmerized by the snowflakes. When we walked deeper into the forest, we shared memories about trees. The guide told us how she communicates with a tree close to her house and how it had told her that he feels sleepy. Winter is here. It is almost time for the trees to sleep and rest.
Oak hill without oaks ?
Ekeberg, the guide explained us, was once the place where political gardening were hold. The name means “oak hill” but as some of you know, oak is a very desired wood. All oaks got cut to serve the lumber industry. Some time ago, they found one oak. They planted fungi and did other measures to revive and help the tree.
The interesting first serendipity is that my friend celebrated here her marriage, because of the view on Central Oslo, where once viking ships landed and left. Later she would tell that an oak in a Russian park was very important for her. It was in the closeness of this oak that her boyfriend-now-husband took her hand for the first time. The oak seems to witness the milestones of her love life. Isn’t that beautiful?
Nordic tea and decoration
The guide shared with us a tea made from rosehips, berries and juniper and also explained the healing properties and other usages or the tea plants. She had decorated the fire with vibrant red Rowan berries. Earlier in this trip I learned these berries and tree have special meaning for Scandinavians. It is too bitter to eat, but they make jams and gin from it. My friend remarked how amazing it is that Scandinavian people can make from some simple things like pine cones and berries a setting which feels so cosy. The guide said that Scandinavia’s land has not so much to offer and is not so fertile, and has short fertile periods, so they learned to do more with less.
Vasalisa the Beautiful
In this Russian fairytale, the young girl Vasilisa is given a magical doll by her dying mother. When her father remarries, her stepmother and stepdaughter are jealous of Vasilisa’s beauty, and they force her to cook and clean all day and night. When the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters send Vasilisa into the dark forest to Baba Yaga, a terrifying witch with a taste for human flesh, Vasilisa has no weapon to take with her but her magical doll.
According to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book “Women Who Run with Wolves”, the story is about a young girl sharpening her female intuition. The Baba Yaga is for me a wise wild old woman, a sort of archetype, that helps woman to learn how to divide good things from bad things and other necessary skills. I do not see the guide as an antagonist. But I guess the idea that Baby Yaga is frightening for manypeople is because independent women living alonein aforest look strange. Maybe still feel strange and what society does not expect.
When imagination turns into reality
I love the story in such a way that the story was the basic for my own first fiction book (which gets published in several weeks). It was an almost mysticalexperience to follow Vasalisa and Baba Jaga, or my Russian friend and this Nordic elder woman, to a fire and a weird wooden construction along birch trees kissed bysnowflakes.
I shared this experience at the bonfire. It felt like serendipity that I share this experience with especially a Russian youngerfriend. I had not thought before I would encounter Vasalisa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga in this forest bath. But yes… serendipity is something you experience often when you are in the woods 😉
I am back in Norway. Third time this year. If I have an opportunity to go there (this time a conference which I could combine with a small project in Sweden), I will take it. Sometimes I have this idea that my ancestors are Vikings which visited the Low Countries, and that these genes sing every time when I am back in the land of fjords, mountains and coldness. I will leave Norway in some days and my soul is pining already. I promised myself that I will move to Norway after Japan taught me everything what I need to know.
The big pine
I was also invited by my best Norwegian friend to stay in the cabin if his material family. He knows I love trees, and the first morning he proposed for a hike with the dog to the top of a low mountain. Everything was covered by snow. Almost halfway the easy climb, he showed me this big pine tree. She was magnificent.
When he was a child, his grandmother took him there often and this pine would be the destination of a small climb, where she rewarded him with chocolate.
She loved that tree as she used to go there when she was a kid. As a result she made the farmer who owned the land in the area promise he would not cut it down in her lifetime. My friend is happy that the owner is not interested in forestry anymore and that the tree will probably live another 50 years and carry her memory.
The grandmother died two years ago. …
The next day I was alone. He had to work. I prepared some hot tea and planned to have a sit spot next to the tree to connect with the land and the tree. I walked alone. I did not hear any sound expect my shoes in the snow.
When I arrived at the big pine, I heard birds singing. Very welcoming. I shared some tea with the tree and sat there for 20 minutes – until my ass froze 😉.
I felt very welcome there.
I imagine the tree told me to come back.
To deepen my learning journey as a forest therapy guide I started to draw again. As a child I loved it. One reason of staying in a cabin for 3 days without wifi was to rest and to make time to draw again. I decided to draw the pine tree and my friend (I used a photograph I took of them the day before) reflected about the web of interbeing. The pine tree has many branches. Just like a web. I draw it on the side of a big card I send to my elder friend in Vermont, with who I started my forest therapy guide training.
A mirror memory
Then, suddenly I realised, that a pine was also central in my own connection, or loss of my grandfather, who took me also, when I was a child, on hikes and also gave me rewards. A pine tree killed him. Almost 14 years ago I pointed to the pine tree he would fell, when he asked me which tree looked dead.
In many ways; this close friend, maybe my most favorite man in the world at the moment (as I have no boyfriend who could have claimed that) reminds me so often to my grandfather. Only when I was drawing I realised how even more connected we were… because of pine and beloved grandparent memories.
My tent is still drying in the veranda as I am writing this. This past weekend I got to take part in the event supported and funded by BOS+ (my favourite forest advocate organisation in Flanders) and CM (my favourite health insurance provider in Flanders). The concept of the weekend was to offer people different kinds […]
In the past 6 months, I was working at a story that would become eventually my debut roman. It is funny how things turn out. I was actually working at another manuscript for 8 years (!), but then a golden opportunity came (read: I could use a part of a grant for a communication about circulair economy). So, my story about dryads is put on a hold and in April I used all my free evenings on writing “If Furniture Could Talk“. I wrote in my mother tongue, so the title is actually “Als Meubels Konden Spreken”. I am using a lot of my knowledge about eco-psychology and ecolinguistics in this story, because I wanted to write a story with impact. This article shares some ideas about the impact of stories on sustainable transitions, and my own learning and writing process.
A small fairytale about circular economy
Once upon a time… a beautiful planet with some finite supplies of raw materials and materials, where beautiful people live. They invented beautiful things. Unfortunately, they organised their economy in a linear way. This led to a major materials and energy crisis. Some of the brainiacs preached for a more circular economy, but the old linear ways were already so firmly anchored that not many beautiful people responded to their ideas. The collegeboys came up with scientific reports full of evidence. But no… yet the rest of the population didn’t want to change. That caused a lot of frustration among those brainiacs. Why is the transition so slow? Why is it not accepted by others? Why don’t people change so quickly?
In Flanders (Belgium), there have been wonderful initiatives in the field of circular economy for years. But not all of them bear the label of circular economy – because that is still an abstract concept. Or yes, a lot of information has been written precisely for highly educated people, especially in the sustainability sector. Although… more and more you see economists at the workshops of Flanders Circular. Circular economy clashes with a glass ceiling, and according to Bold Branders, the collective of volunteers to who I belong, this is sometimes due to the communication and management of knowledge.
At Bold Branders we look at science, but we know that scientific texts and reports are not widely accepted by the general public. There is also a wealth of research that allows people to influence their choices more through emotions than reason.
This is why we are opting for the oldest form of knowledge management in which we evoke emotions: stories. For thousands of years, people have passed on knowledge, culture, norms and values from generation to generation on the basis of stories. Also recently, knowledge about sustainability and ecological and social problems has been disseminated worldwide, with perhaps Rachel Carson’s “Dead Spring” (Silent Spring) as the best known example. That’s why we, Bold Branders, decided to write a circular novel…. to live happily ever after.
Today I went bicycling in my paternal grandparents’ region. Some time ago, an old friend from university, a linguist with a big passion for history, who is born in the same village as my grandfather, promised me to share his local knowledge and stories about trees, stones and other beings of this region.
Today we were both available and I was in Belgium. We could go for a reunion in a hot chocolate bar (we do have these bars in Belgium), but I reminded him to the promised bicycling tour. He liked the idea. I prepared the bicycle and met him in front of the 12th century church of Vorselaar. Autumn accompanied us at this tour of probably 50kms (more than I had anticipated, but I brought chocolate). I traveled through heathland and forests, listened to stories which are hundred years old, and all his explanations of local names (he is a linguist after all). A lovely surprise was the gravestone for a local tree called “heksenboom”, aka the witch tree, and the “Achtzalighedenboom, or Eight Beautitudes Tree.
As part of my 6 month long practicum with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), I have to guide 4 forest baths. Directly after I did the on-site training in Colorado and explored USA, I left for Belgium. I have not been in my country for 8 months, and in some view, even not have really lived there intensively for 4 years. Since the ANFT training I feel slowly that I start to appreciate the land where I am born… again after so many years. In my last blog reflecting about the on-site training in Colorado, I mention already I start to imagine to even work and live there for a long time. Being in Belgium, it emerges more, because I see all the beauty there. It is a bit scary to reorient old dreams and ideas that I prefer to live and settle in more “wilder” places. This blog is about my first week in Belgium, the (re)connection with the land and ancestors, and about the mixed feelings that start to arise since I walk the path of forest therapy guide.
Reconnecting with the apple tree and the land
In the first week I was on the land of my ancestors (read the home my paternal grandfather built) and had the pleasure to sit in the garden, between the apple and pear trees my brother and I planted ourselves some years ago. The first morning I looked at the old tree friends in our paternal family’s wild garden/forest and checked which had died and will be replaced soon by new trees. It had rained, so the smells were nice. I greeted the new tree (the magic tree; as my brother called it) and then went to our small orchard to check the state and study the mushrooms at their feet 🍄 . I took some apples and made an extract for me and my brother (and added some cinnamon.) I gave a bit of the tea back to the apple tree to thank her for providing these fruits. I thought about to bring also some of her fruits to my first forest bath; as apple reminds me to Halloween/Samhain and represents also beauty and self-care, fit for a yoga & hike weekend, but I stepped away from this and choose for something more wild and local.
However, I was a bit disappointed that my brother did not pick most of the pears and apples on time; they were all on the ground and rotting. I had arrived to late to pluck them. Some days later, it was a bit more sunny. I was drinking matcha latte in a chair and observing red admirals eating the fallen pears and apples. Seeing the butterflies enjoying it, let me realize it was not a loss. In nature, there is no waste. The rotten apple taught me a lesson about reframing too: everything changes, nothing perishes.
Connecting with an ancestor and a folk healer
Since 1989 there has been a plaque for Maria Van Loock, better known as ‘Mie Broos’, at the church in Vorselaar, near the place where she is presumably buried. She was famous, and people from worldwide came to consult her in the end of 19th century, early 20th century. Once I heard she is a bit connected to my own family. She was some sort of aunt of the cousin of my grandfather by marriage. Or something like that. I decided to dive into the history of this figure, and my connection with her, in order to learn more and reconnect with the land we share(d).
She was not a doctor, but she learned from the experiences of her parents who were both employed by a doctor. She also learned a lot from a doctor for whom she had to help prepare medicines. Through personal searches she expanded that knowledge even further. She knew better than anyone the healing power of plants and prepared ointmentswith them. In addition she used “zoete lies”, which is pig’s fat. The ordinary, poor man could always come to her, as she did not ask a bit to none money for her services. In this way she became legendary. From far and wide, even from abroad, people came on foot or by bicycle to Heiken, where Mie lived, driven by the last hope that they had placed on the competence of the healer from Vorselaar. She was also from a time when my region – the Kempen– was very isolated and poor; as the soil was sandy. Before they planted cultural forests for the mine industry early 20th century, she and my ancestors lived in heathland. Heiken also means heathland in a dialect of Flemish.
Some detective work
My father gave me the phone number of my grandfather’s brother. When I heard his voice, I could recognise the same texture and accent my grandfather had, and recalled it has been a long time ago (maybe when I was still a teen) that I had talked with him. He was happy to hear me, but could not really help me. We were not linked by blood, but there were some family connections. My grandfather’s cousin would be her son, or something like that. He gave me instructions to find Maria Broos, which could be some sort of her niece of Mie Broos, and added: “She is retired, has time to talk and loves to talk. So do not be shy to just visit her.” On my way to the library to pick up a book called “Mie Broos – volksgenezeres 1839 – 1927” I called at her door, but did not got answer. Maybe later. In the library, I found – next to the book about Mie Broos- another book written by a man called Tieto Stoops, which is about the “Kempen, its typical habitants, and the skills of their ancestors, its forgotten vegetables and other peculiarities”. The writer is very protective of local environmental knowledge and this book was even more a treasure for me.
Although Mie Broos is not my family by blood, but there are connections, through the land, I consider her as the elder person. Her stories continue to live in the book and are carried by people sharing her name and memories. I learned about the Kempen, the region to which I belong. Finally diving into her history, although I have other work pulling me, was probably encouraged by my forest therapy guide training. Since some time there is this big feeling of pulling me back to Europe, and the training invites me to not ignore it and explore my relationship with the land where my ancestors were born. Studying the local history, makes the “homecoming” more vivid. It helps to heal my own relationship with the land I have a double feeling with since my grandfather’s forestry accident 13,5 years ago…
When you realise Belgium has the same treasurers as Scandinavia (but just less)
This weekend, my friends gave me the space to guide my first forest bath during a yoga and hiking weekend she organised in Coo in Walloon, the French speaking part of Belgium, next to the Amblève. I was a bit nervous, because I had no time for scouting and trail pre-assessment for my forest bath, but I just trusted that the forest will take care of me and the participants. The first day, my friends organised a hike of 16 kilometers/10 miles. I was sometimes the last of the group because I wanted to study rosehip, fly agaric and honeysuckle 😂.
I noticed that this is the forest bather in me that wanted to slow down, but then I tuned in the hiking energy, which was also very cool. I noticed that when I hike I notice even more than normal, like this caterpillar for example. We also rang at the door of old houses and asked for tap water to the people there. It was a good opportunity to beef up my French a bit.
How longer I am in Belgium (and I am only here for 8 days, so maybe I am in this strange kind of honeymoon) I fel more and more in love with the nature of Belgium. There were many occasions I was surprised to notice beings I saw in Norway, USA and Japan, and thought it could only be found in the wild of these countries, and not in “tamed” Belgium. It was a bit confronting… some way, I know I belong to the land here and can contribute to the ecosystems here by dedicating my life to ecopsychology, but there is still a pull to live in a wild country like Norway or Sweden, which is at least closer to Belgium. I am still a bit confused what to do, and I decided to not think about it for the next half year. I will see what happens.
Guiding my first forest bath
On Sunday October 13th I guided my first forest bath. With such a beautiful nature as my partner, I had full confidence in it. 15 young spirits joined me. It was very a learning experience to be in the role of guide, and not of participant, this time, and see how everyone interprets the invitations or how everyone tunes in the forest at different pace.
For this tea ceremony, I decided to pluck some nettleto brew some tea and used yellow maple leaves as decoration. According to Spafinder, “Nettle is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C (10 times more than an apple), vitamin B complex, vitamin E, amino acids and beta-carotene (five times more than a carrot) to name only a few. It is alkalizing while supporting the immune system, the nervous system, bone stability, the metabolism and skin health. That translates into having more energy, mental acuity, disease resilience and radiant well-being. ”
The biggest reward was to listen (and learn from) the stories of the participants during the tea ceremony, to notice the nature through their senses. None of them have never done a forest bath before, and they thought it would be “more spiritual”, “too hippie”, “too glimmering”. At the end, to me personally, or via another person, or on the evaluation sheet, they told me that they know it’s all about “self-care”, staying in contact with yourself and stillness. I feel very blessed today.