No tree hugging intended!
I never saw myself as a tree hugger.
A nature lover: always.
Flower child hippy chic: sometimes (in a groovy kind of way, you understand!).
But a tree hugger: never!
That was just a bit too (conkers) bonkers.
So how did I find myself… you know, doing the deed? Hugging a tree?
There’s a woman (we call her ‘Framboise ’) who teaches our kids about meditation and mindfulness. She’s forever encouraging me in a similar direction too. One week I joined in with the activity she did with the children: creating a vision board. I’d already (unknowingly) made something similar myself before which I showed her – I’d filled it with images of anything that flies, birds mostly, and stuck it with feathers I’d found scattered around over time.
The first one was a guided meditation. The kind of thing you’d expect (yoga mat, peaceful room… zen vibes).
But the next Saturday morning I arrived, things turned out a bit differently.
My son – then aged 10 – had wanted to come with me but Framboise had told him this was just for me.
D Day (or Tree Day)
It was a chilly day in autumn. I shrugged off my coat into the car and knocked on the door. When Framboise greeted me, she asked if I wasn’t going to be cold but it still took a while for it to dawn on me that I hadn’t checked her flyer before coming. Today wasn’t an indoor activity. We were going for a walk in the woods.
I put my coat back on, and off we went.
Framboise led me and the other participant (let’s call him René – because that’s a ‘very French’ name – and we were in Belgium) up her road and into the forest.
At the entrance to the wood she handed us some home-made incense to sprinkle (if and as we wanted) around the trees in thanks for welcoming us in. I speedily quieted my inner voice that was already telling me that was weird, and instead, concentrated on, uh-huh, beginning to try to commune with the trees (and Yoda, please be quiet – I know there is no ‘try’ you have to ‘do’, but I had to start somewhere).
I noticed that as we walked, Framboise picked up litter along the way and began to fill a bag she’d brought.
‘How… good’, I thought.
We were told there’s be no chit chat as we walked. Instead, we were to use all our senses.
It reminded me of this exercise I’ve tried in the past. Have you ever done it? It’s so simple, but a good one. You can do it anywhere, but a forest is ideal.
An exercise in mindfulness
Use your five senses – one by one
Stand (or sit) still. Close your eyes. Use your ears to really listen. Notice what you hear very close by. Listen properly to all of the sounds. What do you notice in the middle distance? The far distance?
Next, with your eyes still closed, breathe in and really take notice of all of the smells. Take your time. It’s important not to rush.
Do the same for your senses of taste and then touch. I know it’s not as straight-forward for these two senses, but I’m sure you can taste ‘something’… Open your mouth and taste the air on your tongue. Feel the breeze or light rainfall on your skin.
And then open your eyes and really look around you. Move your head around and turn your gaze down to the earth you’re walking on. Look right up into the air. What do you see above you?
My five-sensory experience
I could see: the sunshine sparkling through trees, tall ones, reaching up to a blue sky.
I could hear: birdsong – so much life going on above us, geese prepping for flight, reminding us of a change in the seasons
I could feel: cold, fresh air on my skin.
I could smell: damp freshness, a mossy kind of odour.
I could taste: again, the damp freshness of the forest.
As we moved through the woods we continued to use all of our senses. I tried (there I go again, Yoda!) to ‘feel’ the walk – to ‘be’ in it – rather than feel uncomfortable in the silence… It made me realise how much of a need I have to try and fill any silences, lest they be ‘awkward’.
After a time, we came to a clearing where two paths crossed. We were asked to take our time and choose a tree that we were drawn to.
In past meditations I’d done with Framboise and the kids, she’d guided us to imagining a ‘tree’ within ourselves. My tree had been pretty conflicted. In fact, there kind of two trees (in me). One was a wild tree with no leaves on, its spindly, tall branches extended upwards, being blown around by a storm… but there was also another tree, beautifully and calmly blossoming delicate buds blooming into deep pink flowers.
So now, she asked us to connect with our tree. To feel the roots, the sap…
‘See what happens,’ she said. ‘Sit down if you like,’ she added, presenting us each with a polystyrene kneeling mat she produced from her Tardis backpack.
And that was when her guidance stopped.
Just me and the tree
‘OMG,’ I thought. ‘Tree-hugging!’
It was very quiet in the forest, but there was an odd cyclist or walker who passed by.
One voice in my head was saying, ‘Well this is embarrassing!’
The other voice was saying, ‘Hello tree, thank you for sharing your energy with me today.’
Embarrassed voice returned, ‘Just pretend you’re doing the ‘thing’. It’ll be over soon.’
My ‘bigger’ voice, ‘Tree, you are a powerful, wonderful creation. I welcome this connection.’
And so it went on…
‘My’ tree was an oak tree. I ran my hands over the rough rivets of the bark. I noticed a large ivy root growing up and around the trunk. And upon the ivy, dried up moss was growing. Life on life on life… so much life. All intertwined.
I glanced up at the light through the branches. Low and behold – birds!
And that was it. My first experience of tree hugging. Although I’d been more than a little self-conscious, I did my best. I may not have reaped the joys and benefits of a full-on tree-hugging experience, but I did notice how there is something magical and magnificent about ancient trees. Perhaps if I try again (or ‘do’ it again)… I’ll go a step closer to feeling those good (wood) vibrations.
When it seemed time for us to finish, we bid goodbye to our tree. Framboise suggested we find a little offering (if we so wished) to leave for our tree. I left mine a fir cone.
We walked a little further and found beechnuts. We fell into a little easy conversation, although I’m not sure if this was planned. It turned out René is a gardener and botanist. I hadn’t realised you can eat beech nuts. They taste quite nutty (I suppose the clue is in the name). Framboise gave me some to take back for the kids, perhaps hoping my son would forgive us for not letting him come today.
Francoise presented me with a wee feather… much in the same way I gift my kids with treasures I find along our walks in nature.
She said she’s never seen so many feathers and it must be because the forest is honouring me – what a lovely thought!
On our way back to her house, Framboise dumped the rubbish she’d collected into a Council bin. ‘I’m not taking the rubbish home,’ she laughed. ‘We pay enough for the Council taxes!’
I told you she was ‘good’!
Then we walked back to have a cup of tea made from flowers she’d received from a permaculturist friend.
My fellow tree huggers and me.
Not at all conkers bonkers.
In the words of our guide
During this activity I was hoping to share a special time with you. We can pass through the forest while still remaining shut inside our daily life, always seeing the paths in the same way.Françoise Gouthière, alias – in our household – ‘Framboise’
Or, we can ask the forest to welcome us. In this case, we concentrate, connect, unwind… So the pathways are always different… We can listen to what the trees have to tell us by using our 5 senses, by listening to our feelings…
If you around the Ardennes region of Belgium, you can check out what Françoise gets up to here.
Are you a tree hugger? Do you believe in their magic?
Has this prompted any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you…