Fear and Floating in a Flemish Forest

To be a guide is more than a job. It is a calling. And with callings for other ways, these seeds of wisdom I am collecting offers a path for continuously learning and growing into a life in which we can fully embody our mission: to connect people with the land, the others and themselves. While I learn more and more, I feel I am getting more comfortable in trusting the forest and even walking in dark forests. Last month, I was walking for twenty minutes alone in a dark forest, looking for the accommodation where the first forest bath weekend in Belgium would start, and I felt no fear. But as we grow and learn, it means we have to encounter our fears, anxieties, our edges. In that same weekend, I talked with another guide, with more experience, that there is one forest where I still get so many chills when I have to walk through it: the forest next to my parent’s house. This guide told me to maybe heal this broken relationship  a bit through guiding there …


Fear from childhood

This forest is very small and is on the border between two municipalities. There is a bridge crossing a brook, called Klein Schijn. The closest bus stop is at the other side of that forest, and every time I go there, I feel very nervous. There is a reason: when I was a teen, there were rumours about a suspicious person in that forest. They asked students to cycle together. Friends asked me to join them, as I always was going alone to that forest. Some days later, we saw the “strange man”. I was in such a shock that I do not recall that much, unless my father’s remark that I was really in shock. I was fourteen years old, a girl who was becoming a young woman and realising that if I go off the path, a wolf or another predator can take my red cape. The “strange man” did not touch us, but he harmed me in another way. I became more afraid for the woods.

My hug tree

It was not always the case. When I was younger, I had another relation with the forest. This was my playground. It was interesting, though, that my father recalled I had one special tree: “my hug tree”, which was the oak next to the bicycling path from the house to the brook, and then to the bus stop. With friends, I did once a photoshoot in the forest, and I had told my father I want especially a picture with that oak.


I know that oak and I have indeed a special relationship with it, but I feel the relationship has a darker nature as my dad thought. Earlier, when I was a teen, and then early twenty’er, and often passed that tree, there was one branch which hang over the path. Since my grandfather died in a forestry accident, I always looked suspiciously to that branch, as if one day it could break off and kill me too. I was a bit relieved when that branch got cut off by forest managers of the municipality, but I also felt sad.

When my dad told me this week, it struck me that probably, when I was a child, I had loved that tree, looked up to that tree, full of respect.

Earlier this month, I was reflecting which tree was special to me, after hearing the story about my Norwegen friend’s late grandmother and her pine tree or my Russian friend, and how special oaks witnessed her love life. I thought I hadn’t, but only when I talked with my dad about the place for a second forest bath, and he also thought I should do it close to my “hug tree”, I remembered.


Strong connection

I remember that my own search for roots started in that forest. As I wrote in “big pine memories,” my grandfather died in a forestry accident. I still recall that late winter day.  At school, we had visited an asylum centrum. It was already a grey day. I bicycled alone, that afternoon, home, and when I was riding through that forest, I felt a sadness coming over me, even deeper than the sadness I had felt in the asylum centrum. I just knew something very terrible had happened. Now I think about it. I wonder, as I had such a strong connection with this forest, perhaps the trees warned me already to prepare or I felt their empathy for me. Perhaps, they were connected with the trees in the forest where my grandfather died. Maybe the trees cried already for me, and I had picked this up. I will not know, but it helped me to see that forest differently.   The rebuilding of my relationship with this forest can start…


Hidden door to Narnia

I had thought to do the walk across a busy street, also five minutes walking, and not in the forest next door. But my father asked me last week to reconsider and said there “were new trails, made by a young man from the street”. I decided to consider and followed my dad to that forest. The autumn was greeting us. To my surprise, he walked into paths I never have noticed before. The colours of autumn and the morning fog made it even more mystical. As if a hidden door of Narnia suddenly revealed itself.

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He brought me to a wooden construction, and to my surprise, I recognised some symbols and ideas. “It is an old viking hut,” I said surprised that I found this kind of place just two minutes walking from my parent’s house. This forest really wants to keep me here, I thought. Even more, my dad explained that this was made from rescued wood. I wanted to know more about this story, and asked my dad’s help to find the younger man that had build this. In the meantime, as I explored more this part of the forest, I felt it was right to guide here my second forest bath.

Guiding my second forest bath – when autumn is leaving

This time I had 8 participants, three men (two elder, one teen) and five women (all older and my mother’s age). One of the men was my father. Earlier that day I had walked and could notice how autumn is leaving. I selected a haiku which encompasses this idea, and wrote it on the scrolls that I would later give to the participants. 

The forest showed its support, even more than during my first forest bath I guided in October, in a more unknown forest. The connection was there. In the beginning I guide my participants through their senses. Beforehand I ask them to close their eyes. After we went through the senses, I let people open their eyes and I also saw things happening in the forest. My dad shared with the group how at that moment a bird started to sing a song for them. Many people seemed very enchanted. It is also when the teen started to drop in and let off his “sceptical teenage guard”; in the beginning he made some sceptical remarks, but from that moment he showed his softer nature and even was really into the idea. He showed me later moss which looked like mini pine trees, and shared his thought experiment: what if there were also little humans? I liked his imagination and thoughts. 


Later, we heard the sound of rain, but there was no rain. It is late fall, and the next day it would be the first day it could freeze. It was like the trees where shaking off their last water, so they would not freeze. More participants talked about this in a sharing circle.

Other participants shared also how much they did not notice (“where are all the animals?”), and that they could feel the things were starting to fall asleep and stay in their nest for winter. Many of them expressed in earlier circles how tired and stressed they were,. Observing how nature is actually making time to rest, in order to restore and renew later, seems the “thing” they needed to see.

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As part of our training, we make maps of the forest therapy walks.

Rescuing wood, rescuing your mind

When the 8 participants did the second last invitation, I went to the viking hut to prepare the tea ceremony. Finally, I had also the chance to meet the 23 year young man, because he was carving a wooden statue. I saw a book about old Norwegian mythology and explained about my own connections to Norway and even Japan. During the tea ceremony, I invited him to join and witness the participants. I had prepared an extract of apples and added some cinnamon to it. An apple is also symbol of Halloween, the veil between autumn and winter, and seemed appropriate to share at this forest bath where I felt I was saying goodbye to autumn, and also to this forest for a long time, maybe the longest time ever. I know where I belong, and it is not there. I need more wildwood.


After we closed the forest bath, I invited this young man to share his story. He told us that, as a teen, he had troubles with school. He had no good grades. He found his refugee in the forest. When an old tavern at the edge of this forest burned town, and the ruins stayed there for some years, he asked the owner to use the wood to build a hut. There was also a storm and 90 trees had fallen. He cleared the paths and made this refuge. Rescuing the wood was maybe also rescuing his own mind. After he built the hut, another obstacle came. This was the forest of the municipality and he had not really a permission to build there something. Fortunately, then his hut was featured in a television program and the municipality accepted it. However, other young people find their way, making parties, leaving their trash behind (and yes, the teen boy and I had been picking waste during the forest bath and wondered why people do this). He put garbage bins, but cannot control all the people that pass and make use of the trails and the spaces he created. The municipality asked him to break down the house. He bought now an old farm somewhere else and decides to put his energy in this. The other participants and I think it is pity. Actually it is good if more people access the forest, even if it is for drinking… (better than in a dark room with bad air circulation)…  but how to take care they do not leave trash behind?


It reminded me a bit to it a conversation I had with dear Norwegian friends three weeks earlier, about accessibility for as many people as possible, putting wooden constructions in nature, and that it also has side effects like trash. Some topic I also touched in Meeting Japan’s curse spirits during a Forest Bath. And it also reminded me to some ideas and even a character in my fiction book which gets presented later today “Als Meubels Konden Spreken/If Furniture Could Speak”.  Things start to repeat, and I feel it is a sign I am rooting and on the right path to embody my medicine I can give to the world.


Wanna read more stories about my journey to become a forest therapy guide?

  1. The Forest Awakens – or starting my journey to become a forest therapy guide
  2. Guiding my first Forest Bath – and reconnecting with Belgium in October
  3. A Gravestone for the Witch tree and church bells: a call for a new world
  4. When a Nordic forest bath becomes a fairytale