I’ve always been the first to say that I would love it if everyone went outdoors to be with nature. What a goal; what a dream come true. Now that everyone is going outdoors, mostly because there’s nowhere else to go, I’m a little less certain that it’s really what I want.
As a Master Naturalist and Certified Forest Therapy Guide, being outdoors in nature is the most calming experience I know; connecting with a tree or a blade of grass; feeling the breeze and letting it take me where it wants, watching the Connetquot river flow effortlessly into Nicoll Bay before becoming part of Great South Bay, and more invitations that are protocol from my ANFT (The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs) forest therapy training. Right now, it’s like bumper cars on our trails; it’s like the Long Island Expressway. Everyone is out, using the same trail, trying to stay in their lane, and it’s not as wonderful as I expected it to be.
I seek solitude in the forest, when I’m not leading walks, whether a park, preserve or arboretum. What happens when the parks, preserves and arboretums get really, really crowded? How can I maintain my recommended 6’ physical distance? My colleague, Mindy Block of Quality Parks and the Master Naturalist Program in Port Jefferson, concurred, “I need 600 feet when I’m in nature, not 6.” I agree with her wholeheartedly.
It’s like discovering your favorite restaurant, only to find that everyone else has discovered it, too, and now, you can’t get a table.
Here on Long Island, Quogue Wildlife Refuge just instituted a ‘one-way trail’ direction. I might be able to live with that. It’s certainly a step (no pun intended) in the right direction. Even though research says it’s not the passerby; it’s the prolonged exposure, are we willing to take that chance? Passing someone on a narrow trail means shifting our bodies, our pace in less than a 6’ area. Imagine supermarket aisles and add some generic vegetation. That’s what it’s like these days.
Still, to be fair, I’m excited that families are going out and spending time together in nature. Many people are in nature, just not with nature. What I mean by this is, they are outside doing something active, like jogging, bicycling or walking while listening to music or a podcast, earbuds in and eyes on their phones. They may be deeply engrossed in conversation or actively keeping the kids on the trail, off trees and grassy areas. I suspect many of those folks will go back to their normal routine once we are able to. It might be ages before they visit another park, preserve or arboretum. Nature doesn’t discriminate, so whatever immune system boosters it has to offer, it shares inclusively with everyone who ventures out. It’s like your mother, who loves you, even when you come to visit and spend most of your time on your phone or watching TV. Unconditional love from Nature.
I’m also excited to believe that some are stopping along the trail, noticing the Snowdrops or the Crocus, listening to bird song or, like me, feeling the breeze and wondering where might it take them if they let it? Across the grass, off the trail, winding around conifers or an old crab apple tree? I’m excited that someone might notice that there’s a tree that appears to have the eye of a dragon where a branch once was; excited that someone might notice that the bark from the London Plane tree makes a fun, natural mask if you find just the right piece. And, of course, there’s more; the Witch Hazel blooming, the bright green Spring tips on the fir trees … how the air feels when Spring arrives, then retreats, then arrives again.
I trust that some of those people will remember and return, deepening a connection with the natural world that we Long Islanders are so proud of, but don’t always experience personally. A deeper connection created out of necessity, and now, something we realize has always been a necessity.
In the end, I’m grateful that more and more people are coming to nature and spending time with their families. They are all welcome. I’d like to leave you with some forest therapy, no matter how you’ve experienced nature in the past. If you've ever walked with me, you've done some reciprocity breathing with the trees. A deep breath in with gratitude for the trees that made the oxygen you require to live; a deeper breath out to share the much-required carbon dioxide that the trees need to live, and also, to activate the vagus nerve. Research tells us that you can indirectly stimulate the vagus nerve by taking deep, deliberate breaths from your belly. Deep breathing activates specific neurons that detect blood pressure. These neurons signal to the vagus nerve that blood pressure is becoming too high, and the vagus nerve in turn responds by lowering your heart rate. The result, a calmer, more grounded you. So, try breathing with a tree today, even if it’s one that's in your own back yard. Make the connection. Be grateful. You are part of everything, and everything is part of you.
Linda Lombardo, Certified Forest Therapy Guide, Life Coach & Sacred Activist
"The forest is the therapist; the guide opens the doors*."
A certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, the leading voice for forest therapy in the United States and Europe, Linda is the official Forest Therapy Guide for TENWOMENSTRONG, Full Span Leadership, and The Grace Chasers, as well as leading public programs at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Sands Point Preserve and the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery on Long Island, NY.
Linda’s been a certified life coach since 2002 through the Co-Active Coaching Institute and completed their year-long leadership program in 2012. She states, “This is my activism: opening doors to a deeper connection with the more-than-Human world; making it personal because we act on what's personal to us and now is a time to act.”
*Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs
Those of us who love the outdoors, seemingly enjoy everything it has to offer. In Spring and Summer, we can hardly wait to go outside and feel rebirth and renewal in every breath; see bulbs break ground and burst into flower; the trees leafing into their distinct shades of green once more. We’re inspired to dust off our bicycles, or skates, or walking sticks. We are ready to engage in the beauty of nature; engage in activities that often require some long soaks in a hot tub, citing how out of shape we are after “that long lazy winter”. In Autumn, we walk along trails resplendent with the color from leaves that the trees have pushed off in preparation for wintertime. We go apple picking and love the crispness of the air and the warmth of the late afternoon sun.
We must talk about Winter if we’re going to engage with nature in ALL her beauty. I’ve seen memes on the first day of winter that read, “Only 75 more days till Spring!”. We stay indoors; become less active, less motivated, perhaps. We’ve forgotten - or choose to ignore - an entire season that is essential to our human cycles of life as well as nature’s. Not all of us, certainly, and yet, enough of us.
Energetically, Winter is a time of deep rest in preparation for a rebirth or transformation. The trees sense it as early as late Summer and early Autumn when many begin the arduous task of pushing their leaves off their branches, dispelling the idea of “Autumn leaves falling”. They only fall because they are pushed. These leaves are useless when the tree needs all its energy to keep its living cells from freezing in the cold. Trees know how to shut down what’s non-essential in order to ready themselves for hibernation, or dormancy, all the while actively keeping their living cells from freezing. At rest and active simultaneously. Some even set their buds before dormancy in preparation for Spring and warmer weather. My lilac bush is awash with tight red buds in December awaiting a signal that Spring has arrived and it gives me hope every time I stop to admire the lilac’s forethought and handiwork.
So, how do trees keep from freezing in wintertime? Research tells us that some trees change their cell membranes to become suppler in wintertime, so the amount of water they usually hold is released to the space between cells, where freezing is not an issue, maybe even of benefit to the tree. We humans usually eat more, put on a few of pounds, two or five or ten, acting more like bears planning to sleep through the Winter than trees whose work is less obvious yet still at work. Speaking of eating more, some trees even supply more sugar to their living cells, like anti-freeze, lowering the point at which a cell will freeze. They just don’t gain weight or worry how they’ll look in a bathing suit.
This brings me to the question: how do you keep your living cells from freezing in Wintertime? What are the non-essentials you push off to focus your attention on what keeps you alive? And what little buds are you birthing for a later date, a warmer season, a full expression of you when the time comes?
Beyond the science of trees, there is an aesthetic beauty to the woods in Wintertime. There is a silence in the woods, in which we can hear our own hearts beating, or hear snow fall to the ground as a squirrel dashes across a branch, or hear how the song of the wind in the leafless trees has changed ever so slightly; a song in the key of Winter; different than a song in the key of Spring. It requires us to be in dormancy, too, if we choose to notice and hear these things. What’s in motion when it isn’t you? What are you noticing, being present to the silence and stillness of Winter?
Most of all, how is Wintertime essential to your being alive, a thing of beauty and part of every season in nature?
It took an audio book by Brené Brown on a 5-hour road trip to central New York to understand the importance of breath and taking time for ourselves.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown speaks of her meeting with Dr. Joan Halifax, Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. Brené commented that she planned to forego some rest and personal time at a conference because she felt an obligation to go to the meet and greet event. Dr. Halifax looked at her and said, “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.”
This brings me to Spring and almost immediately, Summertime, and those of us who may never stop to enjoy the season because we are too busy ‘exhaling’. I recall a time when I was younger and in school. I used to long for summer with eager anticipation because there was time off from school; planned time to relax and play. Years later and I was no longer in school, I wondered one day why I was still so excited about summertime. After all, it wasn’t going to change anything for me.
Full stop. What? “Inhaling is what we do so we can exhale.”
We are beings with seasons in our bodies and souls. We experience the rebirth of Spring after a long dormant Winter. We let go of our ‘leaves’ in the Fall, shedding what no longer serves us. How is it that we ignore the full bloom of Summer; the full expression of who we are? Where are we forgetting to inhale in order to exhale?
“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.” Henry Ward Beecher
This isn’t about being carefree and playful again … except when it is. Being outside when the sun offers its most ‘joy’ may include*:
In addition, benefits include improving our metabolic function, which helps fight obesity, lower blood pressure, reduced stroke risk, better sleep, lessens anxiety and overall enhances our mood. Not everyone will experience every benefit, and some will always experience a certain number of its benefits.
Add to all that a forested environment and you’re surrounded by trees at the peak of their essential oil production; what science calls phytoncides. "Phyton" means "plant" in Latin, and "cide" means to exterminate. Phytoncides are the natural compound substance that a plant gives off to kill harmful microorganisms; insects and bacteria. Forest bathing enhances human natural killer cell activity and our body’s expression of anti-cancer proteins. Forest bathing also improves cognitive function, helping us think and plan better. This effect lasts for at least 7 days in our bodies after time spent in nature.
In reality, phytoncides do not only exist in forests. They can be found in vegetables and fruit as well. But I’m not about to recommend that you walk through fields of garlic on a regular basis, nor do I believe for one minute that you would follow that recommendation.
So, getting back to summer, sun, vitamin D and inhaling …
Telling someone to get outside and play never really works. We see it as time wasted, indulgent and even a way to avoid getting things done. My message to you is that getting outside, especially in summertime at the height of ‘bloom’ is essential; critical to your well-being and your ability to get things done in a way that nurtures your body and soul, rather than puts you in deep distress or exhaustion.
Where are your opportunities to get outside more and absorb some vitamin D and phytoncides, as well as general well-being from nature? It depends on who you are and what feels enjoyable and effortless to you. Here are some offerings:
You’ll only do what feels easy to you and that’s what play and enjoyment is all about. Summertime is a season in our lives that expresses who we are in full bloom. You deserve that. We deserve to experience you like that.
Last words. Always hydrate. Avoid full mid-day sun if you’re sun-sensitive or wear a hat (as long as you make it a fun hat). Early mornings and evening sunsets are fabulous times to be outdoors in nature. Walk among the trees, share some reciprocal inhaling and exhaling with them. Let your summertime bloom!
 Studies vary in results. Data is available online for fact checking. If you’ve been advised to stay out of the sun or wear UV filters, this is not a replacement for that advice.
In my last blog about Leela’s health, I wrote, “That brings me to the next blog about Leela: canine enrichment, or how to be with your dog in a way that plays into your dog’s natural instincts. I’ve spent a lot of time going in the opposite direction. Now, I see how doing what she loves can benefit me, as well.”
Since I last wrote about the many breeds Leela may carry in her DNA, I believe I’ve discovered her dominant breed: Australian Kelpie. Take a look at the photos I've included up top. The first, an Australian Kelpie. The second photo is Leela.
I can see the differences, too, and I see more of the similarities, so much so that I joined a Kelpie group on Facebook, who guessed her DNA as Kelpie, Cattle dog, and Staffordshire Terrier. The brindle color is probably the terrier but her behavior is all Kelpie.
Reading up confirmed all my opinions about this:
“One of the smartest of all breeds, the Australian Kelpie can also be one of the most challenging to live with. His superior intellect, combined with his independence, intensity, and passion for keeping busy, are his best features – and the ones that make him unsuitable for most homes.
This sharp-eyed, quick-thinking, fanatical workaholic must be allowed to do his job with livestock, to learn advanced obedience or agility, to accompany you jogging or biking, or to chase balls or Frisbees.
Without physical and mental stimulation, Australian Kelpies become bored and hyperactive and will drive you crazy with obsessive, destructive behaviors as they seek creative outlets for their energy.
High intelligence means they learn quickly – including how to do anything they set their mind to. They are master escape artists (going over and under fences) and zealous gatherers of cars, bikes, joggers, cats, other dogs, livestock, and running children – circling, poking, pushing, and nipping if the person or animal or object doesn't cooperate.
You must stay one step ahead of this brilliant breed, and most people are simply not up to the task.”
So, when a friend said, “Linda, you’ve finally met your match” she wasn’t kidding. I posted on Facebook, “Anyone have any sheep you need herded?” I wasn’t kidding, either.
Now, there’s also a meaning to the word Kelpie: a water spirit of Scottish folklore, typically taking the form of a horse and reputed to delight in the drowning of travelers.
Oh, great. Since she hasn’t taken the form of a horse, I’m going to let this one go. For now.
Here’s where canine enrichment comes in, though, and I’m just learning about it so please forgive the simplicity of what I write.
Leela loves to forage. She won’t eat all the food in her bowl, yet she’ll go out and forage and scavenge the backyard for tasty morsels (albeit not to this human’s observations).
My first trick: I turn over a muffin tin and put her dry food in the bottom of the tin. Just testing the waters here. She immediately went over and started eating and ate most of it; sometimes, she eats all of it. This morning, I brought the tin outside so I could have my coffee in the backyard. Leela didn’t seem as interested in the muffin tin food outdoors, so I grabbed a handful and tossed it on the grass. She had a blast foraging for part of her breakfast. Now, I understand that this isn’t always possible, and she doesn’t find all the food, so there’s that. And yet, what a natural instinct for her; one that also seems to be fun! Quite accidentally, I learned that she seems to respond to ‘come’ more when there’s something to see or do or my interest in her involves something she likes to do. Maybe that will eventually lead to her responding to ‘come’ when I want her to. Could it please do that?
I’m struck how important breed is when it comes to training. Whether Leela’s the Kelpie, Cattle dog, Terrier or Occasional Hyena, her own instincts make training possible, not my will or wanting and certainly not my controlling her. We’ve come a long way since, “A good leader always …” We humans are also who we are and our leadership must come from that, too.
It’s time for more reflection, for without reflection, these thoughts simply turn into that muddle of memories in our brains; maybe to be forgotten sooner than not.
This blog is about Leela’s health, which is sound, thank goodness, and yet we’ve made more trips to the vet lately than I’d have imagined or cared to make. Sometimes, I forget that delicate balance between the little girl puppy and the occasional hyena. Sometimes, that first year in a pup’s life is full of surprises and challenges.
It began with a small growth just under one of her front legs; nothing she cared about; something I cared about. After visiting the vet, days later she was in surgery to have it removed and biopsied. A large plastic cone was her parting gift from the vet. That lasted about 10 minutes before she’d chewed the edge on the inside of the cone where the two ends overlapped. She looked at me from under that cone with some hyena energy. It clearly said, “How can you do this to me?” and “I am prepared to kill this thing around my neck. Just watch me.”
Always one to be overprepared, at least when it comes to Leela, I had purchased a soft cone when she was spayed that I never had to use. Out came the soft cone as a replacement for the big, awkward plastic let-me-bump-into-everything-especially-the-back -of-your-legs cone. That worked briefly. At least she could lie down and rest a bit. But it didn’t last long. I decided to take it off and ‘just see’ how things went. As it turned out, things went really well. Only once did she start to go after the surgery site and a quick reminder with the soft cone was all Leela needed to leave it be.
And a few days after the surgery, her biopsy came back benign much to my relief.
End of story? No. About a week into healing, I noticed something just above and to the left of the incision site. Another growth? Not another one, please. I gave it a few days and called the vet. We went back and she was due for a post-surgery check-in so it was a good time to ask about this other thing of concern.
The vet quickly said no, not the same thing; maybe she scratched herself and got an irritation or infection. No charge for the visit (bundling the post-surgery with this new thing was a good idea) and some antibiotics for a week. I’d promised Leela that I wouldn’t be pushing pills down her throat anymore so there was some apologizing to do when it began again.
To celebrate, because that’s what you do when you get good news, we went to the dog park near our home; my favorite park for dogs because there is a grove of mature trees (probably left there to keep the neighbors happy), nice dogs and nice people who clean up religiously after their dogs.
Leela loves to rough n tumble. Leela loves to run and she corners like a ball player turning third base to head for home plate. An odd analogy for me, and yet that’s what it reminds me of.
So, Leela was playing with all the other dogs and one in particular who was larger than her and enjoyed the rough n tumble, too. At some point, when it was time to go home, they managed to get off the dirt and grass onto the concrete walkway. Suddenly there was a yelp from Leela and that was that; she seemed fine. I checked her over. All good.
We headed home and suddenly, she was licking her back paws. She was also licking a spot on her leg. I took a look and saw that the licking was causing some redness; perhaps the beginning of a hot spot. I had some very old over the counter medication for that. Leela didn’t like it one bit; shaking her leg until the stinging (I imagine) stopped. It wasn’t until the next day when I looked again to see if it was any better that I noticed that she’d worn away a bit of one of her pads on both back feet. No bleeding. Just part of her pad missing! Yikes, I thought, how did you do that??
You guessed it. Back to the vet. He was less concerned about the pads, saying young dogs still have tender pads and she’d simply run them off. The redness was diagnosed as allergies that show up as dermatitis with Fall pollen already present around us. I wonder about Leela being from the South and how the Northern pollen might affect her. So, more meds and a shot that was cold and caused Leela to jump. Two cookies from the vet followed immediately and the cold shot was forgotten. Good vet. Great vet.
The hardest part of the Rx was no trip to New Hampshire, which we had planned for the following week; only soft ground for a week or two to heal her pads; then an easy routine of toughening up her pads. Now, we’ve always walked a lot and on concrete, although I’ll admit because it’s summer and very hot in NY, I’ve been walking her on grass much, much more. I also think because she loves to run, she’s wearing down her pads over time, and not the yelping in the playground. That might have just been from hitting the hard surface when she was playing with the other dog. And who really knows, right? How things happen are often a mystery. We notice the results of the mysterious happenings when it comes to puppies more often than how they happened.
It’s been a lot time spent indoors these past few weeks; time spent in the yard: no playground, no beach, no getting wet. It seems we’ll have another week or two of that. She is unphased by her injuring and wonders why we’re not doing more. Her energy hasn’t changed. Not one bit.
That brings me to the next blog about Leela: canine enrichment, or how to be with your dog in a way that plays into your dog’s natural instincts. I’ve spent a lot of time going in the opposite direction. Now, I see how doing what she loves can benefit me, as well.