Yesterday, I led an invitation as part of a forest walk for the forest therapy guide intensive I’m attending this week. I chose to lead “holding hands”; spending 15 minutes holding the hand of a tree or shrub or fern … whatever felt safe and comfortable.
The invitation began:
“As Humans we crave connection and relationship. It’s something we have in common with the forest.” I found my reference material here: http://www.integrativescience.ca/Principles/TreesHoldingHands/
I chose the words of the late Mi’kmaw Spiritual Leader, Healer, and Chief Charles Labrador of Acadia First Nation, Nova Scotia, who said, “Go into the forest, you see the birch, maple, pine. Look underground and all those trees are holding hands. We as people have to do the same.”
Chief Labrador was talking about Humans creating better connection with Humans and at the same time, Humans are craving better connection and relationship with the more-than-Human world, too.
One of my colleagues had just noticed the tall Eastern Hemlocks surrounding us and asked for a blessing of these beautiful trees because they are being attacked by an insect that is not native to the region. In the 1950s, an insect called the adelgid made its way into the eastern U.S. from Asia. The insect first appeared in the Richmond, Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Since then an estimated 50 percent of hemlocks in 11 states have been infected. The tiny insect, about 1/16th of an inch long, is identified by the white woolly tufts it creates on the hemlock's needles. It is known as the hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA. It brought tears to my eyes that these beautiful, powerful trees needed our blessings because they may not survive this blight. As Humans, maybe we know how they feel.
I invited those in our circle to wander and be drawn to a tree; to hold its hand and see what might want to be shared, asked, or said. I, too, was drawn to a tree; a tall hemlock with a branch within my reach. She grew at the edge of steep drop from which the roaring brook could be seen and heard below. I don’t like heights so I stayed on the upside of the tree; the tree acting like a wall between me and the drop.
I asked if I could hold her hand and sensed permission was granted. At first, I held her hand tightly, as if I needed her more than she needed me. After a time, I relaxed my hold, realizing she wasn’t going anywhere, you know?
At some point, I leaned into the tree, smelling its sweet piney scent, which is always my favorite scent, and stayed there for some time just letting the connection deepened. Without any warning, I began to tear up and felt a deep sadness. I was moved to step back from the tree, still holding hands and readjust my position to where I could see the drop-down-to-the-ravine side of the tree. There was another tree there, long dead, with a larger girth than my tree. I heard the words, “She is my sister” and it was clear to me that she wanted me to meet her and know her own sorrow at losing her. Their roots were so close, I tried to determine if they were the same tree, split early in life, like twins … it was difficult to know more than what I’d been given. I didn’t want to pry.
I moved back to a more comfortable spot; where the tree was between me and the ravine. With a looser grasp, we played together; the shoots of her needles were like fingers; dark green with a paler green at the tips of the leader shoots. A tiny spider appeared to sigh at the interruption of its daily routine and lowered itself on its silken thread to do other things while we played.
At the end of the invitation, I was the one to call the group back together, using my Native American flute as the signal. One of the participants said we are all like deer. We heard the flute, looked up and slowly walked towards the sound.
I ended my hand holding with the Eastern Hemlock with some words of gratitude; for trusting me with her sorrow and letting me share some of my own; for play time together and for the connection and relationship.
I wish everyone could have a moment with a tree. We need it and the trees have been waiting for it.