Summer, a nomadic Deaf Forest Therapy guide, is currently traveling on a converted shuttle bus, connecting Humans and Nature while making their way across the country. This article shares the mission of the tour which focuses on making sure Nature Therapy becomes accessible and shares stories of the way of the Deaf Traveling Guide.
On April 16th, I embarked on a year-long cross-country tour in a 24 foot shuttle bus conversion that I named the "Forest Turtle Shuttle". The purpose of this tour is twofold- one, to raise awareness about Nature Connection in the Deaf/ Hard of Hearing/ and Disabled community by offering guided sessions in cities where there is large presence of Deaf folks and second, to recruit and expand opportunities for Deaf and Disabled community to become certified Nature and Forest Therapy guides.
About Deaf Community and Access to Nature Therapy
About 3.6% of the U.S. population, or about 11 million individuals, consider themselves deaf or have serious difficulty hearing. And the population of Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) people is dispersed all over the nation.
Generally Deaf/ HOH people face unique challenges with getting full access to communication in their native language (for most Deaf Americans, that is American Sign Language (ASL), and thus, have fewer opportunities to get the full benefit of Nature and Forest Therapy.
There is a prevalence of Deaf people who struggle with mental health. Statistics show that Deaf people are 3-4 times more likely to have emotional and psychological disorders (like anxiety & depression) compared with their hearing peers, and approximately 40% Deaf people will attempt suicide in their lifetime. Those high numbers can be preventable if we made therapeutic approaches accessible.
Nature Therapy should be accessible to all
I am currently the only Nature and Forest Therapy guide, trained and certified by ANFT, who identifies culturally Deaf and uses sign language to communicate. I hope to change the limited opportunities by opening the doors for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled and people with disabilities to become certified guides.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) believes that the practice of Nature and Forest Therapy is for everyone, and inclusion is essential. ANFT is offering a special cohort of 12 to 15 Deaf and Hard of Hearing participants, provided in American Sign Language, by an experienced ANFT trainer, in collaboration with a certified Deaf Forest Therapy guide (which would be me). Interpreters will be provided to facilitate communication in this cohort. This cohort will begin with an in-person 4-day Immersion and end with an online core guide training for 6 months. This cohort will explore ways to provide full access to communication and resources for healing on different levels, with human participants, other guides, and the More Than Human World.
Exploring the Deaf Gain and Ways of the Silent Guide
This exciting opportunity to gather will also include some innovative ways of incorporating the Deaf perspective into the traditional training programs, such as exploring the meaning of silence, language, embodiment, and acceptance of the diverse ways to be human in the Forest. It is the goal that certified Deaf guides can return to their communities and share the gift with hearing people (both signing and non-signing). We are naming this cohort “Luna Moth” because the majority of Deaf community identifies the Moth as a symbolic animal that represents the Deaf identity, drawn to the light.
To learn more about this cohort or if you know of anyone who is Deaf or communicates primarily in American Sign Language, please do share with them: https://www.natureandforesttherapy.earth/event/luna-moth-for-deaf-hard-of-hearing
Forest Turtle Shuttle
Preparing for this tour was not easy, but I had to trust that with patience and time- the doors of opportunity would open! And it did. For 4 months, I searched for a short bus to travel and comfortable enough to live in. Being a world traveler, I was comfortable with the nomadic life- but I’ve never lived in a moving vehicle for more than several months so that required a lot of preparation. I hired a few friends and family, together we made the bus more liveable and road-ready. I would not have done this without my Forest Family either (who were cheering me over social media, texts, Marco Polos, and video chats).
Amos Clifford and his team at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy were willing to sponsor this trip in exchange for advertising. So we had the organization logo of the leaf and the slogan, “The Forest is the Therapist, the Guide Opens the Doors” , decals placed on the back window of the bus as well as the passenger door! How fitting!
When it was time to hit the road, I was welcomed by my communities along the Atlantic coast and now am heading to the midwest. My favorite moments so far were experiencing slow travel, having the stuffed turtle on the dashboard to remind me to slow down. Cars and trucks would pass by in a rush, but I kept a steady 60mph “turtle pace” on the highway. It is truly wonderful seeing people from my communities entering the converted bus and adding their “touch” in the form of stickers (I collect stickers from Deaf businesses to highlight the #DeafEcosystem.
These stickers are slowly covering the wall above the entrance of my bus.) I also enjoy the challenges of spelling out land acknowledgements on each tribal land I guide on, and encouraging my human participants to do the same. It’s truly an humbling feeling to close our eyes and connect to the spirits of the land that we encounter and share my gratitude and blessings.
Those who sign up for my one-on-one, in-person sessions have the honor of experiencing a special Harvest Tea inside the bus, browsing the collection of books about Nature Therapy, and smelling the cedar wood. In all, this idea of traveling and guiding at the same time really brings out my inner child, filling me up with wonder and excitement of adventures that lie ahead.
We are really looking forward to making the trip across the Great Lakes, the Plains, and up the mountains and deserts through the summer months. We’ll be volunteering at summer camps for Deaf kids and their families. In the Fall, I’ll be making my way down the Pacific Coast and arrive in Arizona in time for the special cohort training.
Since becoming a certified ANFT guide, I work with the forests, and the community in the hopes to introduce different approaches to mental health and healing the earth, collectively. Even though my Forest Therapy guiding business is based in both Florida and Texas, I realize that I cannot physically guide members of the Deaf community across the nation- but I can take this opportunity to “open the doors” so they are aware of the amazing benefits of Nature connection and hopefully have interest in becoming a guide- so they can focus on their local communities.
Some folks may call me ambitious- traveling at a time where diesel gas prices are high and making this occupation as a guide my career focus - but I’ve learned to trust the Forest. I have so much passion for this idea of making pathways and opening doors so Nature can truthfully be accessible to all. It isn’t about the money, like many of the guides, it’s a labor of love.
If you feel compelled to support and have the financial means to do so, please do. The funds will cover sessions that I would offer for underserved and those from low income families, and some will go towards scholarships for the Luna Moth cohort. Heartfelt thanks in advance!
Find Us On The Map!
Curious to learn more about our cross-country tour and the route we plan to wander? Check out this map www.thegivingcypress.com/tour. If you’d like to partner up with me, I welcome it. I’ve done several partnering walks in the past and it’s always so refreshing to get a different perspective- read the blog article I co-authored with Madison Traviss on guiding in silence.
*Touches my heart at a turtle pace*
This tour is sponsored partially by www.anft.earth @natureandforesttherapy
Follow us on social media @thegivingcypress- or on our website: www.thegivingcypress.com/tour