In an effort to share the stories of some of the incredible folks behind Better Place Forests, we recently had a chat with Terri Heath, the Onsite Forest Manager at our Point Arena forest. Read all about her deep connection with the forest and with the people she meets along the way.
Better Place Forests: Hi Terri! Let’s start at the beginning. What brought you to Better Place and the Point Arena area?
Terri: Well I’m a California native and I came to the area to explore organic farming and to participate in an internship on an organic farm. Around that time, my dad was sick with cancer and passed away. Pretty quickly after that, my mother became sick. So I suffered two big losses right away when I moved to this area, and we decided to stay because of the wonderful community here. After they passed away, I sought the peace that nature provided, so I decided to purchase my own forest, about forty acres. I’ve lived off the grid for many years–growing and selling flowers and food, connecting with nature, managing my own redwoods. So, when Better Place Forests came into my life, our mission and the idea of helping people through loss by connecting with nature really resonated with me. The more I talked with people and learned their stories, the more I felt at home with the idea and purpose behind Better Place Forests.
I’ve been managing the forest and connecting with families in this very meaningful way ever since.
Do you find it rewarding to help families plan for, and think about, what they want to leave for their loved ones once they’re gone?
Absolutely! My parents gave me so much, but they didn’t have a plan for what would happen after they passed. Ironically, my mother was a therapist who specialized in death and dying–and even she didn’t have a plan. That’s why I’m really inspired by the part of the job where I can help children encourage their parents to make a plan and also help parents see how important it is. Because in that moment when you’ve lost such a significant person, you just want to feel, and not have to think about all of the details and all the operations that are involved. If an end of life plan is in place, it really gives the gift of being able to grieve the person you love. And that’s what I believe is most important at that time. Planning for the end of life really is a gift you can give to those you love.
Very true. What are some of the other aspects of your job? Tell us a little about how you work with families to plan their ideal memorial ceremony.
When we connect with people the first thing we do is offer support and do our best to really learn their story and the story of their loved one. Having that conversation and building that relationship is what’s most important. Then we try and learn what their ideal ceremony is–and if they don’t have one, we help them shape that. We really customize the memorial in any way that will be meaningful to the family. We have done military services where we held the flag folding ceremony and Taps was played; we’ve seen people bring in drums and dance; we’ve had officiants come in that are Catholic and Christian and Protestant. Our ceremonies are very personalized to our families and their loved ones.
It sounds like you’ve become very connected with your customers.
Yes! We’ve talked a lot about planning ceremonies, but I haven’t yet talked about how inspiring it is to see families and their loved ones connect with their tree and the forest – long before they die or any ceremony is needed. It brings a sense of peace for our families and their loved ones to bond with their tree and build memories in the forest ahead of time. The forest is where they can return, too, for years after the ceremony. From the moment that they choose their tree, to the visits that follow before and after the memorial ceremony, and the memorial ceremony itself –– we try really hard to ensure the quality of that experience.
I work with an incredible team and I feel like the forest is where all of our efforts come together. We’re all working to make that moment - that experience - with the forest beautiful. The forest is really where it all happens.
There’s just something about these forests, isn’t there?
I really enjoy watching the impact the forest has on people. I find that they’re immediately relaxed. They’re almost overwhelmed by how peaceful it is. They really take a moment to take a deep breath and let the forest do its work. In general, people also seem to be pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it really is. I love our website, but no photograph can fully convey how beautiful it really is. It’s so stunning in person. Plus, Point Arena is a wonderful place to be.
What makes Point Arena so unique?
We love the area. It’s a really sweet community. There are lots of young families and people are really close to the earth. Lots of nature lovers. We live in a very rural place where the ocean is a draw; the rivers are a draw; the hiking trails are a draw; people who live here really appreciate the grandeur of nature’s gifts.
Also, it’s the time of year where autumn brings a crispness to the air and the sunsets are stunning. We’re so glad to welcome back our community for in-person tours –– it has felt like a long few months not seeing each other!
We’ve heard that you have your own memorial tree. How exciting! Tell us about this special conifer.
I found my tree when we were building more intimate trails through the forest. I hadn’t noticed it before, and all the sudden, there it was. It’s a gorgeous Hemlock that stands near a creek. I was drawn to it because it has branches that are lacy and graceful–it reminded me of a dancer, and since I’ve danced all my life, I was really struck by it.
Something I found out recently about Hemlocks is that historically they were used for the masts of ships because the wood is very strong, yet flexible. Coincidently, I live on a road named for the schooners that were built using the many Hemlocks that once grew in the area.
But mostly, I chose my tree for its graceful branches.
Thank you so much Terri. We really appreciate all you’re doing. Keep up the good work!
Thank you! And to our community of readers, we’d love to see you. To book an in-person tour in our Point Arena forest, click here.
When you visit, please know we’re prioritizing your safety! Rest assured, we’re following federal, state and local guidance on safe business practices. This includes following guidelines provided by the Mendocino County Local Health Department and the CDC. We’ll also continue maintaining physical distancing, safety training and disinfecting protocols to create a safe visit for you and your loved ones.