October 1, 2019
I have been guiding Forest Therapy Walks at The Morton Arboretum since 2015. During my training to become a Forest Therapy Guide, we were encouraged to find a favorite tree and sit with it for a bit, like it was a friend. By using all of our senses, we learned to notice our tree and to just take in what the tree may have to offer us.
Finding my favorite tree was easy. I have been a trail patrol volunteer at The Morton Arboretum for the past ten years, and on my patrol shifts I have always been drawn to one special tree. Here is my tree story:
I arrive at the Schulenberg Prairie trail and there she is, a grandmother Bur Oak in the distance. She seems to pull me forward along the trail like a beacon marking my destination.
I always feel so welcome and safe beneath her branches. I heed the warning to stay on the trail, so as to not trample her precious roots below. A good rule to observe, but I know that she is remarkably resilient. She has stood her ground for many years, through storms and prairie fires. She is still standing strong.
She has reproduced prolifically. Many of her offspring are growing sturdily around her. She reminds me of the importance and preciousness of family. I have heard that trees are interconnected by their root systems. They use their root systems to actually communicate and support each other in times of need. This applies to our human families, as well.
She and her offspring are rooted in one place. From their vantage point they simply watch the changing seasons and dynamic life going on around them. We humans, on the other hand, are on the move, changing locations and always adapting to the changing seasons and weather. We all find our own ways to endure.
Oaks are a keystone species in Illinois. They are host to at least 500 species of birds, mammals and insects. I enjoy seeing so many natural beings enjoying the safety of Grandmother Bur Oak’s branches. Together we all weave a web of community.
I always feel a bit melancholy and introspective as I turn to leave my favorite tree, but I must be off to continue my own journey. I consider all of the nonverbal insights that Grandmother Oak shared with me. These insights make me wonder about ways that I can support the needs of my family and weave a web of community in my life. They make me contemplate how to best serve my community, my ecosystem, and my planet.
Brenda Spitzer is a certified forest therapy guide at The Morton Arboretum. You can join her for a meditative forest therapy walk experience. Photography credit to Lara Benefield.