In this interview with Boston Voyager I tell my story about discovering hiking as a form of healing and eventually becoming a Forest Therapy Guide: http://bostonvoyager.com/interview/meet-tam-willey-toadstool-walks-jamaica-plain/
I am now a Certified Forest Therapy Guide. I have successfully completed a six month practicum beginning with an 8-day training and followed by a list of assignments that included a bunch of practice Forest Therapy Walks, plants studies, mapping, drawing, journaling and writing. I had monthly phone meetings with my fellow cohorts, my mentor, my co-mentor and other mentor. I created a new website, business cards and joined social media (instagram and facebook) after being off-line for about 5 years. Thus I have reconnected with various folks I have known over the years and have been vigilantly networking, making new connections and trying to get the word out about Toadstool Walks and trying to find community and support around this new offering. The response has been amazing so far.
All the while, I’m still envisioning the who’s, what’s, why’s, how’s and where’s. I’m throwing myself off the cliff constantly catapulting myself forward without perfect clarity. I’m rewriting content after I’ve sent it. I’m approaching land managers and proposing imperfect pitches. I’m fighting my analysis paralysis and trying to trust the process. Meanwhile, I continue to support myself as Handy Tam and try to understand what that is all about and who I am and what is my purpose and how did I get here and what is possible. Its not been a super clean streamline process despite how it may look. It has ripped me open at times. I have been held up by my inner circle (my girlfriend, closest pals, and a few folks I’ve met thru my training.) I have poured my heart and soul into this…sometimes a little too much.
In conclusion, it has been a fun, challenging, and vulnerable process. I had a Threshold Ceremony a couple weeks ago to formalize things. I have a graduation call coming up and an actual Certificate being made and mailed which I will proudly frame and hang on my wall next to my End-To-End Long Trail Certificate. I am so so so grateful.
If you want to subscribe to my monthly eNewsletter please do: SUBSCRIBE
Today I turned 39 years young. To celebrate I am getting Wilderness First Aid Certified! It’s a 16 hour long class broken into 2 days. The Nols instructors are talented make-up artists and cover us with bruises and cuts and fake blood. Then we do lots of simulated backcountry accident scenarios in which we practice newly learned wilderness medicine tools by assessing various circumstances, checking vital signs and determining injuries and arranging emergency evacuations.
It’s a weird thing to do on my birthday that was just when the timing worked. I wanted to do it close to home and this session takes place at the Boston Audubon Nature Preserve in Mattapan. It’s a beautiful place and we do lots of the training outside lying in the grass pretending to be disoriented and dehydrated. It’s pretty funny but also kinda stressful. It’s a lot to remember but I have to say I do feel empowered having the knowledge.
After my long first day of wilderness medicine training I came home to a festive birthday dinner with my dear ones and some really sweet gifts.
8 more hours of backcountry life saving skills tomorrow and then I’ll be certified!
Lets talk about “Monorail”. Not fast elevated train but rather the slow lingering snow and ice pack along mountain hiking trails that thaw and refreeze and thaw and refreeze creating a thin edge that one must walk on like a balance beam if one wants to hike in the White Mountains in May.
The White Mountain Trail reports are currently filled with descriptions of mud, ice, high water, and “unstable monorail” meaning that this snowy balance beam is melting and during this time, it is easy to fall off of it or sink in it. Its not like a huge cliff or anything but its like this weird added obstacle to trails to that are already seriously challenging in terms of rocks, roots, steepness, exposure, etc…
While there is still snow in New Hampshire, and while the summit of Mt Washington got a few new feet just last week, overall there is not enough snow for snow shoes yet whats left of the snow can be a little mushy so potholing is still a thing (meaning, when your foot sinks thru the snow).
Regardless, hikers are out there at all times of the year in all conditions and some of them write detailed trail reports daily describing the “monorail”, mud, ice, wet/slick/water on trail. I use these trail reports to help make decisions about whether or not to go for it and to get a sense of what to expect seasonally.. I try to avoid hiking in the spring because I don’t really enjoy taking my micro spikes on and off 100 times or sinking in deep mud and navigating melty monorail. I did enjoy some of the winter hikes I did this past season where there was a nice snow packed trail and I could just put on my spikes and keep them on. If theres fresh snow I prefer cross country skiing to snowshoe hiking. Once the snow melts I prefer to wait for a dryer trail which means late May but really June. I’ve also been waiting for the perfect combination of a warmer ocean, sunshine and waves to dust off my surfboard and flail around at sea.
In the meantime, while I keep a close eye on the surf reports and the New Hampshire Trail reports I take many walks in my local Arboretum and sometimes in the nearby Blue Hills. Spring in Boston is blowing my mind. I’ve been watching the buds break open, the conifers growing baby red pinecones, the bees pollenating, the ants eating the sugars, the hawks and cardinals and robins forage for food, the waters rise and fall. The changes are fast. If I miss too many days in a row of visiting the Arboretum I feel uneasy. I watched the lilacs bud and bloom day to day and enjoyed them under bright blue skies in full peak bloom before they quickly withered away. Oh impermanence! How you keep my eyes glassy!
The other thing I am doing right now is working as much as I can. I’m saving up for something big in addition to wanting to free myself up this summer in order to hike and surf and be outside enjoying beautiful New England for all its summer glory. As I climb up and down my ladder I imagine that I am training for the mountains.
On my lunch breaks I scroll thru my phone and live vicariously through a few long distance hiking blogs. More specifically, I am following Little Bear Stumbles who I met on the Long Trail last summer. Little Bear is currently hiking Northbound on the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry. I’m hoping I might bump into Little Bear on the trail once she makes it up to New England!
I’m also following Scissors who I met in Portland Oregon on my recent visit. Scissors is hiking Northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail and writes from the experience of being queer, femme and having never gone backpacking before. She is totally entertaining and inspiring!
I got big plans in the works and a lot to look forward to. Trying to stay present and grounded even though my head wants to float up to outer space. Today I smeared some Norway Spruce sap all over my hat on a morning walk so I could take some coniferous goodness with me back to my many tasks to remind me to be grateful and here. Fortunately sap is very sticky.
For the past 18 years I have had the incredible privilege of living within walking distance to the Arnold Arboretum. As I grow and evolve I notice so much more and wonder how I never saw all that I see now. I’ve been watching closely as the buds bud and start to break into flowers and leaves. It’s amazing. I befriended a black oak tree and leaned against it resting the crown of my head under the thickest longest branch expressing my deepest gratitude for this old lonely-seeming tree that gave me so much comfort.
Street Magic #1:
I walk out to my car in the pouring rain and find a note under my windshield wiper carefully wrapped up in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet. It was from someone who believed they left a scratch on my rear left bumper. They apologized and left me their phone number in case it was an issue. I looked at my bumper and laughed cuz it has scratches all over it as a bumper should. I tend to think of my car like a skateboard. It’s a mode of transportation and I don’t care if it gets beat to shit so long it runs and can get me to the mountains and the ocean and get my tools to my jobs. I’ve just never really been into cars in that way. My dream car had always been more practical than shiny. For me it’s simply a tool…and truly incredible to own one. I am often awestruck that I get to own one of these machines…but I don’t really care that much what it looks like.
So I text the number and thank this brave and honest stranger. I explain that I am not at all concerned about scratches on my bumper. I thanked them for giving me a restored faith in humanity and asked if I could buy them a cup of coffee or something to express my gratitude.
They wrote back! They expressed a shared restored faith in humanity and agreed to let me buy them coffee. So we met up at a cafe a few days later and she turned out to be an herb farmer and brought me a jar of herbs which had all kinds of personal significance and relevance to various things going on in my life…particularly the oats that were in that jar…that were part of the tea…that when harvested early promote a calming a effect.
We sipped our coffee and talked about the trials and tribulations of being tiny business owners. We talked about the earth, farming, evolution and politics. We talked about other local farmers that we both know and we networked about ideas and dreams.
Street Magic #2:
My pal Stud’s birthday is coming up. We are going to attempt a huge hike on her actual birthday. In the meantime I had this thought hit me this weekend where I imagined how fun it would be to try to get her some Red Sox tickets as a birthday present. Stud enjoys a baseball game at Fenway Park and has been known to spontaneously buy herself a ticket and take herself to a game. I have been known to join Stud every couple of years for a game as well. I am not much of a Red Sox fan nor am I much of a sports fan in general but there is something really fun and magical and nostalgic about Fenway Park and I’ve had some fun moments in the bleachers. The last time I sat in the bleachers with Stud we watched this drunk dude being obnocious and yelling and waving his arms annoying all his neighbors. Finally some dude a few rows back yellws at him, “Hey! Sit down ya fuckin mahshmellow!” Drunk dude turns around in slow motion and comes back with, “You calling me a fuckin mahshmellow?!” Security was on that shit and escorted the guy out pretty quick.
Approximately two hours after thinking the thought of how fun it would be to get baseball tickets for Studs birthday, a random stranger approached me and asked me if I wanted some Red Sox tickets. Like literally the same morning I wondered if I could get tickets, they just appeared in my hand…This guy was traveling from out of town and bought really good seats for a game that got rained out and he had to leave town before the rescheduled game and he literally just walked by me sitting on my stoop and asked me if I wanted them. What?! They are first row lodge box seats at first base and I have definitely never sat that close to the action before. So Stud and I are going to go to this baseball game in the middle of the afternoon….and it’s suppose to be sunny.
Street Magic is real.
On my last full day in Oregon I had the great fortune of being swooped up by Jenny Bruso, a local hiker and creator of “unlikely hikers” which highlights diversity, inclusion, and visibility in the outdoors. She and her partner Brie took me on a little tour of the Columbia River Gorge.
We were going to hike Beacon Rock but it was closed because a landslide took out part of the trail. So instead she took me to Wahclella Falls. On the way I stared out the window at the impossibily high rock walls along the river coated in green mossed and giant pines with waterfalls streaming off of them.
As we headed up the trail I was completely oblivious to the falls that lay ahead. I was so content to just be walking on a trail on the Gorge among big douglas fur trees and lime green moss next to a raging river with new friends. Then I heard that rumble and we turned a corner and there she was. A massive raging goddess of a waterfall pouring into a bubbling pool of white water and aqua. We watched it rage for a bit and then continued on a small loop until we reached a snow bridge that seemed way too dangerous to pass to we turned back getting another close up of the waterfall.Once back at the car Jenny took me over the Bridge of the Gods which is a bridge where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington. The views were massive and I imagined the emotional overload that might hit PCT thru hikers as they cross into this final northern state. From there we headed east stopping at a pull off where we could walk out into a dock on the Columbia River and have a good view of Beacon Rock.
We headed back to Portland and then Jenny to took me to another one of her spots: Forest Park which is that massive woodlands in Portland. Travis met us and we did a little out and back. The greenery was so…green! Like so bright and electric and lush and alive and like wicked hydrated. Very cool.
The Pacific Ocean is a beast and the Northwest coast holds an intensity that flares my nostrils.
I was surprised when Travis proposed that we go to the coast since he has expressed major concern of the imminent massive earthquake that is building tension along the Cascada Fault. When this thing quakes it will create a tsunami wiping out much of the northwest coastline and beyond taking out many bridges and the flooding communities. Travis is well educated on the matter and is basically bracing for it but decided to let his guard down and venture to the coast knowing how much I love it.
So we drove west from Portland thru the Willamette Valley’s lush green farm land and up over the mountains of the coastal range delivering us to the sea town of Canon Beach where we strolled out onto the sand to look at Haystack Rock. The sun peaked out and we talked about the Goonies and the sharks. We paid mind to the tsunami evacuation route signs just in case.We drove south on 101 stopping in Manzanita to hike Neahkahnie which is a sharp pointy mountain that juts out right at the edge of the sea making way for an enormous view of the crescent coastline of Manzanita. The trail was steep in some spots but well graded with lots of switch backs and as we would come about on the ocean side of the mountain (or come aBOOT as Jesse would say) we could hear the waves crashing louder and louder as we gained elevation. We lingered on the summit for a while just taking it all in. The rolling waves and the blue grey hues.We continued south to Rockaway Beach to a little beach house called “The Getaway” with a logo of a tsunami. We strolled the beach watching out for sneaker waves which are these rogue waves that can catch people off guard washing them out to sea. There are logs that scatter the beaches and these logs can get swooped up by a sneaker wave and if you are not careful you can get rolled over by one. People die from this. And the logs are saturated with water and almost impossible to lift off of someone who gets pinned under one. A fourteen year old girl was killed this way at a beach in southern oregon on the very same afternoon that we were on the coast.
We tried to watch the sunset but the clouds rolled masking any sort of potential big showy sunset. It was still quiet beautiful tho and peaceful on the beach.
We cooked a festive dinner back at our little beach condo and we watched the Goonies. Before we went to sleep we discussed our evacuation plan in case the earthquake and tsunami came. We had our headlamps, backpacks and boots at the ready in case we had to sprint towards higher ground. I imagined this happening and I imagined surviving and then I assumed it would not happen but then I would imagine it happening. Despite these earthquake ridden thoughts I slept the best I had slept since landing in Oregon and woke up feeling refreshed.
I love Portland. There is a part of me that always feels right at home here. Of course this is also now influenced by my oldest best pal living here. I just love all the little mini houses with all the little yards.
I had a layover in NY on my flight out. As I got to the gate for PDX I could see my people. Visible queers with rat tails and funny clothes and queer families and overall hip and sharp looking weirdos. It always puts me at ease to see something familiar.
With all the bathroom drama going on in the world my bathroom anxiety is at an all time high-particularly at an airport. I’ve always been uneasy about bathrooms ever since I was about 7 or 8 when the constant questioning about why I was in the girls bathroom began. 30 years later it hasn’t quite stopped but I’ve gone thu an array of coping strategies starting with avoiding public bathrooms all together to keeping my head down so I can’t see the look of alarm on other women’s faces thus not inviting any comment to holding my head high and being defiant and sometimes I’d rather just fly under the radar and use the men’s room. But now with all the intense political focus on bathrooms I’m scared of running into the wrong person in the wrong bathroom. I’m afraid of being confronted by some paranoid person who holds the irrational fear that if trans folks can legally use gendered bathrooms then this is going to open a flood gate of dangerous men walking into the women’s bathrooms. What people don’t realize is that the bathroom issue isn’t just about transgendered folks. It also affects folks like me who are not trying to pass but have simply been harassed my whole life in women’s bathrooms cuz some people mistake me for a guy. I’ve had friends who look like me get escorted out of bathrooms by security. While I have always been grateful for all gendered family bathrooms, I’d still rather pee outside.
Back to Oregon. We go back about 15 years. What first brought me to Oregon was the plethora of free outdoor concrete skateparks built and designed by skaters. These organic bowl shaped parks made for an effortless and extremely fun time. I first visited them in 2001 with my friend Jen who was spending the summer surfing in San Diego where I flew out to meet her. We drove up the coast skating all these parks and when we got to Oregon we just skated everyday making our way up the coast. Some of the skateparks had lights, grills, electrical outlets and water fountains and we would skate all night and camp in the giant redwoods behind the park. In Portland there was an indoor park with a wooden bowl that we loved as well.
My next trip to Oregon was with my band at the time, Secret Cock. We made friends with some Portland queer rockers who toured Boston and invited us to do a northwest tour with them. I met a lot of Portland folks on this trip and learned of all these punk houses. Young people bought houses here in the late 90’s and early 2000’s cuz they were affordable at the time and everyone seemed to live in these mini houses with basements so everyone seemed to have a band. I of course brought my skateboard and met queer bmx riders who took me to new skateparks. I was convinced I’d be moving to Portland.
The holy grail of the northwest skateparks is on Orcas Island which is part of the San Juan Islands and you can only get there by ferry. Travis and I made a pilgrimage to Orcas Island when we went on our epic skatepark tour on 2004 ripping up the west coast. It was everything we dreamed of and more. We also collectively knew a lot more people in Portland by then and had a fun social time going to queer rock shows and visiting friends and skateboarding around the neighborhoods.
Homo-A-GoGo, this queer music and art festival brought me back out to the Northwest a couple more times and my band would usually play a show in Portland before or after we headed to Olympia, WA where the festival was held. Again I always had my skateboard.
Now that Travis lives out here I’ve been so happy to have a great reason to visit this area. This is my first visit without my skateboard. Instead I’ve rented a splitboard which is basically a snowboard that splits into skies so one can ski up into the backcountry and then clip it back into a snowboard and ride down. Tomorrow Travis is taking me to ride down a glacier on Mount Hood. Surreal.