Heart of a Redwood: Learning about Resilience and Interconnectivity

Betty Louise Sturm is a Marriage and Family Therapist based in California. She is also a Certified Nature Therapy Guide and previously directed an art school. The following is an excerpt from her final project. (Editor’s note: To protect participant privacy, names have been changed.)

Henry Cowell State Park is an alluring and inclusive environment. The towering redwood trees, diverse ecosystem, and variety of trails generally provides visitors with a sense of calm and ease. My nature walk was recommended through social networking, to an avid hiker and lover of redwood trees. This prior knowledge was encouraging and added to my excitement as I met my participant, Tara, at the visitor center.

The thick and shady redwood forest can get quite chilly, so we were both relieved to see blue sky with the sun steadily rising. We found a sunny spot near a bench, on the edge of the forest to practice a brief 5-senses grounding exercise to support body awareness. As I invited Tara to find a comfortable position, I was pleasantly surprised when she chose to rest her forehead against a nearby tree! We both acknowledged that this meditation left us feeling grounded and present.

I followed Tara’s pace as we moved slowly, under and through these giants. Feeling relaxed and present, I was glad to have allotted some extra time in our schedule. I invited Tara to visualize the lateral root systems intertwining with other root systems. We imagined these roots reaching out to interconnect with other roots, creating inner strength while contributing to the overall character of the forest. As we paused to explore the thick and rough redwood bark it was easy to visualize this as a protective shield. We compared the tree bark to the idea of resiliency, as it readily adapts to environmental challenges and simultaneously grows with the tree as it develops.

The hands-on activity I chose involved the use of paper and charcoal sticks. I invited Tara to rest her paper against the tree bark, then to gently rub the flat side of her charcoal stick against the paper. She instantly engaged in this process, showing excitement and initiating creativity. Unguided, Tara freely shifted her sheets of paper to different areas of bark, creating multiple layers and moving organically. I felt privileged to witness Tara’s experience with her creative thread to nature and her personal sense of resiliency.

Closure consisted of pausing again to take a few deep breaths, and to enjoy our present connection to nature. As we finished the walk Tara was enthusiastic to share some of her experiences. They were deeply moving, and I found myself wishing that I carved some space in this nature walk for writing. I suggested that she continue to reflect on her process through journaling, and much to my pleasure, Tara requested a future nature walk with me as her guide.

© Betty Louise Sturm

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