In March 2021, I had the privilege of becoming a certified Forest Therapy guide. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides offer six month training programs and I’d signed up the previous September (in 2020, amidst pandemic blues). Every two weeks during the long winter, I’d dialled into Zoom calls with my three trainers and 20 fellow trainee guides. It was a profoundly beautiful experience. Going into the training, I’d believed that I had a deep relationship with Nature. I quickly learned that I didn’t know half of it. By the end of the six month program, I’d crossed many thresholds and found my way to a profoundly deeper relationship with myself, with my fellow guides and with Mother Nature herself.
As part of our training, we had to guide four walks. The first time I did it, I was like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for the green light to rip into the presents under the Christmas tree. Wonderful it was. Each of my four practice walks were special in their own way, but on the fourth walk, the forest let itself go.
My two participants had never experienced or heard of Forest Therapy but were keen to give it a go. They’re a super lovely couple, and share their home with Penny, a beautiful dog they rescued from a puppy breeding hellhole some years ago. Ljerka messaged me just before lunch and asked if they could bring Penny along. I wrote back to say, “Best not” and explained it was because I didn’t want them to be all the time worrying about where she was. “No worries,” Ljerka responded.
We were due to start at 3pm so just before heading up, I thought, “Right, what little poem might I share to end our walk?” I always like to choose the poem right at the last minute so that my choice might be infused by the day’s spirit. I love Finn and Jeremy and Ljerka love Penni, so I thought, “I know!” and I reached for a lovely book of poems by Mary Oliver called, “Dog Songs.” A great friend had given it to me a few years back and it was full of poems that Mary had written about her beloved dogs. I also like to open such books at a random page, believing that there’s nothing random about it. I did that and landed on a poem called, “A Bad Day.”
Ricky, why are you barking and trying
to rip up the couch? Can’t you settle
down? It’s been a long day.
“It sure has. First you forgot to take
me out. Then you went to the market
and heaven knows where else. And my
dinner was late. And our walk was
short. And now you’re supposed to
be on the floor playing with me but,
no, you’re doing something else. So I
thought I’d give this couch a little
Well, don’t. Be a good boy.
“Honestly, what do you expect? Like
you, I’m not perfect! I’m only human.”
Voilà! I thought. Perfect.
So I photocopied it, got everything else ready and, saying goodbye to Finn, who also wanted to come and gave me a dirty look when he realised that wasn’t happening, I headed to the forest.
The walk unfolded and I got to one spot where I had hoped to do a Wind invitation. There’d been wind at the start of the walk but up here in the hills, amongst the trees, it was still. “Hmmmm,” I thought as I approached. “What will I offer?”
Jeremy had been asking a few questions so I thought it would be good to have him sit quietly a while. So I decided on “The Forest’s Song.” It’s where I invite the participants to listen to the forest’s music, it’s rhythm, it’s song. Just sit quietly and listen.
Off we went and while I too was doing the invitation, I opened the occasional eye and could see both Jeremy and Ljerka sitting quietly. Beauty, I thought.
And then this unusual sound…what was it? A bell? Yes, it’s a bell, a few bells in fact, getting closer, closer, rapidly closer! Something was crashing through the forest toward me…I opened my eyes and there it was…a dog! A greyhound to be specific and she had a few bells hanging off her collar. She was full of love and greeted me, then Jeremy, then Ljerka. Such a lovely song she’d added to the Forest’s symphony! Her owner was calling her far off down the track so after a few minutes with us, off she went.
I didn’t think anything of it until, 30 minutes or so later, we were all seated for the tea ceremony and who should show up but the beautiful belled girl once more! We just averted her crashing though the tea ceremony arrangement as she wagged and wiggled with the glee of greeting us all over again. Her bells rang as we patted and smiled with joy at her presence. And then she was gone!
And then it hit me…Mary Oliver’s book…Dog Songs…and this was no ordinary dog but one with beautiful, golden (like the colour of her smooth, glistening coat) bells hanging off her collar. And when did she visit us? During the unplanned Forest’s Song invitation! A Bad Day indeed!
I laughed! The Forest was playing a great game! It was a moment of special connection and we offered the Forest the first cup of Spruce tea with a happy smile. We each drank our tea and chatted about the walk. Jeremy and Ljerka loved the poem and reckoned that would indeed be Penny when they got home. I reckoned Finn wouldn’t be far off it either, until I whipped downstairs to offer him dinner, for which he would need no special invitation! I gave them the copy of the poem and off home we headed.
But not before I heard the faint sound of some golden bells ringing far off in the distance.