I came to forest bathing through a bit of frustration, longing, discontent…and a lot of serendipity. A little over 5 years ago, I found myself at a crossroads: I was within reach of a career achievement I had been working toward for most of a decade, and yet was feeling rather discontent. Instead of the joy and pride I had expected would come with accomplishing this milestone, I felt anxious all the time. My stomach was in knots, I often had trouble sleeping, and in general I felt disconnected – from friends, family and mostly, myself. I had to admit that, even though I had set out on my original journey full of fire and dedication, for years I had been treading a path which brought me little joy. I had changed, but had not allowed myself the grace and compassion to change my plans along with that.
And so began a long process of searching for the missing piece. There is a strange discomfort which comes from knowing somehow that something big and important and beautiful is amiss in your life, and yet not being able to name it. I tried to find the language in various ways and spent many hours digging through clues with helpers as varied as a life coach, astrologer, career counsellor, psychometrist and bodyworker. The search often led me on a circular route back to my childhood days and all the things I wanted to be when I grew up. Many things, so many things which call in childhood, when the world is open and free. Journalist, police woman. But there are a few special ones which captured my imagination for long periods of time, and with a peculiar intensity: Archeologist. Game ranger. Storm chaser.
I was tracking some unknown being through the veld and finding these footprints everywhere.
It dawned on me that much of the disconnect I was feeling stemmed from this fact: all my life I had been a nature child, spending hours outside in my favourite tree, and often feeling closer to the family dog than my two-legged friends. So many of the things I dreamt about as a young girl revolved somehow around being outdoors. And though I spent as much time outside as possible and had always been a keen hiker; there I was spending 8 hours or more per day indoors, in front of a computer screen. In particular, I could not shake the image of game ranger from my imagination. There was something almost archetypal about the picture of me taking a group of people out into nature, and it kept calling to me. I spent hours researching training options and figuring out ways in which to start making a shift.
Then, unexpectedly in January 2016 I read this excerpt from that month’s National Geographic, which focused on the issue “Why we need wild”:
“At the Saneum Healing Forest, east of Seoul, a ‘health ranger’ offers me elm bark tea, then takes me on a hike along a small creek, through shimmering red maples, oaks, and pine-nut trees. It’s autumn, and the changing foliage and crisp air have lured scores of urban refugees to the woods.”
Upon reading the term “health ranger”, something inside of me raised a hand. I immediately started researching in order to find out more about these health rangers, and the practice of shinrin-yoku specifically. It is during this search that I discovered the ANFT and decided to join a walk with one of their certified guides. After that experience, I returned with an ineffable knowing in my gut. A seed had been planted. Throughout the next few years, I kept watering the seed and going out to nature to seek my answers. Finally, in 2019, I took the leap and underwent guide training with the ANFT.
It is in the few weeks before I started my training that Aardwolf first appeared to me in a dream.
At the time, I was living in a very rural area where I often had the good fortune of encountering beings such as steenbok, warthog and mongoose. One night, I had a particularly vivid dream that I was standing at my bedroom window looking out at the veld, when what appeared to be a leopard came loping into view. It had the distinctive two-colour pattern of a leopard, but in the way that it moved it reminded strongly of a hyena. A few weeks later I had another, similarly vivid dream. In this dream, I was walking in the veld following a set of tracks, not knowing yet who I was looking for. Then, I came across a paw that was definitely canine rather than feline, and a piece of fur which allowed me to see more clearly that the being I was tracking did indeed have orange/brown and black markings, but the black was striped across the fur, and not the dots of the leopard I first thought I had seen.
The very next day, at dusk, I had just returned from a walk in the veld when I happened to glance out of my window and saw, etched against the setting sun, Aardwolf loping across the grass. I instantly knew that this was who I had been tracking in my dreams these past few weeks: the distinctly hyena-like movement, with the black stripes across her fur. The moment took my breath away. I had encountered many other beings in that place, but that was the first time I had seen an aardwolf there. After that, Aardwolf made another few appearances in the veld near my house, but I never saw her again after completing my ANFT training.
And this is how Aardwolf Nature Connection got its name. For me, the Aardwolf has come to symbolise the inward journey I have been on with forest bathing, and which I hope to support and guide others on:
Slowly and patiently sniffing out the clues and following the tracks of what it is your heart is looking for until – thankfully! – you see the answer etched against the light of one unexpected golden evening.