Tayla Shanaye Talks to the Trees

While snowshoeing through the woods, the somatic counselor encountered an unexpected therapy for her own depression


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Tayla Shanaye shared her story with producer Stepfanie Aguilar for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It was edited for length and clarity.

The grief was just grief. It didn’t have a story. It didn’t have a logic. It didn’t—like, I don’t necessarily need to be like, “Hey everybody, here’s a group email, let’s have a zoom party to discuss my mental health at the moment!” But really kind of saying like, Okay, who needs to receive this first? How am I gonna have to navigate your feelings about what I’m feeling?

I go by Tayla Shanaye. If I were to describe myself, I would use words like mother, student, scholar, earthling, human body, weirdo, witch, and intensely complex—as we all are. I live on occupied Anishinaabe lands, also known as far Northern Michigan, on the shores of Gitche Gumee, also known as Lake Superior.

I’ve had a historic struggle with chronic depression. Feeling as though I were kind of stuck at the bottom of a cold, still lake. Stuck in the silty goop at the bottom. Being able to look up and see that the sun is shining, but feeling the weight and the pressure of the water has always been what my depression feels like.

Others are going to operate with the assumption that because I’m “successful” that there wouldn’t be anything “wrong.” I’ve heard it referred to a smiling depression, where you’re kind of moving through the world with a smile and just getting things done and trying to look as if you’re living your best life. But internally, there’s a lot of negative self-talk or destructive behaviors. The way that depression kind of exhibits itself through me is I tend to get really active. I try to take on a lot of projects. I can be a professional isolationist, being really withdrawn, and kind of hidden away.

One day, we had just had a really big storm. It was a really cold, really gray winter’s day. And I was convincing myself, like, just get out for a snowshoe, go move your body. That will help. I was just organically waking up somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30, and would kind of lie there and rest. And then my dogs would notice that I was awake and they’d come over and give me a nuzzle. So I’d get up and I’d stretch my body and brush my teeth and put on two to seven layers of clothing, depending on the weather, and load up the dogs and just be on our way.

This hike is about a five minute drive from my house, it runs along what’s called the Dead River. So there’s a walk that has some pretty beautiful hills, and I got to this high point where I could see the lake. I grabbed onto this tree and I was trying to get myself to keep looking and keep walking, and I felt this overwhelming grief wash over me.

I actually remember kind of dropping to my knees and sinking deep into the snow, and feeling my hot tears pouring forward while I grabbed that fresh white snow. Grabbing hold of this coldness that I was feeling inside of myself in this psychological way, in this emotional way, and smearing it on my face was to wash myself clean, to give away the tears, give away the grief and leave it there in the snow.

As I was doing it, it did not feel good because it was very cold outside. So I was like, Oh no, wait, what have I done? But then I really felt that my eyes opened back up and I came to all of a sudden. And it was that snow and it was that bodily impulse to wash myself and to clean it off and leave it there that then allowed me to kind of reorient myself to where I was and what was actually occurring in that moment, which was a beautiful snowy day hike.

As I was walking and completing the loop and feeling myself kind of coming to, I kind of sank in with this clarity that my habit of not sharing with the people that care about me was supporting my suffering—which is something I learned in conversation with the forest.

I always ask first, Hey, I feel like I need to talk, can you listen? I wait until there’s a yes that I can feel in my body, like there’s a welcome here. Somebody says, Yeah, I got time for you. I can be with you. There was kind of this instruction that seemed to come to me: you actually have to fold everybody into what’s happening. And so if I want to get that support to not suffer, then I actually had to take the silence out and begin to actually openly talk with people that care about me and that love me.

My depression is episodic in nature. And so being able to then be in discernment with other people, there was curiosity. Okay, well, what triggers it? What can we do? Okay. I looked into this, I looked into that and there was support and there were gestures of care and like, I’ll take care of this part, I’ll take care of this, I’ll take care of that. After getting through the initial impact of like, Oh, okay, this is a we thing, then the support really was both able to be given and I was in a place where I really felt like I was able to receive it.

If you find yourself navigating some kind of mental health crisis, first recognize that you’re not alone, no matter how alone it feels, you’re not broken. You just have different needs.

I was getting outside every morning and walking in the woods, being in witness and really naming out loud my gratitude for the sound of crunching snow. You know, walking so that your hands are warm, even though it’s cold and witnessing a forest in its slumber. I’d find fox tracks in the snow, watch deer walk out across the frozen water. I remember once finding a bird that had been freshly killed and eaten on the trail. And I was like, Oh, I made the first human tracks at that particular place, nobody else had walked in the morning.

Getting to start the day with something that was so humbling that kind of shrunk me back down to my size so that my thoughts could also shrink back down to their proper size is such a healing and recovering process. For me, it was about learning what those practices are that get us out of well worn habits and into new ones where we are small, where we can’t avoid the impact of nature on us, where our nervous systems get to regulate to the pace of the environment. Which is so much slower and so much more regulated than the pace at which our human behavior is trying to move.

It feels like a simple thing and maybe a silly thing to be wandering around in the woods talking to trees. But they don’t mind.

Tayla Shanaye is a somatic counselor and psychologist, and is currently pursuing her PhD in women’s spirituality. You can learn more about her at and on Instagram @taylashanaye.