My Forest Therapy Walks the Summer of COVID-19
Updated: Oct 17
In the spring of 2020; I did not know whether I would be able to lead forest therapy guided walks in the coming year. COVID 19 was spreading. Group gatherings were discouraged. Guidance from the organization where I received my accreditation—The Association of Forest and Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT)-- indicated that walks should not be scheduled. To adapt some guides began holding virtual forest therapy guided walks. I think it is a wonderful concept, but it did not resonate with me personally. For a while options seemed very limited.
But it was a good summer. I am also a Maine Registered Guide and the state provided guidelines for safe practices for outdoor recreation which I could follow. This was excellent because ANFT revised their guidance deferring to state and local government practices Hidden Pond Luxury Resort contacted me to find out if I would lead walks for families and friends staying there onsite. Eventually, I found a niche leading walks for families and/or friends who were traveling together. I also had a wonderful weekend traveling Downeast for a special walk for the Downeast Lakes Land Trust in East Grand Stream and an enjoyable morning with a group from the South Portland Recreation Department.
I truly enjoyed each and every person who joined a walk. I am endlessly fascinated by the many ways that individuals experience the natural world and I learned from everyone. Those lessons are giving me a chance to think about how to improve my practice and where is might be going. My goal is simple: I want people who come out with me to have a meaningful experience that meets and exceeds their expectations. Put another way; they may or may not experience exactly what they expected; but they will experience what they need. The forest is infinitely wise.
Here are some things I learned.
1) People, are hungry to understand the natural world. I added nature walks to list of walks I could lead and, even when people signed up for a forest therapy walk; they came with questions about the natural world: the names of plants, the habits of animals, a desire to understand the community of the forest and so on.
2) Constant proximity has created a new closeness for some families as a result of COVID 19 social distancing. I witnessed it on my walks and asked a friend with a young family if what I thought I saw was true. Yes, she told me, all we have had is each other.
3) There are opportunities to adapt forest therapy walks into new environments. I suggested an oceanside forest therapy walk to a senior group who took a walk with me this summer and they responded with strong enthusiasm. On a sea kayaking trip, I mulled aloud about the possibility of a forest therapy walk in sea kayaks—and we have one planned at the end of June 2021.
4) The practice of forest therapy guided walks taught by the Association of Forest and Therapy Guides and Programs is durable. Every time I begin, I watch with pleasure as participants slow down, sink into their senses and rediscover their connection with the natural world. They don’t know it’s going to happen, but I do. And it’s just magic!