In the late 70s, my husband and I bought some land in the mountains of northwest Montana. We built a cozy little log house on our 20-acre “homestead.” We lived off grid, heated the house with wood, and hauled water in buckets from a nearby creek for drinking, cooking and washing. This was home for a dozen years and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything in the world. I loved living close to the land.
“The cabin,” as we began to call it, became our go to place after moving to the Flathead Valley. I don’t recall the first time saying, “Thanks cabin,” after spending a few days there. Goodbyes and gratitude to the cabin and the woods eventually expanded. “Thanks cabin, see you next time. Thanks, trees. Thanks, gray jays. Thanks, deer.” Offering thanks at the end of each stay made me feel even more connected to the more-than-human-world. The appreciation habit followed me to other places, too.
Several years ago, while working as a field instructor in Glacier National Park for an educational travel company, I unabashedly thanked many of the beings – mountains, lakes, bears, moose, forests, and flowers. After several days of hiking with people on a week-long tour, one of the guests came up to me. “I like that you thank everything,” she said. “I think it’s really beautiful and it’s something I’m going to start doing.” I don’t remember my response, although I probably thanked her for sharing with me. It wasn’t until that moment, that I realized thanking the tree beings, animal beings and other beings was something that came from deep within me. I hadn’t thought about human beings listening to my simple gratitude to other beings.
Acknowledging the more-than-human-world can be done anywhere. There’s no set way to do it. As part of my forest bathing practice, I go for walks along the creek in the backyard. I make it a point to stop and admire the beings around me. “Hello spruce. Hi aspens. Good morning big Doug-fir and big birch. Hi willows and cottonwoods.” I talk to magpies flying by and the fish darting back and forth in deep pools in the creek. Greeting the beings feels right. It’s authentic. It’s me.
Today, the clouds stayed low and heavy until nearly two o’clock when a breeze began to stir them around. My pup and I were on a walk when the sun suddenly broke through. We stood and watched as mountain tops appeared, and high overcast and wispy clouds gave way to bluebird skies. It was magical to observe these rapid changes. “Thanks,” I said. “So nice to see you all again.”
“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world,
receiving gifts with open eyes and open heart.”
~Robin Wall Kimmerer
Have you greeted a tree today?
- There are many ways to acknowledge the beings around you. Start small. Start close to home. Go outside (or look out a window with a view). Take some breaths, just normal breaths . . . . . . look up . . . . . . look down . . . . . . look all around . . . . . . what are you noticing?
- You don’t need to know what tree you’re looking at or which bird is singing in order to offer thanks. You don’t need to know a flower’s name in order to acknowledge it. The fact that you’re noticing is where you begin.
- Some people feel uncomfortable or silly talking to trees. You don’t need to say a thing. It’s fine to share your thoughts silently.
- The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with greeting the trees or other beings. In getting to know them, they’re also getting to know you. Over time, if you listen with all your senses, what might they offer?