The property was overgrown, unkept, and tired. I sensed a feeling of suffering from one too many owners who cut into the Earth to create a landscaping feature, yet were unable to care for the growth and contractions of sloping land in the Vermont mountains. I wandered among the old berry bushes and fruit trees, feeling a sadness from the land, only half listening to the realtors as they shared information from the listing sheet on the seven acres of forest land, with a sturdy Colonial house plopped at the entrance.
I walked past a pond and into the woods, noticing tangles of fallen trees, especially where the stream diverged from any flow. The water seemed to disperse broadly, spreading downward, a wake of uprooted and wind shattered trees both hanging in mid air and piled upon one another over the forest floor. I was overcome by a sense of both belonging and longing, as the trees spoke to me in a loud chorus of voices.
“Come take care of us,” they cried. “We have been calling you to us.” The forest has always been a sacred place for me and I have had many conversations with spirits amongst the trees, so while I was not startled, I was taken in by the collective intensity within such a short time of being beneath the full canopy of the trees.
My partner and I moved in, celebrating our first mortgage and the reckoning that comes with the financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual commitments of stewarding land. We listened to the land as it guided us to untangle the fallen trees and begin to regenerate the forest floor. We tended the gardens; weaving in our knowledge of biodiversity, natural planting, and replanting pollinator and native species. We emphasized protecting the source water; clearing farming debris and reshaping the stream by opening up the flow through the forest and trying to reshape the damage from some of the erosion. Five years passed and we began to see moss covering more of the forest floor; a variety of mushrooms and lichens growing where they hadn’t before.
We were able to create some space for the trees to breathe, finally able to keep up with winter blow downs and selectively harvesting our own firewood. Sacred spaces began to call themselves in to be revealed; and with our hands we uncovered new springs, cleared debris from rocks and boulders, and unearthed a fire circle.
The Reciprocity of Healing with the Land
It was then I was diagnosed with cancer, falling deep into my own unearthed narrative of trauma that gave way to transformation. In my darkest hours, when questions of living were the voices in my head, the trees called me to them. I began to awaken to the well of feminine intuition that had been buried under a career of disconnection to the land; a career focused on the sustainable economic development of the working landscape, yet devoid of the relationship to the land.
I spent hours and days laying on the moss, being held by tree trunks, crying into the shadows of the fallen trees as they composted into the Earth. I envisioned cancer leaving my body and returning to the Earth just like the rotting wood of trees. I imagined the emotional trauma and cancer of my spirit being composted into moss as I created somatic practices to encourage release under the canopy of trees.
As I navigated both conventional and holistic medicine in a profound journey of healing, my relationship with the land deepened. My partner and I transitioned the vegetable garden into a medicine garden, growing specific foods and herbs to support treating the root causes of dis-ease in my body. We began to plant native medicines for our climate and learned more about identifying and nurturing the wild medicines on the land.
Conversations with the trees expanded to recognize the original ancestors of the land, and we began to acknowledge the reckoning of truth and reparations, living on the unceded homeland of the Abenaki First Nation peoples. As my healing continued and I grew stronger, I gathered my personal and professional gifts, infused them with the unlearning and relearning of perspective change, and refocused my energy into the intersectionality of healing and social justice.
At the same time, the collective voice from the woods grew as intense as it was when we first visited the land. “Bring people to this land to heal.”
Sharing the Gifts of the Trees
The connection between my healing and the land was apparent to me soon after I was called into the woods on one of my darkest days of despair. The reciprocity between healing the land and the land healing me is a powerful magic that helped me reclaim the very essence of the power I had so readily given away for years. This magic was asking to be shared. Having provided us with a healing sanctuary to awaken our magic, heal our spirits, and re-connect our souls to their journeys, we named the land the Forest Magic Healing Sanctuary.
With cancer finally behind us, my partner and I were ready to hold space for people on the land. COVID also arrived in our lives and we started holding physically distanced workshops and invitations for people to visit the sanctuary for meditation and reflection. We advertised on social media and strangers from across Vermont responded, trusting nothing more than an ad and being guided by a strong sense of intuition to join us under the trees and receive the gifts of the healing sanctuary.
We facilitate events and circles drawing from our own personal transformation experiences on the land and healing modalities I learned and trained in while navigating cancer. We are holding online circles this winter, where we include guided meditations and journeys on the land, and will hold more in person events and circles as the weather warms.
We keep the focus of workshops simple, with plenty of space to listen, share, and be present. Practices to connect with the trees and plants are always included as ways for people to learn to tap into their intuition as a guide for building a mind, body, spirit connection. We want to help people realize how, as they grow their own commitments to healing, their relationship to the Earth is synchronous with their relationship to self, and the relationship to self directly influences the ability to heal.
The gentle and compassionate approach we take holds space for entry points into social justice, and we weave our shared commitments to race, gender, and class equity into our offerings. We prioritize accessibility over profit, practice safer space facilitation, bring awareness to cultural appropriation, and acknowledge the original ancestors of the land and share how we engage in reparations. We are active in social justice movements, sharing our own stories to challenge dominant society assumptions, which ripple into different perspectives for people to consider. We provide explicit context to the relationship between individual and cultural healing; linking the direct correlations while also recognizing each person is on a different path and it is not for us to judge, shame, or blame.
As more people find connection with Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary (previously called the Forest Magic Healing Sanctuary), we encourage the empowering ways holistic healing of dis-ease, personal and ancestral trauma directly ripples into healing the land and the harmful culture of dominant society. The trees called us here for reciprocal healing and our commitment to being land stewards now extends to supporting people on individual paths of healing and growing shared commitments to co-create a more just, inclusive, and compassionate society. As we heal ourselves, we transform our culture to one of love, hope, dignity, and respect for us all, with integrity to our relationship with the soil, water, and air that give us life; with much love for our dear friends—the plants and trees.
This article was originally published for United Plant Savers.
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