Tag Archives: reflections

A Tale of Tree Rings: Relating a Tree’s Story to One’s Personal Experiences

I recently did a therapeutic horticulture program with a group of women who are from Afghanistan and clients of a local social services organization serving resettled refugees. On this rainy day, we gathered in the one-bedroom apartment of one of the women. Some of us sat on the floor, while others sat on couches. Our hostess passed around cups of hot tea and cookies. A couple of children played around us while we visited with each other. We communicated via a translator, gestures, and lots of smiles.

To start the session, I passed around some of my favorite sensory plants – lavender, pineapple sage, basil, lemon balm, lamb’s ear, mint, among other – and explained about what I do in my job. I talked about how plants and nature benefit us in many different ways – from lowering stress and anxiety to improving our mood and encouraging physical movement. The group made lavender sachets to keep.

The conversation transitioned to hobbies because gardening is a favorite American pastime, and I asked the group about their hobbies.

Then, to deepen the conversation, I talked about one of the reasons that I like to tend to my garden. I explained that I look to nature to provide perspective on my life. One example is the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth – as seen through the lush foliage of summer, followed by the falling of autumn leaves, to the dormancy of winter, then to the first buds of cherry trees and other spring flowers, and back again. How can you relate to the cycle of life to your personal experience?

Then I started talking about trees.

TreeRingsTreeCookieTherapeuticHorticultureHave you ever taken a look at the cross section of a tree? There are a bunch of rings, and if you count them, you can determine the age of the tree. And if you look closer, each ring is slightly different. Sometimes the rings are really close together. Other times the rings are further apart. Sometimes there are blemishes in the rings, and other times they are misshapen.

Why are the rings different from year to year? Well, some years the plant receives all the water, nutrients, sunlight, and other things that it needs in order to thrive – those are indicated by the “healthy-looking” or further spaced rings.

Other years, the rings are close together. That may indicate that the tree didn’t receive all the “goodies” it needed to grow vigorously.

Still other years, the rings may have blemishes or are oddly shaped. That may be due to diseases or insect pests that attacked the plant and affected it. Or, maybe there was a fire that scorched one side of the tree. Or, perhaps someone used a string trimmer around the tree and accidentally nicked the bark of the tree.

HanddrawnTreeRingsTreeCookieTherapeuticHorticulture
Don’t have a “tree cookie” (or cross section of a tree) to look at? Draw it yourself. This is my hand-drawn illustration used during this program. Note: larger and smaller tree rings are shown.

Each ring tells a different story for each year of the tree’s life. Some years were great, and the tree grew and flourished. Some years weren’t so good, when it appears that the tree struggled. Sometimes that indicates that the tree may have succumbed. Or sometimes it shows how the tree, resilient as it is, made it through the challenges and came out on the other end, still bigger than it was the year before.

I have to admit that when I started this last part of the conversation, I could feel a shift in the mood of the room…to a quieter, more reflective mood.

Consider how each of us handle challenging situations. One person may be easily angered when encountering a tough situation and react loudly or in an outward fashion, where people nearby may notice immediately. In the same type of situation, another person may be quiet and prefer to handle her emotions internally, with or without others noticing. I relate that to walking through a forest.

If you look at a forest, there is a wide variety of trees and other plants. Some trees grow up big and tall, reaching for the sun. Some trees are smaller and prefer to be in the understory, shaded by the other trees. No one tree is “better” than the other. They just grow that way and have unique individual responses to their environment. Each tree has a different story to tell. And shouldn’t we celebrate their differences?

 

Under the stillness of winter’s heavy blanket…

Even under the stillness of winter’s heavy blanket, there are signs of life all around us. When ice gives way to early spring, we witness a magnificent time of rebirth, inspiration, and possibility.

– Oprah Winfrey
snow_camellia3

The Five Ways to Wellbeing

I was recently introduced to the concept of “The Five Ways to Wellbeing.” The Five Ways succinctly summarizes the actions people can take towards positively affecting their wellbeing and improving their “mental capital.”

Connect
Be Active
Take Notice
Keep Learning
Give

Essentially, they encourage people to:
> Connect and engage with people – and I would also argue to engage with the world around you, not just the human inhabitants, but also the landscape and its furry and photosynthesizing friends who live in it;
> Be active by moving your body – and I would also suggest “exercising” your mind;
> Take notice of what’s going on in the world – be curious, be in awe, be in the moment;
> Keep learning, whatever your age, ability, or interests;
> Give to others, whether it’s volunteering your time, supporting a friend, or simply offering a smile or a compliment to someone.

Considering how wordy and verbose I am, you can imagine my delight when I came across these! As a therapeutic horticulture practitioner, I’m in the business of promoting wellbeing for people through directed experiences with plants and nature. When reflecting on these basic guidelines, I see how they already are an integral part of my programs, and now I have the simple words to summarize it.

The Five Ways were developed by the new economics foundation, as a user-friendly tool for condensing and communicating the overall message from the research presented in the 2008 UK publication from the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing. Check out the nef’s website on The Five Ways to Wellbeing to read more.

Looking ahead…

Keep your face always toward the sunshine
– and shadows will fall behind you.

– Walt Whitman

There’s something about January…

Last week, I was saddened to hear that a client, who was an avid consumer of my therapeutic horticulture program – and not to mention a wonderful human being – had passed away. This passing was the culmination of several clients who passed away last month, many of whom were among my programs’ original participants. Though many of my clients are elders, they are individual clients and people – each have their own personalities, interests, and unique responses specifically to my programs and shine their own light in the world. And when they are gone, they are missed.

I found out the news just before doing a program at that facility and was just “off my game” during the entire session.  We talked about new year’s resolutions and our hopes for 2015. We planted amaryllis bulbs in chalkboard-message flower pots (how-to post to come soon!). I missed my client’s enthusiasm and could sense the other long-time clients’ somber mood, off and on throughout the session.

With this passing, as well as the several others lost in January 2015, I reflected on having lost other elder family members in Januarys past. And I thought, “What is it about January?”

I even asked this question to friends later in the week, when processing this loss over lunch. To paraphrase, my friend said, “You know, in some way, I think that some of us have control over when we leave.” Another friend, in response, shared an account of an elder family member, whose birthday was in early December, wanted to live to age 105. He was able to celebrate this milestone and then quietly passed away a couple of weeks later on Christmas Eve. And somehow, this made sense to me and helped me to find some perspective, as I reflected on my last experiences of all of these individuals in my December programs.

And then…Groundhog Day 2015. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. And despite the grayness of January, I think about how appropriate last week’s inspirational quote was. Though we’re in the doldrums of winter – the part of the season that we just can’t wait to be over – we still have something to look forward to, whether it’s the inevitable change to the spring season, the next holiday on the horizon, or, more simply, the beautiful pansies in bloom, with interplanted daffodil foliage sprouting, just outside my window. And suddenly, I was inspired.

Jan2015 115I recalled how a staffperson attending the session that day wrote a message on the flower pot – the Walt Whitman quote above. We had planted an extra amaryllis bulb in a pot for another client who was grieving the loss of our friend and couldn’t make it to our program that day. Though the session was about resolutions and things to look forward to at the start of 2015, it was a last minute decision to add chalkboard paint to the rims of the flower pots. I thought it would be cool to have clients write a message about their hopes and dreams for the new year, and then plant an amaryllis bulb. As they watch their amaryllis grow and flourish, they can be inspired. How appropriate! And what a surprising “hort therapy” moment, not just for my clients, but for me too!

Though I mourn the loss of my clients and loved ones, I am remembering the various ways, subtle and “in my face,” that they inspired me to be better and do better work. And I know that there will be random ways in which they still positively pop up in my life.

I now recall another client at another facility saying to me in January, “When you are as old as I am, I hope that someone like you comes to do what you do with you.” Amen.

Reflections on Winter

Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012
Snow angel created by Isabella, December 2012

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

– Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672
British American and Puritan poet
Meditations Divine and Moral (1664)

Primary photo: Spring Snowflake (Leucojum)