She Majestic Tree

She Majestic Tree

(A poem and story about how a tree helped me to overcome disordered eating.)

Experience this beautifully majestic tree

She Majestic Tree

Big and brown

Surrounded by strength

Her hard outer shell of lines and cracks

Allows the wild to rest on her back

She Majestic Tree’s

Personal pronouns are

She, her, hers and me

Gorgeous right?!

We met on a hike

Me, on a journey home to myself

She Majestic Tree

Already there

Labored, heavy laden, misinformed and weary

From her highest peak

She could clearly see me

Down

Lurking between her toes

She treated my eyes to her fabulous treeness

Grounded

She Majestic Tree

Spreads her deep roots

Penetrating through soil, rocks and moisture

Like a tightly clenched hand

She Majestic Tree

Holds the earth that’s holding her

She supports my temple

Forbidding the earth to cave beneath me

“I’ve got you,” she says

She Majestic Tree

With arms stretched wide

Receives me

Holds me

Though miles away

She is right here

Her arms reach up to be warmed by the sun

While clouds cry tears for moisture and protection

She Majestic Tree

Supports my bountiful and weak frame

Her bigness puts my size in check

She whispered

“Aww... ain’t you cute, with yo’ little self!”

She offered herself as support

“Lean on me,” she said

“I am here for you.”

I was like an infant compared to her

Hot and thirsty from movement

I reverently, ever so gently

Placed my hand on her ankle

I leaned in

Shifting part of my weight onto her

She Majestic Tree didn’t budge

“I don’t want to hurt you,”

I said to her

“I’ve been told I’m too fat,

Too big, too much, too...”

She interrupted my nonsense by waving her branches

I was not too much for her

Oblivious of me

She danced with the wind

Together they provided a breeze of refreshment

Quieting my false and toxic thoughts

With gratitude, praise and a newfound contentment

I got down on my knees

Rested on her toes

Thanked God Almighty for this beautiful creation

She, like me

Was wonderfully made

Takings sips from my thermos I drank in her greatness

Basking in her shade

She released a few leaves onto my head

Crowning me with her glorious essence

Surrendered to rest

I hugged her hard and scratchy ankles

Allowed all of me to rest on her strength

She lovingly laughed

And said, “That tickles.”

Copyright April 2018 * Angela Braxton-Johnson * All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem after attending a hike led by Sumr Valentine, the creator and owner of Fat Girls Hiking. It was the weekend finale of an event called Body. Liberation. Movement, a joint project led by Anna Chapman of Body Love Yoga and Sumr.

Let me tell you somethin’, I hadn’t been on a hike since I volunteered at a church-sponsored girls club camp back in the early 1990’s. I volunteered because that was the ONLY way that my daughter, Aléa (pronounced a lay uh), was going to go on a weekend trip in the woods somewhere. Uh uh. She was six or seven years old or younger at the time, so it had been well over twenty years. I was the leader of my cabin which included my daughter and about eight other little girls.

I can remember being afraid of hiking back then. Not sure if I could handle the moderate climbs and wondering if I would get too tired or worse, eaten alive by some wild animal! I didn’t really consider myself an outdoors person and was not exposed to going on hikes growing up. Hiking was a white-folks thing, or so I thought.

We were warned by the camp’s staff that year that there was a problem with yellow jacket bees. Great. My second worse nightmare to getting eaten by a monster or a wild animal…. being attacked by a swarm of killer bees. They told us to stay calm and to not swat at the bees. Something that I thought was nearly impossible… the staying calm part. I wasn’t the one to swat at bees… I ran from them. And running is not the thing to do on a hike.

Surprisingly and after much prayer, I went on that hike and remained calm whenever I saw bees. That was a first. Not only did I not run from any bees, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike! We had a great time and I finished that hike with some energy to spare. Saying to myself, “Get it Girl!” MmHmm.

Now, fast forward to the Spring of 2017.

After decades of struggling with my body, my relationship with food and triggered trauma from having PTSD, I decided to try an outpatient treatment program called Monti Nido. (Thank You Jesus for great health insurance through my husband, Alvin’s employer!) I barely qualified under the Binge Eating Disorder guidelines but that’s how I got in.

While that program seemed more designed for thin, white women being treated for anorexia or bulimia, it was there where I was introduced to the book called Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD. I read her book twice within a couple of weeks. Life changing!

Shortly after reading Health At Every Size (HAES), I cautiously joined the HAES movement which theoretically meant no more dieting. I began to call my workouts (which in the past I did to lose weight) joyful movement, a term referenced in the HAES book. I also went to trauma therapy (as recommended by Monti Nido for my outpatient plan) at a program I heard about from my doctor’s office before starting my treatment program at a place in North Portland called Be Nourished, a program co-founded by Hilary Kinavey (therapist) and Dana Sturtevant (nutrition therapist).

I also read and started learning more about Intuitive Eating (a book recommended during the month that I was in my day treatment program but hadn’t gotten around to reading yet). I bought the audible versions of both books so I could replay them on demand.

I was so determined to heal and became hungry for more of what I had read about on the Be Nourished website. Even though money was tight, I managed to gather the funds to pay for the Reclaiming Body Trust retreat. Honey Chile, I KNEW from that weekend intensive experience, that Body Trust, a radical movement co-created by Hilary and Dana, WAS MY JAM!

Body Trust is where my relationship with my body REALLY began to heal deeper. I stopped dieting (which included working with 12 step food recovery programs, which in essence were a lot like diets), stopped over-exercising and for the first time ever, began to make peace with my body, including accepting my fatness.

In the Spring o 2018, after a year of intensive work on my mental health, I went on that blessed hike, led by Fat Girls Hiking. That Sunday Morning was when I met She Majestic Tree at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The accessible hike was lead by Sumr, a gracious, caring and very knowledgeable guide. That girl knows her stuff about hiking! Plus, she is body/fat positive and very sensitive to the needs of each individual in her group. There were many points along the trails where we could stop and take breaks whenever needed. I am a huge fan of Sumr Valentine!

I discovered a few things on that Spring 2018 hike with her.

First, I rediscovered that I like to hike and that my body is stronger than I thought she was. (I call my body she, not it.)

Second, I got a deeper realization of my LOVE for nature, especially the trees and everything growing and living in the wild. I also realized that I NEEDED that time to connect with nature and with others. The quiet periods of walking. Breathing. Being. The beautiful trees. The flowers. The lakes and ponds. Even the wildlife of birds, deer, a baby owl and more. (Though I’m happy there weren’t any bears or lions. Yikes! I will most likely stick to parks for my hikes ‘cause I’m way too scary for anything else. For now anyway.) The women in our group also had a great time exploring the landscapes while we got to know each other a little bit.

Finally, and most importantly, I discovered that my size, which I still thought at that time was too much, was quite minuscule in nature. Especially compared to She Majestic Tree. This widened lens gave me a healthier view of my body and a greater appreciation of ME, my size and ALL of my abilities.

I’m so grateful to God for my journey thus far and for all of the beautiful creations in this universe.