NATURE PLAY SWIM 33 of summer 2021 (Beaver Lake, Victoria BC)
Play is the business of childhood and playing outdoors in Nature brings out the child in me. I believe it’s important to remain in touch with our inner-child throughout our lifetime. It keeps us feeling young and provides us with precious moments of carefree abandon. Nature Play occurs primarily outside in the natural environment and involves play with natural elements and features like water, rocks, sticks, pine cones, leaves, and shells. Nature Play is known to promote physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health outcomes. One of my favorite ways to experience Nature Play is swimming in the ocean or a lake. What are your favorite ways to Nature Play?
Growing up, I hated my name. In fact, I cringed upon hearing it called. Even the short form of Clifford, Cliff, seemed to foster just as much teasing with frequent references to cliff-hanger, or quiff, or the idiom “drop over sometime”.
I longed for a given name like Christopher. It didn’t seem to draw nearly as much attention and there were many successful and famous people with that first name like Christopher Marlowe (poet), Christopher Isherwood (author) and Christopher Reeves (actor – Superman). Not surprisingly, my first true love had the first name Christopher.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I began to understand and accept my name.
Clifford is an English originated name and an example of a topographic name – a name derived from a specific place. This can include specific locations, such as place of origin, residence, lands held, or can be more generic, derived from topographic features.
My name’s meaning is a combination of cliff (a steep rock face, typically at the edge of the sea) and ford (a shallow place in a river or stream allowing one to walk or drive across). So, Clifford is a cliff-side ford.
I’ve noticed that close friends call me Cliffy. Cliffy means an area formed by cliffs, like a cliffy shoreline.
Now when I hear my name, I think how fitting it is for where I currently live – at the bottom of a series of cliffs in West Vancouver BC, by the ocean. And, I love that my first name has a reference to Nature, where my passion, professional interests, and spirit are deeply connected to.
What about you? What’s behind your name?
This reflective writing activity was an exercise in building my own reflective practice as a HTR. Stay tuned – Katie McGillivray (CHTA Promotions Coordinator) and I are currently creating a reflective practice course for professionals like you. We hope to launch it early 2022 .
We’re not out of the woods yet with the pandemic. People are experiencing more worry, stress, anxiety, and loneliness than before. To help alleviate the distress caused by the pandemic, I created this series about the many ways to connect mindfully with Nature and as a result, feel better for it.
Celebrate Horticultual Therapy Week March 14 – 21 with me and take time to really notice the Nature around you.
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.
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,
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.
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.cafor 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.
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.
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.