Welcome to “How to Draw a Tree.” (Trees, Wellness and Creativity)

If you are WALKING ONSITE please go to the ONSITE SOUND WALKS page to experience the walks as intended.

Hi. My name is Dawn Matheson and I’m the lead artist behind this work. Richelle Forsey created the visual versions of these sound pieces here on this site. 

a colour aerial photo of an arboretum in the summer. all the trees are in full floom and the lawns and grasses are gree.

You have just been linked to four audio stories intended to accompany you as you walk along mapped routes at The Arboretum at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Canada. 

Before you head out to the forest, you will need your cellphone AND headphones (and maybe bug spray, sunscreen, and water!). 

We have maps online to help you navigate the route, which you can download, along with the full sound walks, before you leave home. Or, just access them via the QR code on the sign at the trailhead, if you have data.

All onsite walks start at the TRAILHEAD (the University of Guelph campus entrance of The Arboretum where there is a parking lot and a kiosk.). You will find our signage for How To Draw A Tree. Here, the forest is a co-narrator AND provides all the visuals; nature is the best artist.


You can also listen and look right here online on this gorgeous site from anywhere you are and experience visual, accessible versions of all four sound walks created by Richelle. 

decorative cyanotype image

Walk One: the prototypeHow To Draw A Tree” by Dawn Matheson, 2022 (72:00)

This is the first walk Dawn made… (making it up as she went!)  The title, HOW TO DRAW A TREE, is a play on words. It’s not really about drawing trees, though you can if you want. 

This project looks at ways in which we can draw trees and nature to us for our mutual benefit…I believe that we’ve come apart and that is making us both ill. 

So, that is what we are doing on this walk—finding ways to get back together.

While this story isn’t a sad one (It’s actually a love story)— mental illness is discussed…  So, if anything that is said brings up feelings that overwhelm, please visit the resources tab to access help. 

This walk is a little over 2 kilometers and should take a bit over an hour. This is not a fitness walk— in fact, it is the opposite.  I’m hoping you will take it SLOW…Inch along the forest floor like a millipede. Try to follow the pace of the footsteps in the soundtrack. It isn’t easy to go slow for some of us! But, you will be amazed at what you notice when you do! 

The next three walks were co-created with Dawn and three University of Guelph students with lived experience of mental illness. Jeff Bird produced the soundtracks. Members of the “Tree Team” walked with each student and shared their own stories of encounters with trees.

Walk Two: Look at These Big F***ing Trees! with Jordie Lescard, 2023. (52:00)

With humour, candour and a gentle heart, Jordie tells the story of his youth and his not-so-typical journey to higher education; he being the first in his family to attend university. The forest used to be a place Jordie went to escape life; now it is where he finds connection. 

Trigger warning: talk of suicide (approx. time code: 44:10 to 49:00) and swearing. 

*This walk is physically accessible and follows a short loop with many benches!

decorative image - alternative photographic lumen print of a black walnut branch

Walk Three:Semi-Colon” with Abhiraj Dadiyan,  2023 (53:00)

Abhiraj nearly extinguished his own light a few years ago; now he acts as a lamplighter for others. “Death has always given me her bed, but never her hand …”

His meandering, philosophical walk invites the listener to interact with nature in imaginative and playful ways.

Trigger warning: talk of suicide  throughout but always returning to hope and light.

(Original music by Jeff Bird) 

Honourable mention for the 2023 Sound Walk September Award!

Decorative image of colour beech leaves

Walk Four: Finding Home” with Carey West,  2023 (40:00)

Carey’s walk explores The Arboretum and makes connections with the Ward neighbourhood in Guelph where she lives. All along the way, Carey is searching for belonging, her own. Her wanders in the woods are full of song until she meets ‘her tree,’ a quiet refuge. 

Trigger warning: this story discusses domestic violence. Please take care of yourself as you listen and feel free to pause or discontinue the audio walk if you need too.

(original music by Carey West, soundtrack by Jeff Bird)  

Thanks to The Arboretum, The University of Guelph Wellness Centre and the Grounds Department, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and the Student Life Enhancement Fund.