This is a continuation of our Inspired By Nature series, where we highlight Canadians who are dedicated to sharing the health benefits of nature by getting others outside and unplugged. Know someone who we should feature? Email email@example.com.
Meet Jaime of the Forest and the Femme Society
My name is Jaime Adams and I am the founder of Forest and the Femme Society, a non-profit outdoor program for marginalized women who are living in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver. I have also been working as a front-line support worker in the DTES for over 10 years in different transition houses and homeless shelters.
I’m in school as an undergrad. When I’m not at work or in class, I spend every moment possible in the outdoors and love to be hiking, camping and fishing as often as I can. I always feel incredibly grateful for how fortunate I am to be able to access the beautiful places that I do.
I have a lot of anxiety and being around people all the time is very challenging for me. Being in nature all alone clears my head and I can really take care of myself in this way.
I love to go hiking with good friends as well or meeting new people by joining a hiking group like Wanderung. Lately I have been dealing with an injury, so I have been spending more time in more physically accessible places like river valleys and lakes trying to teach myself how to fly fish.
Often, when it comes to deciding where I would like to go visit, one of the most important things to me is how good a place smells: that summer morning lake smell, or the sweet and cinnamon scent of alpine meadows, or hot blueberries in the wind on a sunny mountain slope, and the intoxicating tree pitch smell that fills high elevation forests on a hot day. I crave quiet, glassy lakes in the earliest morning hours and I love to sleep beside mountain streams. These are the things that make me so happy.
Jaime’s favourite outdoor destinations
I spend a lot of time in the Sea to Sky region because there is just so much to explore, and I really appreciate the variety of diverse ecosystems that are found between the Duffey and Vancouver. Garibaldi Park will always be one of my favourite places because the geological history in there is incredible.
I don’t always like doing a lot of driving; to get to nature and to reduce my impact on the environment I find myself exploring the mountains, rivers and old growth forest pockets of the North Shore more and more.
I love the Fisherman’s trail along the Seymour River and finding a little quiet oasis in Capilano Canyon. For a change in direction, a couple of weekends ago I went paddling along Chilliwack Lake on a nice, calm morning and it was stunningly beautiful.
Forest and the Femme
Forest and the Femme is an outdoor recreation program that I developed specifically to connect the city’s most marginalized women with nature. That means that we prioritize women who are living with numerous, intersecting issues such as addictions, trauma, mental health, developmental disabilities, chronic health conditions and abject poverty. Women who have many barriers towards accessing the land independently.
Our activities run from May through to October and we go out numerous times a week. In order to accommodate the women’s needs and to be a trauma-informed experience for them, we do a lot of outings with just a few women, rather than going out in larger groups. This helps the women to feel safe and to get the most out of the natural environment that surrounds us.
We love taking the women on luxurious picnics in beautiful locations, which are the most accessible outings to women of all abilities, and we also do hiking, camping, kayaking and land-based learning. We visit regional parks and urban green spaces like Trout Lake and Deer Lake or we head to the Howe Sound and Squamish area, out into the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. We love car camping with campfires in provincial park campgrounds.
We’ve done overnight hikes to Joffre Lakes Park, Garibaldi Park and Juan de Fuca Park. We’ve explored the caves of Horne Lake Caves Park, we’ve searched for crystals near Whistler, been horseback riding along the Cheekeye River and visited Sombrio Beach’s secret and sacred waterfall. Most of our favourite places are actually quite close to the city and we have little spots along the rivers of the North Shore mountains that we visit a lot.
We love to learn about the plants and places that we visit and often have knowledge sharers who teach us about plant medicines and traditional foods. All of the places that we visit are in the traditional territories of First Nations peoples and we deeply value and respect learning about the land from women who teach us. I really believe that the more we all learn about the traditions and stories of the lands that we visit, the more we grow to respect those lands and all the life that they hold.
The idea of starting Forest and the Femme came to me in 2011 and was prompted in a couple of ways, unfortunately through witnessing women suffering in the community. When I was working as a case manager in a women’s transitional house, I was discovering that there were no resources available for that demographic if they wanted to be able to get out of the DTES. It truly felt like the women were trapped when they started looking for options for themselves outside of that 10-block radius.
I was really struggling with anxiety, grief and trauma and totally burning out at work because of the systemic issues of oppression that the women face every day. I found myself heading to nature more and more to be able to manage my escalating symptoms and sustain myself.
My own experiences of accessing the outdoors and the healing, resilience and coping strategies that I found for myself there inspired me to start Forest and the Femme. I knew that being in nature and finding strength and courage from the places that I was accessing was a powerful gift and I wanted to be able to bring those opportunities to women in the community who don’t have that access.
I know for sure that when we are connecting women with the land, we are promoting healing and a sense of empowerment, ability and confidence that transfers into all areas of the women’s lives.
There are just so many stories that I could tell here. We have so much fun exploring nature. When I think back on 8 years of programming though, what sticks out the most is just how much the women have found strength and courage through being in nature. They challenge themselves, take on fears and phobias, and really create new narratives for themselves. We watch as these progressions occur either over a season or over the years and it’s so remarkable to witness.
Many of the participants are now in leadership positions with Forest and the Femme and it’s the power of nature that supported that shift. One participant who joined us had so much fear of the many unknowns of nature and it took a lot of support to help her to feel safe in new places and situations. Over time she has become our boldest adventurer and her role now is to do location scouts with me, so every trip for her is a brave journey into the great unknown. She acknowledges the inner voice that tries to tell her that she can’t do something or she isn’t good enough to try and she crushes it every time. It’s so amazing to see these changes that happen with the participants as their sense of ability grows and acknowledgement of their own strengths just completely thrives in nature.
Lessons learned along the way
For us, the most important lesson that we have learned is to understand how to work with women in a way that is trauma informed and respects the fact that they have lived with constant oppression. If we aren’t providing the women with activities that help them to feel safe, powerful and in control, they aren’t going to experience nature in a good way and they certainly aren’t going to come back. We don’t create our own goals for the programming – the participants do.
Many recreation programs are set up with hierarchies, leaders who take on the role of experts and get to call the shots, do the teaching, set the pace and make the goals for the program but this approach doesn’t work for trauma. We refuse to fall into this pattern. The women who come out with Forest and the Femme are all so strong, have such storied lives and have so much to share. They are the teachers. They call the shots and they show us the way. They just need a ride to get to these great places and once they are there, the land helps them to shed the incorrect labels that society has applied to them over their lifetimes.
If you’d like to get outside and unplugged, too
Always research the area that you are going to visit. We see more and more people on the trails that haven’t done any research about the trail and really put themselves and others at risk because they are unprepared.
Bring the 10 essentials in your pack so that you aren’t completely relying on others if something unexpected happens. It’s important to be able to be independent, and taking care of yourself in this way is one of the ways that spending time in nature helps to build confidence and capability.
Learn how to leave no trace when you’re outdoors. This doesn’t come naturally and has to be learned over time but there are some principles to follow to get you started. For example, as the trails get busier we are seeing more organic garbage on the trail. Nobody wants to see someone else’s lunch scraps on the trail regardless of whether or not they’ll decompose. It’s ugly and ruins the trail when everyone is tossing their orange peels and egg shells along the way. It brings bears right to the trails too because they can smell the food and then we end up with problem bears who may end up being killed when they become unsafe.
We really want to see people having respect for the places that they are visiting and recognizing that those places have often been used for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples so it’s important that we don’t wreck them with carelessness and don’t take them for granted.