We just had our 3rd annual Woods & Wilds, celebrating 22 years of forest defense, and every moment was woven into the magical fabric that carried us through the night! Picture this: as soon as you enter The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC, you’re in awe of the ten-foot high Justice First artwork created by Celeste Byers, Amplifier, and Dogwood Alliance.
Rounding the corner, the serenely glowing lanterns from Flora escort you into the main hall, which gradually fills like an hourglass. Upon entering this hall, you come across our Story Corner, where many people are sharing their own stories of the forests.
Just down from that is Sumo Morgan and Alysha Clark’s powerful art installation “Phantom,” depicting the depth of forest destruction often overlooked in a clearcut.
The lights dim and the storytelling begins. From wizards to comics, agony to joy, calming to shocking, we hear it all from these seven amazing storytellers. Though each story embraces a unique style and evokes different emotions, every story teaches us something.
Allison Fields, Asheville’s first Moth GrandSLAM winner, sets the tone right:
“All my favorite stories happen in the forest.”
Robert “Zack” Zachary
Robert Zachary, a facilitator and activist for transformative change through poetry, storytelling, and song, teaches us about the powerful role the forest had in overcoming Jim Crow segregation in his hometown.
Author, hiker, and podcast host Gary Sizer shares his story of lying still in the forest for hours as he and his fellow marines waited for another squadron, only to find that they’d gotten lost and were not coming after all those hours. Through that experience, he had an epiphany about life when he heard the spirit of the woods.
Playing sounds of nature into the microphone, Nicole Townsend, an organizer with Southerners On New Ground (SONG), challenges us to remember ourselves as children.
“I swear as a kid those threes touched heaven.”
Through a series of shorter stories, DeWayne Barton, the founder and CEO of Hood Huggers International and co-founder of Burton Street Community Peace Gardens and Green Opportunities, shows us that the woods can be a frightening place.
The always powerful Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance, shares how she found solace in the forest when faced with the seemingly impossible task of uniting movements around the country to Stand4Forests.
“It’s gonna get harder, but we can always take to the woods and to the wilds for our inspiration.”
To close out our storytellers, Sizwe Herring of EarthMatters Tennessee shares his wisdom about how real change happens.
“What does it really take to make change? One leaf at a time.”
And to tie it all together, we receive a surprise from Dogwood’s own Sasha Mitchell, who also runs the website The Color of Asheville. Sasha comes up on stage to share how deeply she is moved. She shares that no matter our skin color, our stories are the same and our mission to save the planet is the same. She tells us that only through dialogue and stories can we overcome history and unite to save the forest.
MCs Elizabeth Garland & Ali McGhee
To all the forest lovers out there, thank you
We leave with warmed hearts and feeling very much like trees in a forest – though we are all individuals, together we become something special.