outside and unplugged

Inspired By Nature Series: Forest and the Femme

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 news@bcparksfoundation.ca.

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.

Elsay Lake Morning_ Photo by Jaime Adams.jpg

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 inspiration

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.

Favourite moments

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.

Forest and the Femme Society: forestandthefemme.org

Inspired By Nature Series: Brave and Free Littles

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 news@bcparksfoundation.ca.


Meet Jaclyn

Hi, I’m Jaclyn Clarke and I’m the founder of Brave and Free Littles. In my spare time you will find me outdoors, hiking or biking with my family. I also love exploring new playgrounds around Metro Vancouver with my two energetic boys. I’m an introvert who loves to push my own limits and conquer my fears. I’m currently a stay-at-home-mom who loves animals, coffee and time spent in nature with my kids.

Hiking in the forest is my favourite way to spend time outdoors. I love being amongst the trees: it gives me so much energy and peace being in the forest.

My family and I spend a lot of time on Burnaby Mountain. There are so many great trails that are easy enough for children of all ages to hike on their own. The trails are dual use so they are great for hiking and biking. Some of our favourite hiking trails are the North Road Trail on Burnaby Mountain, the Pacific Spirit Regional Park trails and the loop around Buntzen Lake.

The inspiration behind Brave and Free Littles

Brave and Free Littles was created to motivate and inspire my family to spend more time outdoors, but over the past year it has turned into a community resource that has helped inspire other families to get outdoors as well.

We share all of the best parks and playgrounds on our Instagram page to help give families ideas of where they can take their kids. My sister-in-law, Mila Tam, and I decided to start an outdoor meet up group in an attempt to create a community of families interested in getting their kids outdoors more.

What do Brave and Free Littles do?

We go on hikes and nature walks. We have met at Climb Base5 to learn rock climbing. We meet at pump tracks and bike parks to allow our kids to practice their riding skills together. We also meet at playgrounds regularly. At our meet ups we have done lots of bird watching, scavenger hunts, nature crafts, garbage collecting and more.

Favourite Brave and Free Little moments

Seeing budding friendships happening amongst the children that join us, as well as a their apparent growing love for nature is one of the highlights of running these meet ups. Another bonus is seeing all of the moms who have joined us making new friendships as well.

Advice if you want to get outside and unplugged, too.

Any time spent outdoors is beneficial for children. Even a local park or your own backyard counts as time spent in nature.

When hiking with kids I always bring special snacks and a bright coloured toy to play hide and seek with. Both of these things have saved our hikes on countless occasions. My kids also love using walking sticks on our hikes so we make it a priority to find the perfect one when we begin our walks.

Brave and Free Littles: facebook.com/braveandfreelittles

Inspired By Nature Series: Forest Therapy and Nature with Haida

We’re thrilled to bring you our new 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 news@bcparksfoundation.ca.

Meet Haida from Nature with Haida

I became British Columbia’s first Certified Forest Therapy Guide in 2016 with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, the world’s leading organization in this practice. My previous background includes a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, a Reflexology Certificate and over 30 years of connecting children and nature. These focuses show my commitment to nurturing others and the planet.

My passion has always been to create a happier and healthier world. I feel my work with forest therapy accomplishes this goal in the most gentle heart centred manner.

Currently I live in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast. I was born and raised in Nelson. I moved to the coast to attend university in 1987 and have lived either in Vancouver, Salt Spring Island, Parksville or Pender Harbour ever since.

What I love most about living in Pender Harbour is the abundance of thriving forest ecosystems, lakes, creeks and ocean bays. There is a feeling in the air of serene, peaceful paradise. My heart is in constant awe of the abundance and variety of wildlife seen, both on land and in water. Apart from the natural surroundings, I also appreciate the warmth of the people and the abundance of opportunities to engage in musical events.

Forest therapy

Forest Therapy (aka Forest Bathing) involves submerging your body in a forest atmosphere and allowing the ambiance to wash over all of your senses thus creating a nurturing and calming effect.

Unlike hiking, Forest Therapy is slow and is about the journey, not the destination. It allows you to find calm or joy or connection or whatever “medicine” you need in the moment. It is a research based framework that supports healing and wellness. The forest is the therapist and the guide opens the door and invites you to interact with it in healing and meaningful ways.

Unlike a walk with a naturalist, forest therapy is about giving the brain a break and giving oneself permission to just be, to grow the heart and body connection as opposed to the intellect or muscle.

Hiking, naturalist walks and forest therapy are all great ways to enjoy the forest.

Nature with Haida

Nature With Haida meets you where you are in this moment in life without judgement or expectation. I offer invitations or suggestions on how to interact with the forest using your senses. Ultimately, you are your best guide. There is no right or wrong way to follow this practice. Yet I will offer my professional gentle guidance to help you get the most out of the medicine of the forest.

A forest therapy experience includes a standard practice with a little introductory information as we sit and become grounded in the forest. Next, I offer a series of invitations or suggestions on how to interact with the forest in healing and meaningful ways. We finish the experience with a wild tea ceremony and snacks, an opportunity to taste the forest through tea plants found in the forest.

Inspiration behind the program

As I entered my mid-life years, I found myself more interested in connecting teachers, parents and grandparents with nature. For all my adult life I had found ways to connect children. Slowly I realized that my next step in life was to connect those who had an influence on our youth.

When I read about forest bathing and forest therapy, I realized that I had been doing this all my life and now there was a term for it.

I agreed that people had become so disconnected from forests, from the places that truly nourish their well being, that there needed to be a movement to re-connect people. In fact, participating in forest therapy on a more regular basis myself has connected me to myself and others in a richer more authentic way than I could ever have imagined. I want this for people. I want people to know themselves more and love their true selves more, for when we do, the world will naturally become a happier and healthier place for all beings to live.

What the participants say

Often participants thank me for slowing them down to a pace they would never slow themselves down to. They thank me for this because they see things and experience things they are grateful for and realize they would never experience if they were moving at their usual faster pace.

Often participants share that they sleep better after a forest therapy experience, better than they have slept for a long time.

One forest therapy retreat participant thanked me for showing her a new way to appreciate the forest. As an avid hiker all her 67 years, she says she never thought of enjoying the forest in this way. Almost two years later, out of the blue, I received an email from her thanking me again for showing her how to experience the forest the forest bathing / forest therapy way.

And these are just a few of many, many highlights.

What Haida has learned

I have learned to trust the guidance of the forest, which could be seen as trusting my own intuition in the presence of the forest.

I have learned that spending a minimum of an hour in the forest before guiding others helps me to create the best experience possible for my participants.

Haida’s advice to starting Forest Therapy

I invite you to meander slowly into a forest, find a place that feels good to you, sit alone for 20-30 minutes, and give yourself permission, give yourself the gift, of being still and noticing your surroundings through your visual observation, touching different textures gently, closing your eyes and listening, smelling the air and plants, and doing whatever your body feels comfortable doing.

There is no right or wrong way. Just be and allow and trust yourself. Warmest wishes for your experience.

Nature with Haida: naturewithhaida.ca