Meadow at Hebert Arboretum, Pittsfield MA, one site in my Forest Therapy Guide Training.
In late May, I experienced the first part of my Forest Therapy Guide training: seven cold but beautiful days in western Massachusetts woods, gardens, and farms.
Initially, I had a hard time settling in. I was distracted by calls from my regular life and then my A-Plus Student thoughts barged in.
I knew enough to confess at the start, so in our opening circle I stepped forward.
“I don’t feel like I’ve mentally landed here yet. One of my big challenges is to overcome perfectionism. Please help me make mistakes. I know life is about falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up, and I am still scared of both of those.”
Later, one of my fellow trainees, Stana, wrote on rocks for each of us. She gifted me with the message Perfectly Imperfect.
One of the deep and unexpected pleasures of that week was to experience the outdoors like a little kid.
—I “broke the rules” (whose rules? I ask now) when I took off my shoes and squished my toes into a huge patch of shiny green moss.
—Then I floated my feet in the cold early spring water of a mountain stream.
—Doing that, I splattered sticky mud all over myself and then wiped my numb feet dry on my pants. On my pants!
—I got amazed all over again by the shape of leaves, the sparkle of seeds flying, and the glow of dandelions in a meadow. I poked out my tongue to taste the wind.
—I let myself touch trees and sit quietly for long periods of time.
To see leaves from a different angle, differently lit.
When I returned home, I felt full, maybe overfull—not just of natural connections but also because I’d met and deeply interacted with almost twenty new people.
My apartment door opened onto piles of winter clothes to be put away and a layer of dust on everything. The workload of the six-month certification process multiplied then roiled in my imagination like a thunderhead, and finally, a brand new part-time job started, which would squeeze twenty hours a week out of my already constricted calendar. My thoughts turned dark.
Of course, life always changes and gives us experiences; some times are simply a bit more intense. So I kept returning to that yoga mind to observe, ask what does it feel like? and not attach future-meaning to anything.
Landing back home was bumpier than landing in Massachusetts.
Luckily the forest—and my hiking buddy C—called. We were weeks overdue for an outing.
Partridge Run was our destination. “I wonder how the ponds are?” C asked, after a quick hug hello.
Spring ferns unfurled–just enough for that quick hug!
We started out on one path and ran into the same damned poison ivy we’d seen the first time we’d spring-hiked it. We backed out carefully, as if the reddening leaves might rear up and attack us, and chose another route.
We wandered the edge of Hidden Pond, where algae bubbled. Tiny azure flowers winked at us—-it was birds-eye speedwell (common field veronica) dotting the grass along with dandelions.
Birds-eye speedwell and dandelions, Partridge Run, Berne NY.
I was busy with the flowers and what floats in late spring water, when she hollered, “Look! Look! A dragonfly! And I think it is brand new!” I looked over and the creature was so recently emerged that it was still drying, still unfolding.
Iridescence of appendages new to the air.
The wings were like stained glass panes, but clear, and bent-angled as they opened to flatten as we watched. You could see how the wings had folded into that tiny grasshopper-shaped exoskeleton—and how they expanded now.
I’m no entomologist, but thanks to internet image collections, I’d identified these brown casts—the exuviae—in my photos before.
What is left behind.
I knew to look for the white threads that had until recently been attached to the digestive organs. Sure enough, just under our glorious new orange dragonfly was the dry discarded shell it seemed to have come from. After taking many pictures, I moved the grass back to partially cover the dragonfly; we didn’t want it eaten by predators because of us.
Right away I started studying the pond edge. “I want to find one, too!”—but instead saw a second exuviae. Then a third, and fourth.
Finally, dozens of exuviae were revealed, but no live dragonfly.
“Our buddy seems to be a late bloomer,” C commented. I’d been seeing dragonflies all morning along the ponds and paths, and now realized where they had probably come from.
As I wandered farther away from C’s initial find, I couldn’t help smiling over the sloughed off insect larvae skins, and my inability to find anything else. However, I continued to seriously search.
C called me over: “More! more!” She was practically jumping up and down.
In that moment, there was no chaotic apartment pulling at me, no fighting A-plus student worry about studies to come. I found myself bounding like I was five or eight, like myself.
My pack thumped my back, and swung back and forth, as my excited legs pumped me over.
To ask, “What? Let me see!” To hear my pal thrill and laugh. To joyously kneel down and then slow my breathing. To find a smaller, multicolored dragonfly uncurling wings, its slightly furry body moving in the novel light.
See the unfurling, straightening, bent wings?
I didn’t have to find the sparkling insect. My friend did. In fact, I am now calling C “the dragonfly whisperer,” to let go of my need to be the one in charge. I can experience and be grateful, let go of distractions and anxieties, and trust that all will be well.
I am starting to land again. As I do, let me be perfectly imperfect, a late bloomer.
Let me be an end-of-May dragonfly.
Another fine gift of that May morning: the first scarlet tanager I’ve ever seen in the woods.