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She Speaks for the Trees: Earth Day Spent with a Forest Steward

For Earth Day this year, we wanted to share a conversation with our managing steward, Alicia, whose passion for nature and its healing properties is the inspiration we all need right now.

Tell us about yourself and what drew you to this work.
As a kid, I always loved being in nature. I enjoy helping people connect and create family memories in the outdoors, which I got to do as both a raft guide and ocean kayak guide. As a lover of the outdoors, the concept of Better Place Forests, and the idea of becoming one with the forest really stood out for me. Growing up, I also experienced the deaths of a few friends, so I was exposed to loss early on, and saw how it affected families. It had a big impact on my life because it reinforced a desire to live each day with meaning. I wanted a career that filled my days with passion and a mission that aligned with my values. As soon as I saw Better Place Forests was hiring for a forest steward, I felt a true calling: it was my dream job.

At Better Place Forests, our mission is to help inspire everyone to leave a meaningful legacy for the planet and the people they love. Every day I get to live out that mission, get to know our customers, share my story, and hear theirs. It's important to me that they know I come from a genuine place of care when explaining who we are, why we’re here and how we can help. But truly, the forest works its magic showing people that this is the option they’ve been looking for.

I think a lot of folks come to us because the idea of death can be scary and sometimes, traditional burial options can be another layer of trauma on top of dealing with the loss of a loved one. But, the option to choose a place that’s full of life and beauty, intrigues people. Many of our customers are pre-need and feel empowered to make this decision for themselves and to lift any burden that would have fallen on family members to arrange services while grieving. We also often are holding space for people who are experiencing deep grief and the forest helps them process what has occurred and feel connected to their loved ones through the quiet moments under the trees.

Why is the health of our forest more important than ever?
Our planet is in a position now where we need our trees more than ever and protecting our forests is important. At Better Place Forests, we preserve forestland through sustainable forestry management practices, while protecting the trees our customers choose as memorials for themselves or their loved ones. In California, roughly 97% of old-growth Redwoods are gone, so our goal with the second and third-generation redwoods is to get back to a late seral state forest.

We have arborists on staff that monitor tree health and help by removing overgrown thickets, excess shrubbery and invasive species. Though redwoods are fire resistant, we suppress the risk by taking proactive measures such as pruning low hanging tree limbs and reducing the overall fuel load in the property. All forests would benefit from similar actions to be healthier and less prone to wildfires.

We strive to preserve wildlife habitats and watersheds for generations to come, contributing to the health and well-being of local communities.

How do visitors benefit from protected forests? 
We provide a peaceful, uplifting haven away from the hustle and bustle that helps the community enjoy their local forest. Visits to our forests are by appointment-only, which creates a really special experience for our guests to enjoy the solitude of the environment. Here, you can really connect to the natural world around you. Walking slowly among these giants really does something. It helps one to contemplate the important things along with their own awareness of death, in a positive way, by providing a deep appreciation for the life we have. Walking slowly through the forest with your family, or your dog, proves to be a profound experience for many who come to visit.

By choosing to be a part of Better Place Forests, you are choosing a memorial option that protects our precious ecosystems so that future generations can enjoy the same serenity. By protecting the forest and choosing your tree, you’re protecting the land you love, so your children and your grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, can love it too. You're sharing with future generations the same sense of awe you had when you found your tree.

What’s powerful is when I walk through the forest with a mother and she picks her tree, knowing at some point her children will be standing in the same spot and put their hands on that tree –– her tree. It will mean so much for these families to feel this deep connection to their loved ones through the earth.

I love this idea of legacy and family. Can you tell me more?
When our guests come to visit, they leave with a sense of peace knowing that no matter what, they have a place that is beautiful and peaceful –– a natural, sustainable legacy for their family. Long before a memorial ceremony is needed – they know that this is a place for them and their family, where they can return over the years to build positive memories in the forest.

For individuals who have a terminal diagnosis, this process can be especially meaningful and empowering. To know that “I am choosing this for me” and having the family be a part of that moment has been one of the most significant things I’ve experienced in the forest.

(Editor’s note: Forest chills. Big time)

How does planting trees help the world?
By choosing Better Place Forests, you create a positive ripple effect and a lasting environmental legacy. For each tree you reserve with us, we plant 25-400 Impact Trees through our partnership with the nonprofit One Tree Planted. These Impact Trees are planted in fire and drought affected areas within a year of when customers select their tree. In 2019, we’ve planted over 10,000 trees together; that equates to over 3.6 million pounds of CO2 that’s been sequestered.
 
What changes do you hope to see in 5 years? 10 years? 
Well, it's interesting to reflect on where we are right now. Shelter-in-place is making us appreciate being outdoors all the more and we can feel a deeper understanding of how we are all connected to each other. I hope we come out of this pandemic with a greater appreciation for nature. I hope we realize we're a part of something bigger than ourselves and how important it is to spend time with those we love.

What is something nobody knows about trees? 
Redwoods are fascinating. They are the largest trees on Earth and can live up to 3,000 years. That's why they're so beautiful as a memorial option. Their thick bark is resistant to fire, bugs and disease, so the trees are incredibly resilient. They are survivors and saplings will grow from the roots of downed trees and will create fairy rings, or family circles. We even have large redwood stumps available for memorial options that have saplings growing from the top of them. 

How can all of us take care of nature?
First, go and enjoy nature. When we value something, we take care of it. By deepening your connection to nature, you recognize nature’s positive effects on all of us –– and then we'll want to return the favor to nature. We have become so busy that most people don’t allow themselves to slow down. Giving yourself a break to walk through nature slowly without thinking of getting from Point A to Point B is so important. Go outside and breathe deeply when you can. Appreciate the beauty around you and notice how nature is trying to take care of you; and do the same because we need nature now more than ever.

What inspires you? Our customers. The courage I see in their eyes and the love they have for each other. It’s incredibly inspiring to see people have these important family conversations and make decisions that resonate most truly in how they want to be honored. The idea of death can be really scary, but helping our customers process it and come out feeling at peace and empowered on the other side is so beautiful. 

My kids inspire me to do my part to protect the environment and that they know the joy of the natural world.

During these times, this soothing guided meditation has been really helpful for me. And this song is just perfect for Earth Day by East Forest and features Ram Dass. I also highly recommend this book about the healing power of trees.

What do you hope future generations can do to help protect our forests? 
It's important to do what you can in your daily life to lessen your impact to the environment. All of the small things add up to make a big difference. Again, you protect what you love, so I hope they get to experience the wonders of the wilderness. We even have customers from younger generations who would not typically be making their end-of-life arrangements, but they’re conscious of wanting to leave a lasting beautiful, natural and environmental legacy. 

Anything else you’d like to add? I couldn't be more grateful to be a part of Better Place Forests, especially on Earth Day. Better Place Forests deeply cares for the land and the people who choose a more beautiful way to be remembered. I look forward to helping more families come to love and appreciate the earth. We are truly at one with it. 

Happy Earth Day!

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