Updated: Jul 4
A forest therapy guide in the heart of Toronto
Imagine this: Over a year ago, a close friend of mine introduced me to Ruthanne Henry, a fascinating individual who happened to be undergoing yoga teacher training and exploring the world of forest therapy. My friend couldn't contain her excitement, insisting that Ru and I had to meet because we had so much in common. Our attempts to meet up in Toronto prior to my digital nomad adventures fell through, and even when we found ourselves in different parts of Costa Rica, our schedules never aligned. But as fate would have it, the stars finally aligned, and we met in person, or as the cool kids say, "IRL" (In Real Life).
To my surprise, I discovered that my temporary home in Toronto was only a stone's throw away from Ru's place, a mere 500 meters to be exact. Eager to get acquainted, I strolled over to her place one early morning. As we settled ourselves on her cozy backyard deck, which overlooks the small but deep-sided ravine called Williamson Park Ravine—I couldn't help but feel a sense of serendipity. Ru's gentle and welcoming demeanor immediately fostered a comfortable connection between us, as if we had been friends for years.
We shared stories about our respective journeys into the world of forest therapy. I had trained with the GIFT (Global Institute of Forest Therapy), while Ru had undergone training with the ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy). It turned out that our paths had converged in seeking Forest Therapy guide training due to a shared desire for personal well-being and a profound love for the great outdoors. In addition to her forest therapy pursuits, Ru is also a restorative yoga and yoga nidra teacher and a therapeutic sound guide. We chatted a bit about the two Forest Therapy training programs and it was enlightening to both of us to see how despite very subtle differences they use the same effective methods and share objectives of helping people slow down and drop into an embodied experience with their senses while in nature.
Eager to get into the ravine, we embarked on a leisurely walk, beginning at the peak of a wooden walkway that overlooked the wildlife below. From there, equipped with our magnifying lenses, we delved into the miraculous microcosm that surrounded us, taking in the sheer beauty and complexity of the plants. Ru's knowledge about the invasive and native species in the area proved to be an enlightening experience. We discussed recipes for elderberry syrup (Sambucus canadensis)—an exceptional cough remedy and antioxidant—while observing a pollinator in action and marveling at the delicate beauty of shimmery buttercups (Ranunculus sp.), the ominous presence of deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), and the invasiveness of fragrant Rosa multiflora, which displaces native species characteristic to the ravine such as pagoda dogwood, (Cornus alternifolia).
On our way down the watercourse, we passed large patches of native jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) which will soon pop into flower. We also looked at a recent large fallen oak tree (Quercus rubra) on the steep slope and fenced off reforestation efforts all around it to help recover the compacted soils that are putting the tall oaks at risk.
With the ravine as our backdrop, Ru guided me through a captivating meditation known as "Pleasures of Presence." Despite the typical morning chaos of the city—commuter trains, traffic helicopters, and nearby dump trucks—the sounds harmoniously melded into the background. My focus shifted towards the symphony of the forest, the invigorating scents that filled the air, and the ethereal tones of Ru's chimes, which gently carried me into a state of deep relaxation.
Ru's connection to the ravines extends beyond her role as a forest therapy guide. She works her best to preserve and restore these natural wonders while managing construction projects. From habitat restoration to the creation of recreational trails, Ru's career embodies a commitment to community access to nature. In our brief time together, I absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge, and I couldn't help but feel grateful for the newfound friendship we forged amidst this pocket-sized forest hidden in the busy east end of Toronto.
You can find Ruthanne at on Instagram @natures_alchemy_wellness and on Nature's Alchemy website.