Currently I am preparing my first forest bath of the autumn. I plan a series of 7 weekly forest baths, with a retelling of a folkstory or fairytale from my region. It reminds me that autumn equinox has been a big time marker of endings and beginnings of cycles and deepening patterns in my life. Two years ago, during the autumn equinox, I decided to start this website and blog. Last year, I wrote a review of the first year: ‘one year of wood wide web stories” and decided to make a tradition to have a yearly review to look back over my shoulder, or according to other cultures, look to the visible past in front of me.
Neverland serendipities in the USA
One year ago, I was in the United States of America to start my training as a forest therapy guide: The Forest Awakens or Starting My Journey to become a forest therapy guide. In particular, in Grand Lake in the Rockie Mountains of Colorado. For more than 8 days, I was living at an elevation of more than 3000 meters, between aspen trees and mountain lions. This was also indigenous land, with a myth about the lake. Spirits would live in the lake, and if you are lucky, you would see them raise in the early morning from the fog out of the water. I really lost track of time. It was probably the longest period since a while that I had no need to check my facebook, Instagram or emails. Wendy was experiencing a return to Neverland, the place where you do not grow up. I have been fascinated by J.M. Barrie’s fantasy world about Peter Pan and Neverland for some time. I claimed his imagination, as I think, as someone having the name Wendy, has the right to draw parallels between Neverland and my own learning journey. And sometimes, the boundaries between imagination and the real world become very fuzzy, because by fostering the inner child and imagination in you, you are inviting synchronicities and serendipities in your life.
At one free moment, I decided to explore Grand Lake a bit. There was one small path of the mountain lodge to the center, which had drawn my attention earlier. There is some monument dedicated to the indigenous wisdom. When I passed this monument, a barking dog drew my attention. It was not Nana. But another dog that connected me with a Peter Pan. The woman with the dog told me to not be afraid for the dog. And some second later, I was engaged in a conversation about nature connections. To my surprise I heard she had erected the monument to honour her beloved son Peter. He had died at a he age of 29, after serving the peace corps. I believe it was cancer. He would always stay young. We kept talking, and my body was singing, as if this conversation was meant to be. She borrowed me the book “where the crawdads sing”.
Stories became even more central in my life. Only one month later, my first book got published: If Furniture could talk, where I integrated ecolinguistics and ecopsychology. have been writing about ecolinguistics in my “changing the stories we live by”, like for example “the forest sees you” and “appreciating rain“.
Return and reconnect to Belgian lands
For the final production and launch of my first book, I traveled back to Belgium where I guided also my first forest baths: Reconnecting with an old root through forest baths. I started to reroot again in the old land of my paternal family, because of this new practice: A gravestone for a witch tree and church bells calling for a new world (or a new worldview). I reflected a bit about fears I had about certain places and forests of my childhood: Fear and floating in a Flemish forest.
Fall or Winter (?) Break in Sweden and Norway
In the end of October I went to Sweden and arranged last documents of my Master degree I finished two years earlier in Gothenburg, so my Master thesis dissertation can be published. My former thesis supervisor introduced me also to interesting people. I really enjoyed the full autumn colors. I took the train to the north and landed in a winter landscape. Then I visited some friends in rural Norway and made and recalled some ‘big pine memories‘, before I participated in an academic conference in Trondheim. In the end I visited friends in Oslo and took my Russian friend to a forest bath guided by Dagheid: When a Nordic forest bath becomes a fairytale. It reminded me to the same Russian fairytale, Vasalisa and the doll, on which the structure of my first book is based. Synchronicity.
I really do like the raw nature energy of the High North. I’ve this romanticism-infused Scandinavian dream that does not get silenced with short visits. When I returned to Belgium for a final week and some more European autumn colors, I was also happy to do a micro adventure to a forest, famous for the Tomorrowland festivals, with a ” 7 trolls” installation from a Danish artist, made by rescued wood: Trolls in a magical forest in Belgium.
This summer I read an article where Jane Goodall shared her favorite places. Not only did she mention places in Africa, but als her house in the UK for many years. She added that she only spent 60 days a year there. And that was how she wanted it. I totally understood her and was relieved that such grand lady and environmental activist had this nomadic inspirit, and did not think that was damaging her authenticity. After reading this interview with Jane about all her ‘homes’ I had to think about my family house in Vorselaar. A special place, but not the only place in my heart.
And then some weeks later, only recently, I read a text by Sharon Blackie: “When I try to explain to people the essence of my relationship to a place, I usually call myself a serial rooter. I lived in many places during my life, but I’ve rooted deeply in almost all of them. And each of the places I’ve lived has, I’ve realised with the benefit of hindsight and quite a bit of analysis, taught me a lesson I’ve really needed to learn at that time, and a lesson that enabled me to grow into the work I’m doing now. Because, at the very deepest level, place makes us who we are.”
I am – too – a serial rooter. I had to learn that this was also a life path, perhaps an uncommon one, but to get to know how other older ladies think about serial rooting, I accepted that I can be true to myself, despite, or just because, I root in several places.
Winter in Japan
I had to admit that I was not entirely happy to be in Japan, partly as the patriarchal culture is getting more difficult for me to bear, partly because I got homesick to Europe. This winter gave me a lot of shadow work. I tried to ignore it by working intense on academic writing. Early December, I gave a third forest bath in a new forest: the Moriyama forest. This place would be a sanctuary for me in the coming three months. Also my first forest bath had some fairytalish aspects, and some readers would have noticed I start to connect the insights I got from forest baths with wisdoms of fairytales I know. One blog went about Snow White: when forest therapy becomes an ecofeminist act. Then I have not guided for a month. I think I made a mistake there, because I started to go inward and into dark places. The homework of my forest therapy training let me cry about the mistreatment of watersheds or sit and walk alone too much, while midwinter period should all be about being together with family. I spent christmas on my own and wrote a more neutral blog about winter solstice or christmas in Japan. I connected with the rest of nature, though, but afterwards, I realised I went too much inward.
In the beginning of January I changed from ‘strategy’ and decided to guide forest baths, almost weekly. One forest bath was organised for the feminist activist students of Nagoya University. After the forest bath itself we had a circle in the forest and read the story of the Japanese goddess Amaterasu, which was about rape, how her environment suffered, and how -with the help of another woman- she healed herself. I wrote a blog about grief and how I found solace and grounding in this far away country through this practice. One week later, I traveled to Koyasan, my favorite place in Japan, to spend my birthday there. I enjoyed it a lot, had some time to read good books, like one about nature mysticism, and wrote this blog: Koyasan in winter – a masculine landscape with feminine lessons. I started to guide more and feel stronger, but I still felt the big pull from Europe.
Return to Europe
Ironically, in the end of November I wrote some sort of goodbye letter to Belgium: a kiss in the shadow of a lime tree, not knowing what was rearing in Wuhan, China, at that moment. I had not expected to return that soon to Belgium. In January, I felt there was something wrong, because I was surrounded by Chines colleagues who started buying a lot of mouthmasks for their families in China. Intuitively I booked a holiday to Europe for 3-4 weeks. Some other things went wrong. My first flight was via China – and unsurprisingly- got canceled, so I had to find another flight. Secondly, I had some misunderstanding with my landlord so my contract was not automatically renewed, and I had to clean up my whole apartment in the first half of February. Afterwards, this was a good case, because I would not be able to return anyway and the payment of the apartment would have been a big loss. In the first weekend of February, I organised also my last forest baths in Japan and experimented a bit with guiding only for men too to feel if there was a difference in the group dynamics. In the forest baths I give, there is not only the forest, the guide and yourself who makes the experience, but also the group that has an effect on what each participant gets. My last wisdoms from Japan are recorded in Spring clean in early february.
My dad remarked me some months ago that my intuition ‘where, and especially, when to go to the next place’ is strong. I have some quotes about earlier experiences, involving Icelandic volcanoes.
Nature connections and intuition
Intuition is also something interesting. Some knowledge comes in an intuitive way to me. A data scientist told me some weeks ago that intuition is actually the result of processing information by our brain, but as our brain is a black box, we sometimes do not know why we “know some things” and call it intuition.
I have some hypothesis that knowledge comes intuitively to me, because I am strongly wired into a bigger system. Everyday I try to do daily nature walks of at least an hour or do other outdoor stuff. And every time I learn something; from the name of a tree, or how to recognise a tree by its smell to a complex biological process or even more complex environmental regulation about food forests; and I know that most knowledge I acquire in my path to deepen my nature connections will not help my list of publications/citations. But it helps me to cope with environmental grief. As environmental scientists you are confronted with environmental threats whole the time and I am not the type of person that can distance rationally of emotions of sadness, guilt, fear..), It reminds me to also have fun and see gratitude, and sometimes to see linkages and get research inspiration, or perhaps to feel intuitively it’s time to leave for the next place.
Letting go: Stories from Scotland
The first stop was Scotland with its raw nature energy, calling me for many years. I have visited this place in my imagination for years. My second fiction book ‘the white dream’ (getting published this fall, sorry again in Dutch) is partly set in Scotland. In the end of February I visited all kinds of initiatives around forest baths, foraging, Dòigh Nàdair – the path of nature and initiatives for more trees to find inspiration for a project in my own country. For this platform I wrote the blog “Peatland, bogs and other buried stories” about the first days. I wrote also blogs in Dutch for a Belgian magazine about two initiatives I visited in Scotland: Tree Time in Edinburgh (which uses storytelling campaigns for raising funds for more street trees) and the herbalist Monica Wilde to learn more about Dòigh Nàdair, the Scottish way of nature.
Afterwards I traveled to London to meet my friend Astrid (another fairytale lover, imagination expert and a geographer). I took her to the Epping Forest to experience her first guided forest bath by Estelle Asselin from the connective space. Estelle introduced me to the book “Gossip from the forest” by Sara Maitland, who studied the relationship between western fairytales and (British) forests. Every month I read a chapter, which is dedicated to a month, a forest and a fairytale. It helps me to find beauty in each month and to slow down; something I needed in the coming months. I wrote also a short blog about some ideas I got from her book: Geography of fairytales: why are germanic fairytales often in forests? When I came back, I gave a forest bath in a park in Leuven to promote my first book: a snow flurry forest bath. When I re-read this last blog, I have to laugh about the hopeful idea that better times were coming.
The big lockdown – or revisiting our relationship with the rest of nature
I do not have to explain what happened in Europe. On the day that I did my medicine walk as one of the final steps in my 6 month long forest therapy guide training, many countries, including Belgium, went in lockdown. I was blessed that Belgium went in a lighter lockdown and that my family has a house in more greener areas, so I could find rest and healing in daily walks of 1-2 hours. Especially in the first month, I walked every day in the fields and forests. It was difficult for me to let go some freedoms and plans for 2020. I had arranged an internship in Norway, as I mentioned in this blog saying goodbye to Japan: Japanese wood – a nostalgic story of loss, with a wink to ‘Norwegian wood’, that book by a Japanese writer, which is totally not about Norway, but about nostalgia.
But slowly I accept the new realities. I have still troubles, but I try. I found hope in the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty; some people think she is a passive and not-productive princess, but even when we rest we serve ourselves and society. In our dreams and sleep, we create a lot. I was reading these days about dreampunk and inspired by the work of Sara Maitland I blogged a bit about dreampunk in a post called “love in the times of dendrophilia” and about the idea or restore and rest in a post about ecofeminist ideas, where I shared some poems of other woman about the lockdown and some thoughts of my medicine walk. These are not my best blogs. I see I have a lot of unfinished drafts in March where I wanted to share so much and at the same time did not feel the energy to write something.
The whole lockdown let me reflect about the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Actually, some Japanese big thinkers already knew this curse could happen, I realised: From Mononoke’s curse spirits to the corona virus. I was also finishing the last draft of my second book. The editor said it was a bit scary that the ‘pandemic’ in this book has some similarities with the corona, knowing that I created this disease and some parts of the story, called ‘the white dream’, in December 2010, during a three day hike on my own, in Torres del Paine (yes, in Chile), with a big broken heart.
In the end of March, I ended my forest therapy guide training. I had to write some harvest project and made a story, comparing myself with a frog: Becoming the Frog. I reflected upon the first six months. In the end I wrote my two main lessons for the coming weeks, months, years:
- to get more comfortable in satoyama, this between-land, and let go fear and control of the future
- and to be bold, learn to ask for a kiss and things I want, not withhold myself and not be afraid for intimate connections with the same land, the same beings, the same persons.
Inviting other forest based storytellers
I know I was going to be able to share only wood stories from Belgium, so I decided to invite guest bloggers like Carolyn and Logan from the USA, Rachana in Norway and Sergio in Spain. I hope you enjoyed their stories as much as I did, like I came to hidden springs and ponds. by Rachana, (I Didn’t Know I was) Raised in the Woods by Logan, Finding Freedom in the Forests and a Spanish Chestnut Tree Story by Sergio and A Poem about Forest Bathing by Carolyn. I plan to invite more guest blogs from old and new bloggers . I experimented also with attending virtual forest therapies and blogged about one: My first #Virtual Forest Therapy Walk was in San Diego, New York, Denver, Toronto and in Belgium – at the same time. I also shared a blog about a great book I read in April: A woman in the polar night by Christine Ritter about her one year stay in Svalbard. I am so happy that I can read, so I can travel at least through the imagination and words of others.
More uncomfortable feelings and intersectional environmentalism
And then the Black Lives Matter movement came; For me, it was time to reflect about the whiteness in the outdoor world and also about the nazi roots of environmentalism in Germany (and the rest of Europe). I start to follow also the work from Leah Thomas, who coined the idea of intersectional environmentalism. Due to my academic background I am aware of environmental injustices, but it felt time to address this more. For the same Belgian magazine I wrote an article: ‘when a white nature woman wants to talk about whiteness‘ and explaining it is indeed uncomfortable to write about this topic; I do not want to take space, but I need to take space of white people that would not address this.
Summer in Belgium: about loss and healing
In June, I was getting in a spiral of anger and depression. I lost also my grandmother, for whom I dedicated this blog: MY grandmother was a willow woman . I was not in a good state. And then… Belgium start to open up. I went on a trip of four days, bicycling 100kms and joining an outdoor weekend to learn more about foraging practices. Since midsummer, everything has been accelerating, as if everything went in a higher energy state. When I walked or was in my fruit tree garden, I discovered the first rowan berries, apples, blue berries, even first signs of acorns and walnuts. And the same for my academic career. After a long time of invisible/underground work, I start to harvest. In the same two weeks I have been witnessing all these first fruits of the season, my academic career produced three fruits that I need to apply for finishing my PhD and I finally could guide again forest baths. In Rapunzel’s forest tale: a story of healing I tell the start of a period of strength. I feel I am still in this period; in the past months I have met and learned from especially elder women. It has been an emotional half year, as Mary, my yoga teacher in Japan, predicted at the beginning of 2020. She made my astrology chart and said 2020 will be a year full of water, a year where I will engage in healing practices – as student and teacher- and would connect with (elder) women. Sometimes I think about this reading, and wonder if I did some self-fulfilling prophecy there.
A summer break in Norway
And yes, I managed to get in Norway, even in the north of Norway, where and when the sun did not disappear, for two weeks . First I stayed alone in Tromso, also a bit to see if I did not develop some symptoms. After some days on my own (which is not difficult in the amazing wide landscapes of the north of Norway), I visited one friend in his farm with a sacred garden tree. One of my closest friends arrived and that was the start of a week trip. Two other Norwegian acquaintances joined and I had a great trip with four guys. I also got to know my new favorite Norwegian word during this trip: Bergtatt, or spellbound by the mountains.
Rooting deeper in the Belgian lands…
In an earlier post I wrote before leaving for Norway, called Branching out: A Tree Pageant, I hinted that I was fascinated by the stories of the cultural landscapes. This fall I will be rooting deeper in Belgian and plan to work on a third book inspired by these stories. I will also promote my second book, which will be launched around Halloween, and have also some hands-on experiences planned for the coming 2-3 months, which are mentioned in “when the beech loses her throne – redesigning our cultural landscapes“.
And at the same time bringing you woodwide stories
I am not returning -physically – to Japan and will finalize my PhD in Europe. However, I will take you in my imagination (and next blogs) to cultural landscapes in Japan, Hawai’i and Norway. I will also explain a bit more the second fiction book, a real wood wide web story, bringing my main character from the woods in Scotland to the forests in Cameroon and the mountains in Pakistan. Unfortunately for most of you, this book is also in Dutch, but I plan to explain how these forests inspired me some years ago for some (ec)psychological developments in the story and journey. I plan to invite also more guest bloggers to make this blog more ‘woodwide’. If you would like to share a blog how the forests inspired, helped or did something else for you, please let me know.
In the meantime, you can read shorter stories (with photographs) about my wood wide stories on my instagram account @wereldwoud:
May the Forest be With You!