Growing into Womanhood
I imagine I’m not the only one who was terrorized by terrible girl behavior in middle school and junior high. You know, the kind of girl behavior that excludes, ignores, isolates. The kind of girl behavior that seems to support one day, but then leaves you totally alone the next. That type of girl behavior taught me that that there wasn’t enough room for everyone and I became guilty of some of that same behavior at times.
Suzi is the exact opposite of terrible girl behavior. She is the model of grown woman behavior. She is the antidote to feeling excluded, ignored, isolated. Suzi, in a word, is welcoming.
Suzi and Hannah are working together to achieve their Glastonbury-based Women's Circle and TreeSister Grove's goals of gathering girls and women in strength and authenticity; enjoying earth and others through women and earth wisdom; celebrating the land through ceremony; and rewilding, storytelling, tree planting, and appreciating beauty. They are women “working for the future of the earth and the next generation of women.” They are there to welcome both girls and women, to tell them there is room for them.
Let me back up a bit to tell you about how Suzi and I came to meet. I discovered Suzi through TreeSisters’ website. She responded to a message I sent about my plans to embark on an ancestral pilgrimage, which would bring me to England the summer of 2017. I knew she was an active organizer and led a local group through TreeSisters. The local groups are called "Groves" and I asked if she would be interested in sharing her Grove’s stories. Suzi was not only willing to meet, she was also willing to feed me, and welcome me into her home on farm land outside of Glastonbury, UK.
During the time I stayed with Suzi, she was grading exams, supporting two young children, attending school plays, sharing carpool duties, working with her local government to encourage tree planting, planning The Tree Conference, hosting dinner guests, meeting up with her extensive network of friends, and speaking at a local school on the behalf of trees. And she still welcomed me, joyfully.
There's an energy about Suzi that gets a person inspired, impassioned, and energized. And she is never intimidated by or jealous of other’s passion, knowledge, or success. She can juggle many things in a short period of time, and still make space for those in her community. From my limited perspective, her life is one of continuous movement between the emotional, spirit-world and the practical, physical-world, and she navigates that path with a nurturing and welcoming heart.
On the evening I arrived in Glastonbury, Suzi picked me up from the train station and brought me to her home, which was already full of dinner guests. Everyone shifted down to make room for me, a total stranger from the USA. I was given a full plate and a full glass and I spent my first evening among philosophers and poets. I was welcomed into the mix and made a connection with another artist who did a tree-based photography project several years back. It was like I was coming home in a completely unfamiliar place. And, as the socializing went into the night, I felt totally comfortable retreating to “my” room before the other guests left without the fear of being left out.
I was also welcomed the next day when Suzi and I arrived at her friend’s house for lunch. Walking into a group of 10-15 women who all had prior connections could have been one of the most intimidating things to experience, but I ended up having an amazing conversation with a woman whose work crossed my own work as an English teacher to refugees and immigrants. We had a deep conversation about immigration, refugee camps, and modern-day slavery over light lunch and tea. I left feeling comforted meeting other people who are doing hard work for the world. When a group of women decided to go for a swim, I decided to explore on my own and spent time among giant oaks, redwoods, and cedars. I enjoyed my time among the trees without ever once feeling that I would be unwelcome upon my return.
On another day, I was quite exhausted from all the new experiences and so, when we took Suzi’s children to an earth-based, creative learning workshop, I went off on my own and photographed the surrounding farm land. Feeling refreshed, I returned to find a new group of unfamiliar women who had also brought their children to the workshop. I was, again, immediately welcomed. We talked about politics in the US and UK and shared our concerns over the way leadership is handling environmental issues, among many other things.
On my favorite day, I went with Suzi as she spoke to a class at Frome’s Steiner Academy about UK’s forests. She presented information to a group of teenagers about the real implications of climate change while also sharing a process for communicating directly with trees. Suzi shared manners and respect, cultural norms, and ideas for nurturing tree relationships. Experiencing Suzi express very real concerns based on facts from "Combating Global Climate Change: A role for UK forests," while also giving teenagers hope through a direct connection to tree friends was a clear demonstration of her ability to make all feel welcome. And for me, as an educator, possibilities for earth-based education got me buzzing as Suzi and I spent time discussing curriculum ideas.
As we headed home that afternoon, Suzi noticed a different energy about me and expressed this observation. At that exact moment, I had become fully aware of a pattern I had seen repeatedly during our drive – the letters KMP spray painted in red on every block. KMP. My initials. In red. All over town. When Suzi asked me what I felt the significance may be, I shared that I felt they were telling me it was OK to take up space, OK to stand out, OK to be noticed, OK to share my knowledge. I think that terrible girl behavior had also taught me to lay low, act small, and try to sneak by unnoticed.
After spending so many days being welcomed by loads of women, even while talking about deep and, at times, uncomfortable things, I was welcomed. As I was sharing my accomplishments and my knowledge, I was welcomed. As I shared my ideas, I was welcomed. As I was taking little time-outs away from everyone, I was welcomed.
During my time with Suzi, I was growing into the idea that it was no longer necessary to play it small. I could take up space, I could stand out, I could share my thoughts, I could ask people to take notice, and I could still be welcomed. There was room for me.
And there is room for you, too.
The concepts of meditation and mindfulness were totally unfamiliar to me in my 20s. I was much more inclined to use various substances to "deal" with life at that time.
In my mid-20s, I went back to school, still using and abusing both alcohol and drugs, but wasn't too concerned that I wouldn't be able to maintain that lifestyle since I was able to graduate from high-school with honors in a similar state. I had planned to keep up the status quo, but life had other plans for me.
I enrolled in a philosophy class (because I'm a master at asking big questions, not because I'm great at finding answers) and, on the very first day, my professor shared with the class that he and another professor were taking a group of students to Japan to experience Buddhist philosophy. We were told that the group would be leaving in about a month and we were welcome to join.
That day, I told my dad. "Sounds like a great opportunity, if you can figure out the passport, I can help with money." Within a couple of weeks, I had secured funding and my first passport, and I was ready to take my first trip outside of the U.S. I was several years older than most of my fellow travelers, but that did not prevent me from making a few missteps while traveling.
One of my missteps was drinking too much one night. I was loud and obnoxious, which is the exact opposite of Japanese culture and the exact perception much of the world has of U.S. American culture. I didn't do anything extreme, but I was embarrassed. For the first time, I truly became aware of my actions and the impact of my behavior.
When I returned from Japan, I did not immediately start a meditation practice, but I did start noticing my thoughts, my childish inclinations, and my role as a global citizen. And I immediately quit the hard drugs. I started a process of being more intentional about the things I chose in my life. I started paying attention to how I felt about the things going on around me so that I could choose more wisely for myself, my immediate family, and my global family.
Over the years, I have tried multiple forms of meditation, but the one practice that has been the most consistent is mindfulness through nature photography. When I go into nature, I am fully alive, energized, and in-tune with the world.
Mindfulness and meditation are intended to help us fully drop into our lives. When we practice mindfulness, there are very real benefits:
Since the terms mindfulness and meditation are abstract concepts, here are a few ways one might describe the experience.
Considering the pace of every day life and the values of U.S. American culture, it can be a challenge to commit to being more mindful. Rather than give up on the idea, though, we can keep it simple.
Don't feel you need equipment, clothes, apps, and/or a "guru" to guide you. In fact, if you're spending a lot of money on meditation, you are likely contributing to cultural appropriation since meditation is an Eastern concept that Westerners have co-opted to fit our consumer culture.
It's not that Eastern forms of meditation can't be beneficial to Westerners, but if you choose to follow the path of Eastern meditation, be conscious of the impact. Be aware of who is benefiting, and at what cost. If you feel you need more information, search "cultural appropriation" and, specifically, "cultural appropriation in the field of wellness."
If you become aware that you are causing or have caused harm, it's not too late to turn it around! I like to think of it like getting sober; quit the practice, confront the Darkness, clarify your intentions, make amends, and do better moving forward.
Nature-based art is a wonderful tool in helping us to simply secure our connection to a meaningful, healthy life. Bringing nature-based art into our homes, offices, and social media spaces, we can receive the benefits of a mindfulness practice as we go about our day-to-day lives.
Here are three ideas for beginning a nature-based art mindfulness practice:
Mindfulness is a practice; it becomes easier and more beneficial over time. Nature imagery can make your mindfulness practice simple, accessible, free, and stress-free. Look around your house for a piece of nature-based art and display it for a reminder.
Also, remember that mindfulness is a self-care practice to help you stay grounded and focused so that you can take action toward creating a better world - it is not meant to be a consumer product and it is not meant to stand separate from compassionate action. Keep it simple, get centered, and then use that divine Love to fuel the fight for freedom, equity, justice, and peace.
Dancing Into Dreams
In 2005, recently divorced and laid-off, struggling to find peace within the chaos, I had a powerful dream:
Walking through a countryside, I encountered rolling hills dotted with trees and abandoned car parts. Hoods, hub caps, and steering wheels were strewn about. It was as if the idea of speeding around was abandoned for a slower pace. As I had that thought, my eye was attracted to something moving in the distance. The movement got closer and a form began to take shape. A horse came into view. One horse became a dozen horses galloping across the field of car parts. As they continued to approach, I noticed that these weren’t ordinary horses. Each of them was joyfully galloping with a carousel pole protruding from their middles.
I awoke feeling free. If carousel horses could break away from their endless circle, couldn’t I? I wrote about this dream and I talked about it to everyone who would listen. A few months later, it became a collaborative art project and was displayed in my first art show during the spring of 2006. The symbols and the feeling of this dream have continued to inspire me over the years - even if unintentionally.
As I mentioned, 2005 was a turning point in my life. From 1995-2005, I suffered from acute anxiety and panic attacks. Just the thought of going out in public alone caused terror. At one point, the fear of walking down the streets of Minneapolis by myself caused me to quit a job. But I was worn out from this way of life and I was ready to break free.
Over the next twelve years, I took my first solo-trip to Seattle, returned to school, traveled to Japan for a philosophy class, moved multiple times, graduated from college, traveled much of the U.S., and taught English as a Second Language to adults who’d recently arrived in Minnesota.
Having experiences with such a wide variety of cultures got me questioning my own cultural heritage. I started getting curious about U.S. American culture and, more specifically, White U.S. American culture. I started wondering why it was that I had never even considered that I had a cultural or racial identity.
To be honest, the more questions I asked, the more disturbed I became. I started to see the power I had been given for no reason other than my skin color and I began to consider what I was going to do with that power...once I accepted it. I decided to start my journey toward owning my power by contributing to a cause that aligned with my values. I chose TreeSisters because of its focus on creating new life.
I also decided that part of recovering my power was going to require a new connection to my ancestral roots. I wanted to redefine my own cultural identity within U.S. American culture and avoid cultural appropriation as I searched for what felt more fulfilling. With these two intentions in mind, during a TreeSisters' Full Moon meditation, I saw a very clear picture of myself traveling to the countries of my ancestors and connecting with women who were also interested in nurturing humanity through a love of trees.
Several months later, I had made connections with four TreeSisters in the U.K. who were willing to host me and share their stories. The willingness of these women to accept me into their hearts and homes broke through another layer of anxiety I was still holding onto and I began to feel a connection to women I had never met. Visiting them allowed me to trust more deeply and open my heart more fully. These women helped me to begin growing deeper roots, while expanding in ways previously unimagined.
My first stay was in Cornwall, England with Sara. My stay with Sara taught me that we are always exactly where we need to be and that dreams really can come true.
From the very first email, Sara exuded generosity. Learning about her family and her contributions to the world solidified her commitment to this value. As I spent the first few days in Cornwall, I was overwhelmed by the realization that there's a whole network of women around the world that have an interest in providing spaces for others to grow and ground themselves. I also realized that there was so much I could say about Sara...what she does/has done, who she cares for, her accomplishments, her fears, etc.
Of course she's a mother who fiercely protects her children. Of course she's worked in the areas of human rights and ecological concerns in her local community. Of course she shares the fables of her Cornish culture through storytelling and dance. Of course she holds a women's circle that focuses on the "in-breath" aspects through meditation, personal growth, and building community. Of course she took me on a road trip around Cornwall so that I could see where my ancestors lived. She does all of this, motivated by generosity, loyalty, passion, and adventure.
These values are what guide her "doings" and her relationships. These values are what inspired her to give me gifts to pass on to the next TreeSister, what have attracted other women to her and what will attract new women to her growing TreeSisters' Grove, and what helped me feel comfortable and connected in a place so far from home.
In Sara's words, her Grove's purpose is "to be open and loving with women who are also so. To enjoy the sense of belonging that being part of mother nature gives us with every breath. To dance in the wildness of all her landscapes and to be grateful." Sara’s Women’s Circle meets during the New Moon. So, if you're in Cornwall and are looking for a generous leader who brings women together in a beautiful space, I highly recommend connecting with the "Dancing daughters of gaia."
Sara and I danced across the Cornish landscapes in her camper van. We didn’t have a specific route planned, but we had several hand-made postcards of Cornwall that my friend, Alison, had gifted me years before, so we went on a postcard scavenger hunt. Those postcards took us to the Eden Project, St. Michael’s Mount, Minack Open Air Theatre, and to many different beaches of Cornwall.
Sara shared Cornish history, traditions, and values and I got a glimpse of the kind of culture I was longing for - culture rooted in tradition, history, values, community, and reverence for Mother Earth. While we might not have always known where we were going, and while I might not have fully grasped what it means to be a White U.S. American, we always knew we were right where we were supposed to be and I felt fueled by the power of increasing awareness and trusting the process.
As we were on what Sara's kids call her "mommy adventures," driving around without a concrete plan, taking unfamiliar roads and paths less traveled, Sara suddenly stopped her van and asked me...
"Do you like horses?"
During the summer of 2017, I spent two months traveling England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. When I departed from MSP on July 3rd, I knew who I would be staying with on which dates, and I knew where and when I would be on my own, but I didn't have detailed plans for what I was going to do in each place. I have always enjoyed unplanned travel, having the freedom to do as the mood fits. Showing up in a place and having locals share their ideas of where to go and what to do provides authentic, unexpected adventure. However, on this particular adventure, traveling so many places and encountering so many people, I got more suggestions than I could manage.
At the Tartan Lodge, a hostel in Glasgow, Scotland, I was told by my Canadian and Kiwi roommates that I HAD to get to Edinburgh. And returning from Edinburgh is when I realized that I HAD to recenter myself and simplify if I was going to make it though the second half of my journey.
To unintentionally learn that lesson, I took an unplanned one-hour train from Glasgow so I could spend a day exploring the landscapes, art, and architecture of Edinburgh. When I got into the Edinburgh station, I got a map, decided which art galleries I wanted to see and which hikes I wanted to take, made a plan, and set off for the furthest gallery of interest.
Calton Hill was astounding! And I had no doubt the art in this hilltop gallery would be just as astounding. I made it to the gallery space only to discover a temporary space (without art) being used to create interest for the permanent space that had yet to be built. Since I made the trek, I decided to explore. I watched people hike Arthur's Hill (pictured below) and decided to take that hike off my list due to the time investment! I wandered through the sculptures and found a cozy spot in the shade to sit and people watch. I set down my belongings and settled in for a leisurely lunch.
After a pleasurable break, I made my way back down the hill to visit galleries in the city center. One after another, I arrived at empty or closed galleries. I knew that Fringe Fest was two days away, but I didn't know most galleries would be in the process of setting up new exhibits for the masses of art lovers about to descend.
At this point, I was exhausted and frustrated and homesick and I just wanted to sleep the next month away. As I made my way through crowds and construction, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and judgments about stupid Edinburgh rising up in my heart. So, I did the best thing I could do for myself at the moment - I popped into Starbucks. Starbucks is particularly comforting because it reminds me of my dear friend, Alison, who loves their Iced White Chocolate Mochas and has been reassuring me from afar since my first solo-trip to Seattle twelve years prior. In this place of comfort, I sent Alison a WhatsApp message, ordered a Chai Tea Latte, my favorite comfort drink, and journaled until I felt confident I could resume without tears and criticism. Reenergized, I skipped ahead in my plan and went straight to the last stop.
When I arrived at “Stills Center for Photography,” I felt immediately at home. This space housed a gallery, a digital lab, a film lab, a small indie film theatre, and a library that housed a wealth of information about the history of photography. There was something about the space and the people that helped me feel in alignment again. I browsed through books, got inspired, and realized that, in the UK, photography is a highly valued art form. Talking with staff about the role of photography and, specifically, female nature photographers, I was given a couple of suggestions for similar places in Dublin, Ireland, which was my next stop. Spending time in this space allowed me to experience the magic of travel once again. And helped me get realigned with my values.
Riding the train back to Glasgow, lulled by the passing landscapes, I was confronted with some hard truths. Though “Stills” was amazing, my Edinburgh trip was exhausting and, somewhere along the way (likely Calton Hill), I lost my only raincoat. If I was going to make it through the next month, I had to consider what kept me from also losing my mind. Reflecting back, I noticed I overcame my anxiety, weepiness, and judgements by slowing down. Right then, I knew it was time to simplify. I needed to stop feeling like I had to do it all - because I couldn't. I decided that, from that moment on, I was going to take more time to settle into places and stop feeling like I needed to get locations checked off my list.
Throughout the rest of the trip, I slowed down, I didn't let people talk me into thinking that I needed to see more, I didn't get bothered when things didn't go the way I thought they should, and I had the most wonderful experiences people watching, wandering unbeaten paths, resting often, talking to locals, and letting all the suggestions that were not in alignment with my purpose go in one ear and out the other. And, now that I've been back for almost a year, I can honestly say I spend zero time thinking about what I missed, and instead think about the connections I made, the lessons I learned, and the inspiration I felt.