The James River and its forested banks are one of the most healing spaces that I know. There is a ton of science to back up why our riparian areas are so good at this, but based on the increase in visits to many of our riverside parks over the past year, we obviously don’t need someone to tell us this, we know it in our bones. But how often do we take the time to reciprocate? To show Mother Nature how grateful we are and say ‘thank you’? On a lovely Friday in April, I led a group of students from the Mediating Place class at Virginia Commonwealth University, to explore ways to connect with nature through journaling, a sensory walk, creating mandalas with found objects, and to say thank you to one of their favorite places, Belle Isle in Richmond, by freeing some trees of English Ivy.

Enjoy this reflection from one of the participants and the photos from our journey. I hope you find some time this week to slow down, enjoy some outdoor time, and find your own way to say ‘thank you’ to our trees, the earth, and our water for all the life it gives us! If you want to try out the grounding tree meditation we did for yourself, check out this video!

“The meditation that started us off was important as it ‘landed’ us and set intention. I think it put us in our sensing body and not just on site with other people. We were aware of our own sensations and how things felt. This laid the foundation for the sit spot. It was affirming to see everyone off by themself sitting and writing or drawing; observing and being. In the place, a part of it. They gradually joined back up and we headed to the picnic area to talk in small groups about what we noticed. SO often we visit a park, a place like Belle Isle and we talk, run, bike, watch other people. This purposeful slowing down, sitting and staring at the water, drawing, was truly therapy.

Up on top of the hill we heard the close and loud call of a pileated woodpecker then saw it land on a fallen tree. Big and red-headed! The sound made us gasp as we were quiet and observing and the call was sudden and so wild. A great visitation! It almost seemed to introduce the next ‘mode’ which was attention to sound. There were so many birds calling up in the trees and perhaps we could hear them better being above the river, up on the hill.

My big take-away was how powerful it is to do these exercises together. To connect to the land. To listen. To walk quietly. To build mandalas and speak about them. That was an exercise that I wondered about as everyone there is an artist. I realized it is the intention, the paying attention and letting things guide you, than the making and arranging, and thinking loosely, almost unconsciously, as we process the pieces. We photographed the mandalas. All so different, as we are. No competition or right or wrong, just being there at that time and working with the space. It was much more meditative, meaningful, and fun than I could have imagined. I think a lot of that was because of the individuals in the group and because of Amber’s guidance and spirit.

It felt really great to free a tree from the ivy. There was a moment when I felt the tree became more… present, more confident, more okay. Amber mentioned that experience, laughing, and I concurred saying it was a thing I felt and it was a surprise, a gift. Reciprocal, yes!””

Photo credits to Pam Turner, Justin Hartwell and Chad Mundie.

 Join the James River Park System Invasive Task Force on one of their work days! JRPS Task Force Website