An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Grief. That’s what happens.

Yesterday was Day 1 of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s Executive Order to stay at home, and included in that order was the closure of all city parks; the celebrated Chattanooga Riverwalk; park trails at Stringer’s Ridge and Greenway Farms; and a symbol of the Chattanooga Renaissance, the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. The city doesn’t manage all public land around Chattanooga, but in short order, the National Park System shut down all Lookout Mountain Trails within the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield Park Land; the Tennessee State Park System shut down all TN state parks, including the popular Cumberland Trail System running from Chattanooga to the Kentucky border; the Prentice Cooper TN Wildlife Management Area closed access to its trails; the Cherokee National Forest closed campgrounds; TVA closed boat ramps and shut-down paddling the Ocoee River; the Tennessee River Gorge Land Trust closed its trails; and Lula Lake Land Trust closed its open gate days even to its annual members, mostly to protect staff who work the gate. My two friends and I, who are all self-employed health professionals who have been either closed completely by executive orders or been driven to only virtual telehealth sessions, have been keeping up our mental health by meeting 2-3 times a week for a walk along different trails around Chattanooga. Yesterday, with the closures happening so fast we couldn’t keep up, we went from one parking area to another, only to find all trails were closed. We settled for standing 6 feet apart along the road by Suck Creek to process what was happening to our lives.

6-foot distancing.

Just the day before, people were allowed to use those trail systems in accordance with 6-foot social distancing guidelines. With the closure of restaurants, bars, festivals and events, for weeks the only thing left to do was to walk, run, bike, climb, paddle or fish. And for Chattanoogans, the love for those activities and the many ways in which to enjoy them in their city, is what makes Chattanooga the twice-voted #BestOutdoorTown EVER. Now, they’re indoors.

March 17, 2020 in Coolidge Park looking at Walnut Street Bridge.

Over the last three weeks a walk on the iconic Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, where it’s always uplifting to see the diversity of the Scenic City’s families enjoying a stroll over the TN River, became a deeper unifying experience, quelling fear while bridging communities within Chattanooga. One of the best symbols of Chattanooga’s Renaissance and its return to the river is closed.

While the spring ephemeral wildflowers have been in full bloom–during what is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest springs we’ve had in a while–residents took to the trails, making them more heavily traveled than I’ve ever seen. Kids of all ages were with their parents splashing in streams, climbing over rocks, looking at flowers. It made Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, which claims that children are suffering from nature deficit disorder, look like a concern of the past no longer pertinent to today’s kids. Since most of their schooling has gone virtual on screens, kids have finally been excited to be away from their devices and screens. But since now they’re confined to their yard or the streets, they’ll likely go back to their devices.

We had a brief moment of something a little better than normal. Even when we were facing financial distress, doing what Chattanoogans do in full force, getting outside, was glorious. One thing we are collectively experiencing is a new appreciation of what we value as it’s taken away from us: our places of worship, whether they be churches, synagogues, mosques, yoga studios or nature. Being in nature during the blooming of the spring ephemeral wildflowers is a sacred annual celebration of new life that occurs with Easter. We will find a way to be alive before we’re dead.

I write this knowing the threat of the virus is real. While I have been writing, New York is having a great struggle to deal with the coronavirus. It is serious. We do need to be cautious, to practice physical distancing, etc. Closing our trails is taking it too far. Gov. Bill Lee of TN in his Executive Orders 22 and 23, require people to stay at home unless they are occupied in essential activities.

Those activities deemed essential include–from his pdf of Executive Order 22– d. Engaging in outdoor activity, provided that persons (follow) the Health Guidelines to the greatest extent practicable, including, but not limited to, driving or riding in a vehicle, walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, golf, tennis, or other sports or recreational activities that can be performed while maintaining the aforementioned precautions or utilizing public parks and outdoor recreation areas; provided, however, that congregating or playing on playgrounds presents a unique risk for the spread of COVID-19 and is therefore not covered as an Essential Activity. To see the full E.O. 22 or E.O. 23.

Walking the Walnut Street Bridge March 17, 2020. Week 1 of schools being closed.

It is now April 8th, and, as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen clients for 3 days, Monday through Wednesday, after the first weekend of the closure of parks, trails and greenways. Social isolation exacerbates symptoms of despair, hopelessness, loneliness and anxiety on an average day. During a pandemic, when social isolation is mandated, symptoms worsen, and access to nature trails and safe outdoor exercise is needed more than ever. Repeated by my clients is that they were coping pretty well with the social distancing and being out of work until the closure of their favorite trail. By closing parks and trails, are we doing more harm than good?

An aside beyond the scope of this article, but worth reminding people is: the goal is to slow the spread of the virus. It is not only unrealistic to stop the spread, it isn’t wise practice. We will need to have a long, slow exposure to the virus to build antibodies until the vaccine is available. We need to continue to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more when the virus can spread from 1:10 at once, thereby avoiding spreading it exponentially. But we can do physical distancing one on one, or groups of two or three, and maintain a slow spread while continuing to live. And if we can maintain our physical distance on a trail, by a waterfall, in a boat, with a fishing rod, climbing Lookout Mountain bluffs, riding along the Riverwalk to finally cross over Walnut Street Bridge, then we will be living through this pandemic well as Chattanoogans.

 

At Lula Lake Land Trust waterfall, Feb 1, 2020.

Neighbors,

Though the spring ephemerals are blooming, I’m going to cancel the March hike tomorrow, but still continue to keep the April Guild Trail and May Glenn Falls Trail hikes on the schedule. It’s possible that I’ll continue offering them throughout the year on those two trails. Hopefully…

On the one hand, being outside is great for our health: we can practice social distancing and learn about what is edible and what can keep us healthy. On the other hand, it’s possible that when stopping to talk about the plants, we might create a situation where we’re closer than is advisable right now.

I personally have been out walking a lot. Many spring ephemerals are blooming along the Guild Trail going through the woods from the Ruby Falls parking lot, such as toothwort, rue anemone, hepatica, and trillium, and the blooming will continue with other later bloomers like stoneroot, Spigelia, skullcap, and black cohosh.

I hope to see you on the trail. And if you’re curious about plants, you can go to my blog.

Be well,

Holli

Lookout Mountain Conservancy purchased from a developer around 60 acres on the side of Lookout Mountain, which included an informal trail to Glenn Falls, and now it’s protected for generations to enjoy and appreciate. Plus, from the perspective of the creatures who have no voice, this purchase protects the habitat for the many spring ephemeral wildflowers on these trails, and the really special spring migratory birds who come through in April and May, and all the other creatures who live there. Not to mention the steep slope protection that will maintain the integrity of the hillsides.

To show my deep gratitude, and to provide a way for others to show how grateful they are to LMC, I’m leading a Spring series of wildflower/medicinal plant ID walks. My hope is that these walks will also help anyone who is interested in learning the plants in their neighborhood to appreciate this great gift even more.

We might be able to make this a Citizen Science, iNaturalist thing, too, with documenting the species we see. Any advice on that is welcome.

Suggested donation is $10-20, or more!, and all of it goes to Lookout Mtn Conservancy. Lookout Mountain Conservancy doesn’t just protect land, they grow people. If you’re not familiar with what the organization does, read about them on their website.

Hope to see you on the trail!

3 Spring Walks, come to one or all:
Sunday, March 22nd at 2pm, meet at Glenn Falls Trailhead
Friday, April 17th at 10am, meet at Guild Trail Lot Trailhead
Sunday, May 10th at 2pm, meet at Glenn Falls Trailhead

Self-Acceptance Retreat, April 6-7, Johnson Woods Lodge in McDonald, TN near Cleveland. An overnight, nature-based retreat for women who have survived trauma, led by Holli Richey and Bonnie Cretton. Bonnie is the founder of Woodsong Forest School. Experiences include, Forest Bathing (mindful walk in nature opening senses to nature’s elements to calm and soothe our mind and body), gentle yoga, herbal identification walks, herbal tea blends, meditation. Meals are included. Lodge setting, but must bring linens, yoga mat, comfortable outdoor clothing. Space is limited. Register with Holli by March 25th, 423-240-4578.

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Edible stonecrop and violets.

May 20th, 9:30-12:30. Rising Fawn Gardens–Herbs of the Southern Forest. Herbal identification and medicine making. Register with RisingFawnGardens.com.

June 2nd, Forest Bathing with Crabtree Farms, on the Guild-Hardy Trail. (NOTE: This is NOT at Crabtree Farms. Location below.) Experience the life-changing practice of mindfulness in nature. Be present with the body and senses. Gain skills in how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings to reduce stress and anxiety. Forest Bathing, also called Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the rich sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. The body and mind “bathes” in the smells, sounds, light, movement, taste and feel of the forest. Research in Japan is providing evidence of what nature-lovers have intuitively known for years: that reconnecting to the forest will heal us. Studies show, specifically, that intentional forest walking elevates the mood, reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, boosts the immune system, and reduces the heart rate.

Location: Guild-Hardy Trail at Lookout Mountain Conservancy–410 Ochs Hwy, Chattanooga, TN 3740. (The trail is located at the northern end of Lookout Mountain within the Chattanooga city limits. Parking in the far west end (gravel) lot at Ruby Falls.)

October 25-27, American Herbalist Guild 29th Annual Symposium. The symposium focus is on Bioregional Herbalism. I will be presenting on Herbs for Traumatic Stress and leading a Mindful Forest Bathing walk at the beautiful Unicoi State Park in the North Georgia Mountains. Register with AHG.

Early registration ends Friday, December 15th.

passionflower

Passionflower helps with stillness of mind.

One of the most fun and fascinating weekends set for 2018 is the Mid-South Women’s Herbal Gathering on Lookout Mountain. Hosted in a beautiful location, many skilled herbalists from the region will share their experience and knowledge of healing with plants.

I will be teaching an intensive on Friday, April 20th from 1-4 on Herbs for Traumatic Stress. As a psychotherapist and herbalist, I have a specialized perspective on using herbal medicines to assist the traumatized body-mind-heart.

Register at Mid-South Women’s Herbal Gathering.

On top of the beautiful Lookout Mountain in Northwest Georgia, we will be gathering for a wonderful herbal experience this September. I will be teaching a class on Herbs for Stress and leading a Forest Bathing experience to calm our nerves and enliven our senses. I’m excited that herbalists Ila Hatter and Lauren Haynes will be leading herb walks and teaching medicine making. You won’t want to miss this herbal gathering for women.

For more information and to register click here for the Into the Wild Herbal Gathering.

 

poppiesThe Art of Botany looks at the cross-pollination of art and plants, uniting artists and naturalists into dialogue. This program will feature three Knoxville-based artists and creatives, Margaret Scanlan, Norman Magden, and David Denton, who collaborated on the multi-media, experiential work, “Poppy Project,” at the Knoxville Botanical Garden in 2016. Local therapist, herbalist, and naturalist Holli Richey will respond to their work, speaking on the cultural use and medical history of poppies. Join us for a fascinating discussion on the generation of creativity by, and healing from, the humble plant.

In partnership with Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga, TN, I will be leading a Forest Bathing experience. Contact (in advance) Crabtree to register.

Forest Bathing, also called Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the rich sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. The body and mind “bathes” in the smells, sounds, light, movement, taste and feel of the forest.

Through mindful experiences such as Forest Bathing, we can be present with the body and senses, simply resting in natural awareness, grounded. We will practice skills in how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings to reduce stress and anxiety.

Research in Japan is providing evidence of what nature-lovers have intuitively known for years: that reconnecting to the forest will heal us. Studies show, specifically, that intentional forest walking elevates the mood, reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, boosts the immune system, and reduces the heart rate.

Experience it for yourself.

Location:  Guild-Hardy Trail at Lookout Mountain Conservancy.  (The trail is located at the northern end of Lookout Mountain within the Chattanooga city limits.  Park in the far west end (gravel) lot at Ruby Falls where we will meet to start our walk.)

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