As a Facilitator for MHFA Standard (Virtual), I train others how to have conversations with others about their mental well-being. Some older adults may be unwilling or unable to discuss how the pandemic has affected them psychologically. Here are some tips that may be useful.
The 2020 Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting held in September was a ground breaking experience for me. I had never attended an online conference of any sort before, let alone volunteered to help stage one. When I originally offered to help out, I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be an incredibly positive professional development experience. Volunteering with the Conference Committee was made easier because of the competent team of volunteers assembled. Solid leadership and good communication were the seeds for productive collaboration. The result was we worked together well from the outset and when challenges arose (before and during the conference), someone was always there to help out.
Early in our planning, I realized a key way I could help out was through developing content for the conference. I instinctively went to my contacts, and I came up with a list of four possible speakers, each with something very different to offer.
First on my list was my colleague and good friend John Dube RCC. I had previously completed trainings facilitated by him and found him to be an engaging speaker. When he proposed the topic of healing trauma through nature for the conference, I knew it would be of interest to our community. I share in John’s belief that talk-therapy is not enough on its own to heal symptoms of trauma. John describes how experiencing trauma affects the whole person, with symptoms manifesting physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually. Facilitating a connection with nature has the ability to reach all these domains, engaging someone totally, and helping them move into the present moment. Earth is sacred and using the earth to heal makes the healing process sacred as well.
My favorite part of John’s presentation at the conference was when John explained to us how he uses a nature bowl to help calm and ground his client at the beginning of a session. A nature bowl consists of items from nature like rocks, seashells, tree cones and bark, feathers, dried herbs, sweet grass, etc. An assortment of items in the bowl invites the client to pick up and connect with an item from nature however they choose; helping to initiate a process of connection and overcome disconnection.
For two of the conference presenters, I sourced and reached out to them through Instagram, Dawnn McWatters and Anna Baker Cresswell.
Dawnn McWatters is a licensed psychologist in Portland, Oregon. She is the creator of The SAVOR Project, an educational organization that promotes mindful eating, food literacy, and therapeutic horticulture. I follow both Dawnn’s blog and her Instragram posts regularly (@thesavorproject). She was our first presenter on the first day of the conference. Both her calm voice and inviting energy, immediately had a stress reducing effect on me while I moderated for her in the background.
My favorite part of Dawnn’s presentation was the mindful eating activity. It provided an opportunity to experience eating slowed down into the moment, and through all the senses. It was an excellent activity to demonstrate the concept of “beginner’s mind”. I left her presentation reflecting upon what my personal food story was, an increased respect for the complexity of our food systems, and deeper awareness of the current inequality of access to food.
I also reached out to HighGround, a UK based organization that offers horticultural therapy as a rehab intervention to injured serving personnel. Through my Instagram connection Andy Wright (the Therapeutic Gardens Manager at Stanford Hall), I was introduced to HighGround’s Founder and Executive Director, Anna Baker Cresswall. On the third day of the conference, Anna presented on HighGround’s journey from inception to 2020, as well as what their plans for the future are. Prior to the conference, Anna and I exchanged resources. A favorite resource she shared with me is Jane’s Monthly Journal, a monthly online journal created by Jane Taylor, HighGround’s Horticultural Therapist. Anna and I continue to connect post conference.
I also approached my neighbour Lloyd Burritt to present the story of his garden at our conference. Lloyd is an important elder in my life and continues to mentor me in how to live a simple life with a mindful connection to nature, serving as the foundation for promoting health and well-being. I’m very proud of our collaboration together to create Blackberry to Acer Grove (The Evolution of a Garden).
Creating this video, I discovered how much I loved facilitating the process for someone to share their connection to nature story, and then using a combination of still photography, interviewing, storytelling, quotes, and video to capture it.
Actually, there was a fifth conference presentation I was involved in; my own. I worked very hard to create it too but that’s another story for another article, and maybe even the foundation for a future CHTA education webinar or workshop.
We’re into the last weeks of summer and I’m noticing transitions in nature. Autumn is just around the corner. Leaves are changing colors and dropping to the ground. Look closely and you will see some spectacular patterns.
Autumn officially begins in the Norther Hemisphere on Tuesday, September 22. Until then, I plan to savour every last drop of summer.
Thursday September 17 – Saturday September 19, is the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association Annual Conference & AGM. This is the first year it will be presented online.
Our theme this year is “Seeds of Change – Cultivating Resilience in Ourselves and Others”.
I’m a conference volunteer, presenter, and sponsor. You don’t need to be a Horticultural Therapist to attend, just someone who is interested in the therapeutic potential between plants and people.
There’s still lots of time to register, and all sessions will be recorded and made available to anyone who registers (downloadable for 30 days). You can find more information about the conference and how to register here.
During August, and this first week of September, I have been busy harvesting in my garden. It has been a good growing season with lots of leafy greens, beans, berries, lavender and herbs already consumed, dried, and stored away for the rest of the year. Harvested herbs drying (lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano)
In August, my good friend Michael Kerr and I made a batch of Apricot Amaretto Jam. What a great horticultural therapy activity with social, cognitive, and creative/spiritual benefits experienced. The jam will make a great topping to go with toast and the pumpkin, banana, and blueberry pancakes I plan to make during the fall. Michael has generously given me permission to share his recipe with you.
GUIDELINES FOR HARVESTING
Acknowledge and thank Mother Nature for the many gifts she bestows upon us each and every day.
Take some, waste none.
Create something special from the fruits of labor, and share it with others
Apricot Amaretto Jam
8 cups chopped apricots (about 25 apricots or 4 ½ pounds)
5 cups sugar (you can use less depending on desired sweetness)
2 TBSP Lemon Juice (juice of about 1 lemon)
½ TSP Butter
3 TBSP Amaretto
Lightly purée apricots first in a food processor to speed up cooking time.
Combine all ingredients except amaretto into a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar melts.
Raise temperature to medium high and bring to a boil.Add butter and skim off any foam that forms.
Cook at brisk (but not at a riotous boil) for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking and burning.
Remove from heat and stir in amaretto.
Fill sterile jars and then process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Recipe makes 7 – 8 250ml jars
Horticultural Therapy Activity: Walking Outdoors
Duration: 30 minutes, two – three times/week (daily & longer duration if you can, it’s up to you)
Location: an outdoor space like the forest, seawall, or park with a walking trail
Therapeutic Benefits: physical, emotional (plus potential for cognitive, social, spiritual/creative as well)
Instructions: Pick a place to walk that is ideally quiet — so it’s easier to pick up the sounds of nature around you.
Begin your walk with some gentle stretching to become aware of your body. Then stand still for a few moments. Intend to leave behind the hustle and bustle of your day. Look at the entrance/beginning of the path/trail you are about to walk. Transition your mind to the present moment by witnessing a few relaxing breaths.
Begin walking. When walking out in nature, slow down. Notice what’s around you. Devote yourself to opening up your senses as you walk; look, listen, smell, touch and taste when it’s safe to.
Allow yourself to be naturally curious about what’s around you, and permit your mind to wander into creative thinking. Experience the restorative potential of simply noticing nature.
When you have completed your walk, take a few moments to reflect upon the experience. Consider if you feel any different? Do you feel more relaxed, restored and focused?
Thank Mother Nature for providing the experience.
As I prepare to say goodbye to summer 2020, I’m fondly recalling the many outdoor activities I was able to safely share in the company of others these past few months.
It’s a reminder to me of our innate resilience and our ability to adapt under challenging times.
There are transitions occurring within and around us all the time. Going for a walk outdoors is an all-season activity. To overcome poor weather conditions, make sensible clothing choices. Go outside and experience the therapeutic benefits of connecting with nature at all times of the year.
If you are having problems remaining motivated to take a daily walk, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to discover your motivation for change isn’t enough to keep you on track. It can really help to have someone help you with staying on track, like a close friend, or family member, or a coach. That’s where I can help. Like a personal trainer at a gym, my role is to help you stay on track. We do this by tailoring a plan that’s customized to you, addressing one by one, the obstacles that are standing in the way of change.
Email/call me and let’s have a chat how I can help.
Enjoy, and allow yourself to fully experience, autumn.
This year, summer solstice occurs on Saturday, June 20th. It’s the longest day of the year (with the most daylight hours) for people living in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been a spring like no other with COVID-19 still lingering. As much as I love spring, I have to say that this year, I am looking forward to turning its page. I’m ready now for the warmer, drier, and sunnier weather summer traditionally brings here on the Lower Mainland.
Of all the seasons, summer is the season I find most comfortable spending time outdoors. The sun’s warmth feels good upon my skin; and the natural Vitamin D it produces, boosts my mood, and increases my energy.
There are so many things I love about summer. I love the fresh berries, leafy green vegetables, and herbs I can grow in my garden. I am fortunate and grateful to have access to a space so close at hand that provides me with homegrown food and plants with medicinal value like my beloved Calendula officinalis (aka calendula or pot marigold). Calendula’s strong orange colour and slightly bitter taste, has traditionally been used as a substitute for saffron, hence the folk name “poor man’s saffron”. Both dried and fresh petals can be used to add flavour, colour, or, as with all edible flowers, to brighten a simple dish. The sunshiny flowers are also a traditional remedy for supporting the immune system and lifting the spirits.
During summer, I love wandering through community gardens and experiencing each garden’s unique character. There are multiple benefits to allocating city space for community gardens including increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and increased opportunities for social connection and physical activity through garden maintenance activities.
One of my favorite videos about the importance of community gardens goes back to 2013. It’s a TED talk that tells the story of Ron Finley, (aka the Gangsta Gardener), and his mission to create vegetable gardens in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along curbs, for the people of South Central LA.
Another of my favorite plants to grow during summer is lavender. Lavandula angustifolia (aka English lavender) has nervine properties and such a nice, gentle, and calming scent to it. It’s also the type of lavender that is known for producing the highest quality oil. The lavenders in my garden produce a range of flower colors including white, pink, blue, and the typical violet.
Once I see that the individual flower buds on the English lavenders are opening, I will begin harvesting flower heads. I make sure to leave half of the flower heads unpicked for the bees. I hang dry the harvested flower heads in bunches, in a place out of the sunlight, and with good air circulation. Once the flower heads have fully dried (about 4 weeks), I shake all the dried buds from the stems, and store them in a jar or container. I use them for culinary purposes throughout the rest of the year. The rule with lavender is a little goes a long way.
- Add one – two teaspoons of ground lavender to a batch of sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, or shortbread. Don’t forget to add either lemon or orange zest for extra zing.
- Remember that Herbs de Provence usually contain lavender; so combine lavender with other savory herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary to make roasting rubs to roast potatoes, chicken, lamb, or make cream cheese dips.
- Make a strong tea out of whole lavender. Then use some instead of water in lemonade.
The beach is also a good place to do some grounding /earthing. Removing shoes and walking barefoot on a sandy beach, is supposed to help remove positive electrons that build up over time from stress. Did you know that wet sand acts as a natural exfoliant? Walking on it peels off dead skin cells from your feet, leaving them feeling much softer.This past March, COVID-19 brought an abrupt halt to coaching the English Bay Swim Club, and my own weekly swimming workout at the West Vancouver Community Centre. With the arrival of summer though, I am looking forward to going for regular swims again in the ocean, and being able to experience the health benefits associated with ocean swimming. Taking in ocean views, also has positive impacts on health. Listening to the rhythmic ebb and flow of the tide is calming, and I find that deep breathing of ocean air seems to immediately activate my parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response).
Going for a walk outdoors is one of my favorite ways to get green exercise. This summer, I’m looking forward to many walks in the forest. In April, I officially became a Horticultural Therapist Registered (HTR) with the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association. Now that I have the HTR credential to go along with my previous training in horticulture, and being certified in Wilderness First Aid, I feel confident I have the training, experience, and credentials to lead others on walks through the forest competently, and safely. Currently, I offer two guided nature walks; one in Lighthouse Park, and the other in Stanley Park. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, I am guiding only small groups of up to four people maximum at a time for now. Contact me to schedule a private walk for yourself or group.
Finally, summer for me is a season to slow down and enjoy every precious moment of it; like you would watching the sun setting. With the death of my older sister Carol this past April, I was reminded just how short life is, and how important it is to experience all life has to offer in the present. To help me do that, I’ve started listening more mindfully to the birds around me. It’s amazing how many different sounds our resident songbirds can make. I’ve now learned to clearly identify the sounds of the American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Spotted Towhee, and Northern Flicker. It has added a new sensory dimension to my experience when I’m connecting with nature.
What is your relationship with summer like?
What feeling, thoughts, and activities does summer evoke for you?
However you decide to spend your summer, I hope you make connecting with nature a daily activity too. Spending time daily connecting with nature is an important way we can all look after ourselves.
Be well, and be safe.
“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
My superpower, empathy, equips me to be highly aware of emotions those around me are experiencing. Empaths see and feel the world differently than other people; they’re keenly aware of others, and what they need emotionally. I think this superpower is both a gift and a curse. A gift, because it helps me have compassion for others, and listen more effectively. A curse, because I can easily feel overwhelmed if I don’t respect the boundaries outlined in THE HELPER’S CREED.
When I feel responsible for others…
- I rescue, manipulate, fix, carry their feelings, and don’t listen.
- I feel tired, stressed, anxious, fearful, and liable.
- I am concerned with the answers, being right, and performance.
- I expect the person to live up to my expectations.
When I feel responsible to others…
- I empathize, encourage, comfort and listen.
- I feel relaxed, aware, and high self-esteem.
- I am concerned with relating feelings, person to person.
- I expect the person to be responsible for him or herself, and his or her actions.
- I believe the other person has enough to make it. I can let go.
My training in Grief & Loss, Critical Incident Stress Management, and Mental Health First Aid, have taught me it’s good to acknowledge your personal loss and then to talk about it with others; when you’re ready. Equally important, is to reflect upon your gains during times of distress and loss. It helps you see things from an alternative perspective.
Since COVID-19, I’ve been feeling a collective loss, including my own. The way I traditionally made my livelihood, providing in-person trainings, has ended for the time being. I’ve lost freedom to do things I once took for granted, like hugging family and friends without fearing a risk to my own health, or theirs. And in April, my elder sister, died. I’m not alone though; we all have experienced significant loss, individually and collectively.
During the same period, I have experienced at least a few gains. The new normal requires that my trainings be delivered online. I’ve adapted two workshops, Personality Dimensions and Stress Busters, for delivery online, and have been providing them. I’ve made connecting with others through phone calls, texting, email, and video chats on Zoom, a daily necessity to remain connected. As a result, my relationships with my inner circle have strengthened.
I’ve also gained reassurance watching others reconnect with Mother Nature. This has confirmed the importance of the work I do as a Horticultural Therapist Registered. Our Provincial Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has encouraged people to continue going outside for walks, and stated that spending time in parks is important for mental health. As part of my own self-care plan, I’ve been connecting with nature on a daily basis. Tending to my container garden and walking among the trees in the forest have saved me, promoting hopeful thinking and giving my resilience a boost.
Substantiated benefits for connecting with nature on a regular basis include:
- REDUCES…blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, depression, anger, and stress related hormone production
- INCREASES…brain power, clarity of thought, creativity, and happiness
- RESTORES…focus, and attention
- STRENGTHENS…the immune system by increasing Natural Killer Cells activity
- IMPROVES…energy, vitality, sleep, and sensory awareness
Experiencing spring unfold this year, has reminded me we are not alone when it comes to managing change; in nature, everything is constantly changing and adapting. My intentions moving forward through this crisis are inspired by the poem, “When I Am Among the Trees” by Mary Oliver. My plan is to go easy on myself, to fill myself with sunlight, and to continue shining by helping others with the talents I have been blessed with.
What have your losses and gains been during COVID-19? What will your intensions be?
Try maintaining your own well-being with a walk among the trees.
If you are experiencing a mental health EMERGENCY or CRISIS,
- call 911, go to the nearest emergency room or follow the emergency instructions provided by your doctor, mental health professional or care team. If your community has a mental health car, you can call 911 to request it.
- call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) to get help right away, any time of day or night. It’s a free call.
If you are in distress,
- call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.
For children and youth aged 5 to 20,
- call Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a professional counsellor, 24 hours a day. It’s free, confidential, anonymous and available across Canada. They can also refer you to local services and resources. Kid’s Help Phone is available in English and French.
In a mental health NON-EMERGENCY,
- visit heretohelp.bc.ca for info sheets and personal stories about mental illnesses.
- call 811 or visit http://www.healthlinkbc.ca to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.
- call BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441 (or 604-660-9382 in Greater Vancouver) to talk to someone about substance use. They can also connect you with local substance use resources. It’s available 24 hours a day.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, my daily life has changed as I once knew it. More than ever, it’s important not to lose sight of those things that can bring us enjoyment, promote resilience and provide a sense of normality. Remaining connected with nature can do all that.
Another West Coast winter is about to conclude and Mother Nature is busy changing seasons. Spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins March 20, 2020. It’s the season that symbolizes growth, renewal, rebirth, and so much more. Leaves are budding, flowers are blooming, and birds are chattering. The weather is getting warmer, and hours of daylight will continue to increase. Seeds take root and vegetation begins to grow. Animals wake or return, often with newborns. Spring truly does bring with it a breath of fresh air, and countless examples of ongoing change around us.
During these extraordinary times, how will you give yourself the time to enjoy spring?
For me, the calling to spend more time outside becomes stronger during spring. Everything in nature is changing and I don’t want to miss a moment of it. At least several times a day, I try to mindfully connect with nature. I stop, take a breath, notice and listen to the nature around me. I take a few moments to look up at the sky and really notice what’s above me. I look for the tops of trees, hills, and mountains. Trees particularly captivate my attention with all their uniqueness and magnificence. Trees stand still for years, and occasionally hundreds of years if they are lucky. They penetrate the ground with roots, and connect with the earth’s atmosphere through their trunk, branches and leaves. Everything about a standing tree is about being connected with what’s around them.
Here’s a simple mindfulness exercise for you to try next time you are out in nature. It’s called STOP.
- “S” is for stop the next time you are in the forest, in a green space with trees, or in front of a window with a view of trees.
- “T” is for take a moment to experience a mindful breath cycle, noticing your in-breath followed by your out-breath.
- “O” is for open your palms to the sky and extend your arms out in various positions, like branches and leaves do. Be open, receptive, patient, and mindful of your breathing as you do.
- “P” is for proceed mindfully on your walk or whatever you were doing before, opening your senses to whatever naturally attracts them.
During this time when social distancing is strongly encouraged to help slow the spread of COVID-19, self-care and people-care are critical now. If you know of anyone that may be impacted by the potential spread of COVID-19 and have had to self-quarantine themselves,
- keep in touch with them through voice and video calls. It’s most likely going to be a very stressful, long waiting period for them.
- encourage healthy coping strategies such as eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, and resting so natural immunity has what it needs to do its job.
- offer to pick up food and household supplies for them, and then leave it outside their door along with a get well message, potted plant or vase of flowers to help lift mood.
- encourage them to stay active in their space (health permitting) by suggesting lower effort activities like house cleaning, reorganizing, gentle home exercise routines, catching up on reading, journaling, starting an online course, creative activities, etc. These can help keep both the body and mind active, as well as provide a sense of productiveness and control.
- and encourage them to continue connecting with nature daily. There are ways other than being outside to connect with nature like spending time looking out a window with a view of nature, or giving house plants a little extra TLC, or watching nature themed programs on Netflix.
Social distancing has temporarily halted the Horticultural Therapy sessions I offer but I’m still making time to go outside each day to garden and go for a walk so that I can remain connected with nature and experience its many health benefits. I’m looking forward to working with Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES) once their programming resumes to begin offering sessions the public can register for. I love leading nature walks and found this CBC short film very inspirational.
Wellness to you all, and remember, when connecting with nature at any time of the year, allow yourself the time to EXPLORE, DISCOVER and STIMULATE YOUR SENSES.
Winter solstice 2019 in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on Saturday, December 21. It’s the day with the shortest period of daylight, the longest night of the year, and the sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky.
Typically by March, I’m counting the days until the end of winter and the return of life in spring, the signs of hope, change, and renewal. I’m going to try and be more patient with winter and take a more mindful approach to it by noticing all the good things that winter has to offer.
Through my Horticultural Therapy practice, I’ve discovered so much can be gained by being more mindful as we move through the natural cycle of the year. As each change of season approaches, I encourage us all to slow down and notice what’s happening in nature. Is there anything we can learn from nature’s adaptation process that can help us through our own transitions?
To foster my own patience with winter, I reminded myself of what I liked most about winter. I came up with more than a few including:
- noticing the return of bald eagles to their old nesting sites to re-establish territories and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks are back in Burrard Inlet
- looking forward to our first local snowfall of the season and feeling the peace and tranquility I associate with it
- volunteering up at Nelson Creek Hatchery again now that a new cycle of incubation has begun for the chum eggs that recently arrived
- exploring our local mountains through snowshoeing and skiing
- continuing to appreciate the abundant examples of evergreen flora (like bryophytes) throughout winter
- observing more closely overwintering buds, especially as they start to swell in late winter
- and restoring my energy levels by giving myself permission to do less
My plan is to use this list as a reminder to live in the moment, to be patient with winter as it progresses, and experience all that it has to offer.
What do you enjoy most about winter?
Remember, when connecting with nature at any time of the year – slow down. Allow yourself to EXPLORE, DISCOVER and STIMULATE YOUR SENSES. You’ll feel better for it.
I wear a number of professional hats. I’m self-employed as a Certified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Canada Instructor, Career Development Practitioner (CCDP) and Swim Coach. In addition to those three, I’m an aspiring Horticultural Therapist and have had a life-long passion for expressing my creative side through art making. One of the things I value most is leading by example. When I’m working with clients in the midst of a career transition, I encourage them to continue seeking out opportunities for ongoing learning through taking courses or reading books on topics that interest them, volunteering, finding a mentor and completing an internship.
This past spring during my final course of the Horticultural Therapy (HT) Certificate program, I made a decision to undertake the Voluntary Professional Registration process with the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) and apply for status as a Horticultural Therapist Registered (HTR). After completing the HT Certificate, I met with my mentor Ann Kent HTM, Registered Horticultural Therapist, to map out my application and came to the realization it was time for me to walk the walk and lead by example; I would need to complete a HT Internship first to gain the necessary practical points required for HTR status consideration.
As a CCDP, I’ve heard a lot about the pros and cons of internships. I was initially anxious with the thought of beginning an internship because I anticipated having to allocate more time to volunteering. As a self-employed person, I must make it a priority to secure paid contracts in order to survive and I was already volunteering weekly with the West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society, The Edible Garden Project and regularly providing ‘free” guided therapeutic nature walks to friends and family in order to grow my HT skills.
Ann agreed to supervise my internship and provided a framework to help me put together an internship plan that would take into account the HT activities I was already immersed in as well as help me set goals for gaining further knowledge and skill development. One of the areas I chose for further development was in my horticultural knowledge. A key HT service I am planning to offer is a self-care session for helping professionals that emphasizes a connection to nature through activities like a guided nature walk combined with other nature-based botanical arts, crafts and culinary activities. An objective I chose to help me achieve this goal was to first attend as a participant other guided nature walks in my area. My hope was to gain further knowledge into the native flora of BC while simultaneously checking out the competition.
Through attending these guided walks I have improved my knowledge of native flora and learned tips on what to do (and a few things not to do) as a guide. I attended guided walks through VanDusen Gardens, The Old Growth Conservancy Society and the Stanley Park Ecology Society. As a result of attending the walks, I have learned new terminology like “pit-and-mound topography” (a naturally occurring process of undulating forest floors resulting from uprooted root masses decaying and decomposing) and what a “burl” is (a gnarly growth on a tree containing regenerative tissue the tree can use to heal itself during times of stress). Did you know that within a living tree, a hollow space could serve as the ideal hibernating space for a wintering Black bear? Or that Blechnum spicant (Deer fern) have dimorphic leaves (appearing in two forms) and Polypodium glycyrrhiza (Licorice fern) is an example of an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant to derive its moisture and nutrients)? A favorite walk of mine was one that focused on Indigenous plant use led by an Indigenous guide. The guide facilitated us connecting directly with a tree through a step by step process that included first asking permission to connect with an ancient Thuja plicata (Western redcedar), resting a hand on its bark, attending to our breath and expressing gratitude while still connected to the tree, and concluding with reflecting upon the experience.
Another goal I set for my HT internship was to develop structure and content for the HT services I want to offer in the future. By late September 2019, I had provided my first “paid” HT service to a team of 10 helping professionals that work with immigrants and refugees in the area of child, parent and family development. They were a great first group to work with because I already had a history working with them having previously trained them in both Personality Dimensions® and MHFA.
Our day together began with an activity called “Waking up the Senses”. It consists of forming a circle as a group and then moving through a series of gentle mindful breathing, sensory and body awareness exercises including tapping, cranial and hand reflexology. What made this activity so magical was the tide was out and we were able to walk out a good distance onto the beach and complete the activity with the smell and sounds of the ocean around us. Other activities that day included a guided nature walk through the Old Growth forests of Stanley Park, a scavenger search followed by a show & tell, and time for individual creative play making nature cairns. I learned so much that day about guiding others out in nature including to slow myself down and let go of the need to get a certain number of activities checked off as completed before the end of the day. I realized it was about me leading by example and demonstrating I too was taking the time to experience all the beauty and wonder nature has to offer in the present moment.
Making time for art has consistently been therapeutic for me in one way or another. It’s taken me to my fifties though to fully appreciate the many benefits art has brought me including personal growth, self-expression, stability during periods of transformation, and wellness. For many people, including myself, art making can be soothing and stress reducing.
For me art is a hands-on activity. The process of making art helps to alleviate my emotional stress and anxiety by creating a physiological response of relaxation and lifting my spirit. There is research to support that creative activity can actually increase levels of serotonin, the chemical linked to depression. Previously, I have written about my experience with art as a form of meditation, finding inner peace and calm through art expression. The repetitive, self-soothing qualities of drawing, coloring and painting induce my relaxation response.
During the trainings I provide, I try to integrate whenever possible some kind of art-based activity to stimulate participants’ creativity. While creativity is not something I believe can be taught (it’s inherently in all of us), there are conditions that can promote it including:
- providing a safe and non-judgemental environment where there is lack of fear or concern about what others might think,
- letting go of self-criticism,
- and encouraging open-mindedness to trust that art will unfold exactly as it should.
Making art is a form of symbolic communication for me and creating images helps me to understand better who I am. It promotes the basis for a deep connection between my mind, body, and spirit.
Which brings to me why I am writing about my connection to art and telling you about it here. I recently completed making a new piece of art. It’s titled Turtle Island. During the process of making Turtle Island, I was more conscious than ever before that I was making art as if the world’s future really depended on it. It was much more than making art for art’s sake. This piece emphasizes my connection and empathy for every living thing around me and is a call out to us all to not just talk but to take personal responsibility and create action. It’s an invitation to take on a stewardship role of our most precious resource, the earth itself and all its parts.
The making for this piece began in January 2019. I took what seemed like a lengthy break from it during the early spring, instinctively knowing that my trip to Haida Gwaii would provide further enlightenment for the painting of it. My mentor Ann Kent, a Registered Master Horticultural Therapist, is continually encouraging me to take time to reflect on my experiences and Turtle Island is the outcome of following her wisdom and guidance. On my travels through Haida Gwaii, I learned about the plight of the Leatherback Turtle and its connection with plastic pollution. I prefer not to say more about my intention behind this piece other than sharing with you there are also the seeds of hope and optimism planted within it. Can you find them and plant them to make a difference of your own for the sustainability of us all?
Exploring Haida Gwaii this past June was so much more than a vacation. It was a week-long educational experience of a lifetime. Prior to going to Haida Gwaii, it had been at the top of my bucket list. It was a place I had often imagined visiting but just couldn’t put enough pieces of the puzzle together as how to make it actually happen…until this past June.
First obstacle I had to overcome was my fear of flying. About 10 years ago on a flight from Ottawa to Vancouver, I had a panic attack that was very scary and embarrassing for me. I haven’t flown since then sticking to road trips instead. As a Mental Health Instructor I know a lot about phobias and how to overcome them so it was time to practice what I preach. Many of my fears around flying in an airplane were based on inaccurate thinking so I started with researching the facts. Statistically speaking, flying is far safer than driving. The flight would be direct and short in duration (less than 2 hours). I would be travelling on a DH3. I did research into this series of Dash 8 and found even though there were accidents, fatalities and other incidents reported, none were associated with this particular series and none had occurred in Canada. I also felt reassured knowing I would be travelling with a friend who would be sitting right next to me the whole time. The morning of our flight, I practiced a number of anxiety/stress reducing techniques including calming breathing, Qigong, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, tapping, hand reflexology and spent some time connecting with nature watering my garden. The flight there and back turned out to be a breeze with no incidents on my part. I learned an important lesson; phobias can be overcome by gradually exposing yourself to what you fear. The self-help anxiety reducing techniques I practiced combined with some focused CBT-based thought challenging exercises were effective for me, helping me to overcome my anxiety and fear in the moment. Now I need to keep at it and get back on an airplane sooner than later.
My interests for going to Haida Gwaii included learning more about its flora and fauna as well as Haida culture. Travelling to Haida Gwaii allowed me to directly experience a land and people rich in history and tradition. I witnessed firsthand people living off the land and sea as I watched locals clam digging and crabbing on North Beach in Naikoon Provincial Park. I saw in the people of Haida Gwaii a real pride in their land and a dedication to care for and protect it. Every forest I hiked through displayed reminders to tread lightly on the forest floor so that it would be around for generations to come. Some of the flora and fauna are different to the mainland where I live. During June, much of the forest floor was covered with Bunchberry/Creeping Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canedensis). Even though it can be found across Canada, it especially likes forested upland and wetland areas.
Logging on Haida Gwaii has a long and checkered history. I saw firsthand examples of logging practices from years gone by that resulted in long-term destruction to the surrounding environment including fish-bearing streams and wetlands. Occasionally I came across logging equipment used years ago that had just been left there after forests had been cleared. I didn’t notice Douglas-fir trees which are plentiful here but instead forests filled with Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). I was amazed at the number of eagles and ravens that inhabit Haida Gwaii. Not surprisingly, the two main kinship groups of the Haida Gwaii clans are Raven and Eagle. I learned to read tide tables and respect the dangers of being caught unprepared for the high and low tide times in intertidal zones. Sometimes this meant skipping planned trips to explore recommended tourist attractions that required travelling across vast amounts of beach.
I recommend renting a vehicle as it will allow you to more easily travel to the many Haida Gwaii communities and attractions. Our road trip consisted of overnight stays or stops to visit Sandspit, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate, Tlell, Port Clements, Masset and Old Massett. One of the most prominent examples of the change of pace on Haida Gwaii was the complete absence of traffic jams. A couple of times while travelling along the main highway that connects the small communities of Haida Gwaii we were required to come to a complete stop due to infrastructure improvements taking place. I remember looking in the rear-view mirror and feeling pleasantly surprised that after 10 minutes waiting, there were still no other cars lined up behind us. There were no crowds of people anywhere, just small gatherings.
Haida Gwaii is long in history. A must see is the Haida Heritage Centre and Haida Gwaii Museum. While there, I joined an educational tour led by a young Haida woman who shared with us the stories behind each of the six totem poles that stand proudly facing the water before them. Inside the museum, there are many fascinating examples of Haida knowledge, scientific information and specimens of oral history and art.
One of my favorite things to do while visiting Haida Gwaii was to connect with local artisans. Authentic Haida art isn’t cheap but the art is diverse and the quality of the work is exceptional. On National Indigenous Peoples Day I attended a community celebration in Old Massett. It was a great opportunity to learn more about local Haida culture and art including carving. A distinct difference between Haida carving compared to other West Coast native art cultures is the use of a black slate material called Argillite. Black argillite is only found on Haida Gwaii. Argillite carvings often depict mythical spirits, animals, Haida family crests, replicas of totem poles, bentwood boxes, canoes and other carvings, as well as contemporary interpretations.
One of the most unusual places I encountered to grab something to eat/drink was a funky bakery operating out of an old bus hidden off the road to Tow Hill. Moon Over Naikoon Bakery certainly won over my taste buds. Their cinnamon buns were excellent. Look out for them if you’re travelling in the area. If you can’t find them or they’re not open when you’re visiting, there are plenty of other Haida Gwaii gems including Jags Beanstalk in Skidegate, Crow’s Nest Cafe and Country Store in Tlell and The Ground Gallery & Coffee House and Charter’s Food Truck, both in Masset.
One of the most spiritual moments of my trip occurred during an afternoon visit to the ancient Haida village of K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans in English) on Louise Island. K’uuna Llnagaay is outside the boundaries of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, but it is within the Haida Heritage Site. Visiting here was part of a Moresby Explorers single day tour I participated in. The highlight of the expedition for me was listening to one of the Haida Watchmen and her explanation to our group how the village’s homes and totem poles were constructed, causes of their eventual destruction as well as her sharing with us her family’s personal historical connection to the village site.
One final learning for me was more of a reminder how important it is to take a vacation on a regular basis. Vacations mix-up the standard routine of daily life. Life is full of stressful challenges. Work for many of us is full of daily stressful challenges, both good and bad. Going to Haida Gwaii reminded me how important it is to change gears. Experiencing Haida Gwaii was enough of a change from my usual pace to help me reenergize. I’ve been back into the urban flow of things for a couple of weeks now and I’m still feeling the benefits of my Haida Gwaii vacation. I’m rested, productive, focused, calmer and more appreciative of the natural environment around me and of our great land. So please, take your vacation this summer and thoroughly enjoy it.