Ebony LaBrew is an overwhelming force of smoothness, consistency and action. Nature has been calling her since she was a child, even in the urban Harlem setting. She guides Forest Bathing walks for the community through an association that takes people free of charge to the few remaining ancestral landscapes in the region, and is an active leader in environmental organizations. She says Forest Bathing changed her life and brought out her best.
„I grew up in Harlem, New York City, and that isn’t an area that’s really associated with the outdoors or nature loving. But even in that environment, I still had a love for nature. And we did sometimes say grace for dinner, and it made perfect sense to me. I would always include nature if we’re giving thanks for food, for what we have. So nature was always a part of gratitude and grace. I’ve always had a connection, even though I feel like I wasn’t supposed to, given where I grew up. Even more stronger than if you grew up in the woods.
„My background is in education, so I spent many years teaching special education. I also have a background working with families and youth in areas of mental health and behavioral health. My passion has always been to support people, particularly through trauma, through struggles, difficulties, challenges, that’s always been something that I’ve been drawn to.
„Where my love for nature comes in is that, for me, nature has always been a safe space. So when thinking about my own childhood and when I felt challenged, one of the ways in which that I was able to just expand my coping skills, find peace of mind, was when it could be something simple as deciding to I’m going to get off the train early and walk the next ten blocks because I didn’t have such a good day.
„And you know what? By the time I’m done walking through the park or whatever, my day feels great now. Like I have just transformed those emotions. And so that’s always been something that I’ve wanted to share with others in education or however I am supporting people through their difficult moments”.
„The other aspect of my appreciation for nature is also my political activism. My appreciation for nature is matched with climate justice or environmental justice. So not only am I encouraging people to engage nature as a source of healing and restoration, but also as a space in which we can rally around for justice. And that goes back to gratitude and saying grace for dinner”.
“This is the only planet that we’ve got and everything that we get from it is in jeopardy due to climate change and other causes. My engagement of nature is like those two things are integral to it, the healing and also the activism.
“I am a member leader of a group called Mothers Out Front and it’s just a political organization that connects the community with legislative action that is related to climate and environmental justice. Activism for me is just a matter of being active in my community.
“So access to green spaces, parks, preserves, trails are often like there’s often many barriers in terms of transportation or sometimes when you don’t have access to those spaces, like the knowledge of being comfortable in such an environment: oh, what do I wear, what do I do when I get there?”
“That can also present as a barrier for people. So I’ve been involved in volunteering for another organization, Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady, a local organization related to environmental issues in the area. And another organization, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, where they actually will purchase and help preserve green spaces that are in jeopardy of being developed or just are not being taken care of.
“One of the programs with both of these organizations is Nature Bus Albany & Schenectady, a program that connects residents or actually anybody who wants to join outdoor space that they might not be able to access. It connects them with the local transportation authority. So the CDTA, the bus service has a special bus that picks people up free of charge and drops them off in just different green spaces and trails around the county in which I live”.
A LIFE CHANGER
“It’s just a wonderful marriage between something I love, like being outdoors, supporting people, and nature being just a center for that. I didn’t expect what would have happened. I feel like me being trained and certified in Forest Bathing has been a life changing thing for me. It has slowed me down in so many ways. I eat differently. I feel like I have a very varied taste, but I might have been a little rigid with certain things.
“So the way that I eat food and match and pair different types of textures and flavors, I feel like my entire life has been just changed in ways that I didn’t expect that I was going to be eating differently by doing Forest Bathing”.
“It’s something that’s been life changing. I knew that I wanted to connect people to nature, to the outdoors, especially people who may have many barriers to them getting outdoors. And once we get out there, okay, what is it that we’re going to do? And I began studying and Forest Bathing just seemed just everything that I wanted for myself and everything that I wanted to share with others. So it’s been amazing.
“One of the significant things about one of the last walks I guided -for the nature bus that I volunteer with- is it was a primary forest, and it’s one of the few in this particular region, because the surrounding area is just very developed. So to be in this space that is sacred, ancient, and to connect in it from that perspective was just amazing for me and amazing for the participants.
“It was just such a magical moment, one that I felt was just paired with magic and reverence. These are ancestors, we are in the presence of ancestors. And I just felt like that was a mutual understanding between the participants and I and the beings now surrounding us. America has been colonized. It’s been developed for hundreds of years. So to have a space that has been able to stand tall in spite of all that is just amazing. It was incredible”.
LIGHTNESS TO THE EGO
“Why Forest Bathing? It would be something to have this bus service that connects people to make being outdoors an accessible thing that anybody can do that gives people the right to be, to visit these places. It wouldn’t fit if I was doing something that was not accessible, that they couldn’t do on their own in some ways or learn more about in some ways.
“One of the things that really called me to Forest Bathing is that it didn’t feel like there was a gate that stood between me doing it and someone else doing it. It allows me to be my best self. I am certified, I have some wisdom, but I love that someone is going to go out there and have their own experience. It’s a common saying that nature is a teacher, the forest is a teacher. And I love that because it allows me to evolve to my best self.
“And I don’t think that I would be my best self if it was heavy and in my ego. So to share something where I’m facilitating something, but there’s a detachment from it as well is what really drew me to the practice and keeps me with the practice. I love that part of it.
“It’s not like you are saying, okay, now you will feel this and like a guru, you just facilitate people being there and open that knowledge for each one of them. I think it allows me to continue doing other work that might be a bit more challenging, like Forest Therapy interventions for social workers or nurses who stand in the front line with very difficult situations”.
Ph: Courtesy Ebony LaBrew