Updated: Dec 1, 2022
In Nature, disability is merely a social construction and using silence in Forest Therapy can help us look deep inside ourselves, past our imperfections and just be
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR ASSOCIATION OF NATURE AND FOREST THERAPY- www.anft.earth
by Summer Crider and Madison Traviss
“Silence alone is comfortable. Silence in a group is uncomfortable…at first.” —Madison Traviss, from partnership walk with Deaf guide, Summer Crider.
A Little Background…. Nomadic Forest Therapy Guides Meet:
Summer and Madison met at their ANFT In-Person Immersion 6 months ago, and found that they both were living the nomadic life — Madison being a trail hiker and Summer being a “nomad” migrating from place to place. They both also have their own business and found themselves wondering how to run a guiding business while constantly being on the move.
During their immersion training, trainers Jackie Kuang and Ben Page, shared something that stuck with them pertaining to the business aspect of Forest and Nature Therapy: The importance of partnership guiding to support each other's business. “Doing partnership guiding helps us grow on a personal level and on a business level — you learn to guide with other perspectives and with other skills other than your own, and you bring your network (community web) together to bring awareness”.
Being “nomads” living a transition lifestyle on their Skoolies (school bus conversions), Summer who is deaf, and Madison who is hearing, non-signer, kept in contact — meeting on Zoom where their ideas kept bursting! Summer joined Madison’s virtual Embodiment Session and Summer taught Madison sign language through MarcoPolo, a video text app. They eventually decided to meet up (with their Skoolies) in Florida, on the indigenous land of Timucua where Summer’s family resides, and after 2 months — living, working, and taking slow walks with the land, they finally hosted an in-person partnered “Silent Walk”.
Here is a summary of both of their perspectives doing partnership guiding and how they navigated their edges within a sound-less, silent guiding experience:
At the beginning of the year, I launched an embodiment course with the goal to incorporate approachable forest bathing principles in daily life with weekly virtual check-ins. As a way to launch, I hosted a giveaway and randomly selected names. One of them being my dear friend and fellow guide Summer Crider who is Deaf. They were enthusiastic but we instinctively thought, oh shit we need an interpreter for us. After a pause, we asked ourselves, how can we all benefit from silence? We agreed to stretch the common edge and the discomfort felt for ourselves in different ways. My edge was/is not talking, to create a space for others when I was/am also experiencing discomfort. For them, it was being silent and sharing amongst hearing, non-signing people, afraid of the potential discomfort others might feel. At first, we were both skeptical, unsure how it would be perceived. For myself and participants, these weekly check-ins became a breath of fresh air. To join a video call and not instantly hear noise. To be virtual but not feel obligated to fill silence with words. To feel the discomfort and instantly bond laughing at our awkward instincts trying to translate our brain to our bodies. Participants, most of whom practiced mindfulness in their own ways, had this realization about the disconnection in expression they felt in silence. This is why I will continue to incorporate silence in my practice moving forward for reasons shared in the testimonials below:
“Holy moly, Madison! That was so powerful. Thank you for cultivating such a beautiful environment. I found the silence really helped me focus inward on what I needed to be present in that moment & created a really special environment to learn about the others. Really looking forward to having more of those!” —participant
“There’s power in silence and I have felt that but nothing like what I felt today and you’re a huge part of that.” —participant
This all took a different shape when we were in person and planning our co-guiding idea together. For us, it was important to revisit our edges, how to address those in the walk, and allow for spontaneity in the moment. We broke down parts of the walk not necessarily to have precision but to account for biases and discuss how ideas were presented. An example of this was when I had the idea to place our voices in a box at the edge of the woods, where the concrete pavement ends which we were both excited about. However, the edge that arose for Summer was how to give voices back, this idea to “sip the tea to retrieve our voices” came across as an elixir, a cure that didn’t sit right because it perpetuates the idea that deafness is a “Hearing Loss” rather than a “Deaf Gain”. So, we had to adapt from “Little Mermaid” and become more of a wood nymph understanding the potency of silence. Guiding without a voice was/is uncomfortable but through the expressive storytelling Summer provides, it becomes accessible in groups for the non-signing community.
While formulating ideas for silent Walks, Madison and I worked together on how to design a silent partnership walk for 6 participants, who all were hearing and able-bodied. Although I have been Deaf most of my life and have the ability to guide using my deaf voice, it is definitely an edge for me. Navigating through those miserable teenage years being the only deaf student in my school, those endless speech therapy sessions trying to “perfect” my voice, and still missing out on a huge part of my social life. It wasn’t until I discovered others like me in the Deaf community at age 15 that I learned being Deaf was a cultural and linguistic identity, not a deficit.
Forest Therapy also allowed me to embrace my identity as a deaf human being, because Nature does not judge. Disability is a social construct, a product of the “tamed world”. I felt instantly accepted by my “Forest Family” and safe to be able to be fully myself and to ask for accommodations without the feeling of shame or guilt.
I proposed doing the “Silent Walks” idea because I wanted to guide without the feeling of missing out during spoken conversations. Additionally, I wanted to share the gifts that come from navigating the world as a Deaf human being, sharing the “Deaf Gain”. I was thrilled to be exercising my creativity dealing with silence by modeling, gesturing, writing prompts, and simple body language. And all of my “fears” and edges melted away as the sounds of silence blanketed and soothed us.
What I have learned from “pushing” through my fears of guiding in silence, is that I’ve discovered gifts from it. I’ve listed the lessons below:
Why Silent Walks?
Because why not?
Because you get to experience a little bit of discomfort, and that’s ok.
Because you get to have an experience without access to your “primary” language of communication.
Because the world needs more quiet. :)
Why do more Partnership walks?
Because why not?
Because you get to create space for your edges and grow with them.
Because you get to expand your relationships with like-spirited individuals.
Because this work isn’t an island, it is a web.
Reaching out to Madison
Madison is a certified guide and author whose offerings can be found on the ANFT website or madisontraviss.com. She also works full time as Director of Stewardship and Partnerships at Friends of the Bridger-Teton. Check out her works at: www.madisontraviss.com
Reaching out to Summer
Summer is a certified guide, teacher, and business owner of The Giving Cypress. If you are interested in trying silent Nature and Forest Therapy or if you are a guide wanting to partner, The Giving Cypress is offering guided walks in select cities across the Nation for the remainder of the year. Check out their website at www.thegivingcypress.com/tour