What is Forest Bathing? Many of us, who already live in Highland County, Virginia, and are able to walk through her peaceful woods anytime we please, likely don’t understand the concept of a local business marketing this as a service. I mean, why not? We all can understand how therapeutic a walk in the woods can be, right? After all, Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese custom of walking in the forest, has been scientifically proven to lower stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate while increasing our feelings of well-being. Dr. Qing Li, the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine, put it best: “Never have we been so far from merging with the natural world and so divorced from nature.” And, for those who live in a concrete-and-paved environment, a mindful immersion in nature is sometimes just what the psychologist ordered. In this case, that psychologist is Annette Naber of Emerald Mountain Sanctuary.
In addition to nature-inspired educational and inspirational services, Annette (as well as her past pupils) recommend her course – “Wild Ember Sparking.” Formerly known as “Creative Spark,” this program helps anyone looking down the sometimes-intimidating barrel of a long-term project map out their plan and stick with it. Whether it be writing a book or re-organizing your life after upheaval or tragedy, Annette brings her professional and life experience forward to help her participants gain a better, deeper understanding of themselves and their goals. And, now, she’s going global.
1) What is Emerald Mountain Sanctuary, and what does it offer?
Emerald Mountain Sanctuary is a small retreat and workshop center in Highland County, Virginia. I give guided eco-tours, such as Forest Bathing and Foraging for wild edibles and medicinals, both on our property as well as for organizations in central Virginia. I also offer individual and group coaching.
2) What inspired you to open this business?
Once I retired from my work as a clinical psychologist, I wanted a more informal and flexible way to mentor, teach, and provide healing programs. Our property here in Highland is the perfect location – it’s a beautiful piece of land with lots of wildlife as well as wild and cultivated plants.
3) What knowledge, qualifications, and past experience do you bring to your clients?
My training and career as a clinical psychologist with a specialization in alternative therapies, which include non-verbal therapies like sandplay and other art therapies, training in symbolism, mindfulness, yoga therapy, poetry therapy, and horticultural therapy. I have studied herbalism over the years and grow my own medicinal plants. I am also a world traveler, writer, and photographer. Altogether, I bring a broad and deep understanding of human nature and my own experiences in nature to everything I offer to others.
4) What is Wild Ember Sparking? (Formerly “Creative Spark”)
My flagship program, Wild Ember Sparking, is an eight-month creative project coaching process for people working on long-term projects. This program has moved entirely online and consists of monthly Zoom meetings and weekly emails. Wild Ember Sparking evolved from a face-to-face workshop program that was called “Creative Spark” in previous years. When COVID hit in 2020, part of Creative Spark was already held online. The other part involved porch meetings. Because I saw interest from people who lived too far away to commute to Highland County, I worked with my webmaster to now bring it entirely online. This will allow participants from anywhere in the US (even outside the US) to participate. (We will probably have one or two participants this year from Australia.) What I bring to the Wild Ember Sparking program is my research, study, and personal experience in creativity, its process and phases, and how it can be accessed at a deeper level. I love to develop exercises that help people experience their creative process, and then, generalize it to the work they do outside of the Wild Ember Sparking workshop. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR WILD EMBER SPRARKING.
5) Who could benefit from Wild Ember Sparking, and why?
Anyone working on a long-term project that takes commitment, persistence, and inspiration. For example, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs. This year, in 2021, we also have several people who want to re-design their life after a major disruptive life event.
6) Where and when does Wild Ember Sparking take place?
The eight-month program typically runs from March through October. Our first Zoom meeting of 2021 will be held on Saturday, March 20, followed by weekly email check-ins to help participants work on their individual goals and troubleshoot any obstacles they may encounter. There are seven additional Zoom meetings, usually on the last Saturday of the month until October. Zoom meetings typically address an aspect of creativity, an applied exercise, and updates on individual projects. The weekly emails focus on each individual’s project and their progress. The specific Zoom dates are listed at this link.
8) Why do you enjoy helping people this way?
I feel a great amount of satisfaction in witnessing and supporting other people’s creative projects, seeing their progress and breakthroughs, and helping out when they get stuck. I love to see each person’s uniqueness expressed in their work and how they apply the principles we discuss in their own lives. You could call me the “Creativity Midwife.” Also, by supporting other people’s creative process, I always learn more, myself, about the often mysterious thing we call “creativity.”
9) Professionally, who has been a big influence in your life, and why?
People who think outside the box and have far-reaching areas of interest that then lead to breakthroughs and inventions in their chosen field. I am remembering some of my professors from graduate school as well as some contemporary writers and artists. Robin Wall Kimmerer comes to mind. She wrote the book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” which combines her scientific knowledge as a biology professor and her ancestral Native American wisdom and weaves it together into a work of art. That’s what I aspire to – to bring together my scientific, factual knowledge with my personal, intuitive understanding and help others discover and express the unique strands of their knowing.
10) How does Highland County inspire you?
I am constantly moved by the sheer physical beauty and biodiversity of Highland County. Each year, I check out my favorite places for wildflowers and discover a bird or a plant I’ve never seen before. I am also inspired by the creativity of the people here, the arts and crafts (both traditional and modern versions), and the young people who are creatively inventing ways of living off the land and its products.
If you’re looking for creative inspiration or simply motivation for life in general, you might consider Wild Ember Sparking or other Emerald Mountain Sanctuary programs. In fact, in the midst of participating in the 2020 Creative Spark course, I created the HighlandCountyVA Blog. While it wasn’t my original intent for the course, the knowledge, inspiration, and insight I gleaned from the program absolutely inspirited me to act on my idea. And, I’m sure glad it did.
About the Author
Dorothy Stephenson grew up on her family's cattle operation in Meadowdale, located in the southwest corner of Highland County. When she wasn't on horseback helping her father gather and work cattle, you'd likely find her (still on horseback) jumping creeks in her family's nearby "Big Pasture." Today, though she doesn't ride horses much anymore, she has her own cattle, land, and expansion plans for a farm. Additionally, (and with the inherited, Stephenson, entrepreneurial spirit) she owns two small businesses in Highland County - Sundance Media & Design and Sundance Studio & Productions, which houses another of Dorothy's long-time loves - Clogging. Dorothy loves exploring new places, skills, and ideas, and she intends to live life to the fullest as long as it will let her. (Oh! And she LOVES Christmas!)