Life After: Finding Healing and Restoration as a Volunteer Guide

Sunny day at the garden
Sunny day at the garden


ictoria Bestock finds peace in the flowing water, rocks, and the changing beauty of the seasons. Photo: Aurora Santiago.

Dancing, and specifically, teaching dancing, was Victoria Bestock’s life passion.  She loved the beauty, creativity, and engagement with the students.  One day in 1994, she reported to her dance studio and encountered a solvent spill.  The incident rendered her highly chemically sensitive; teaching in closed spaces became impossible.

She took to hiking in alpine meadows.  Nature was restorative, making the grief of losing connection with her life’s work a little more bearable.  Then, in 2011, she was involved in a car accident.

It was in the aftermath of the second accident--when the alpine meadows, too, became much less accessible to Victoria--that she serendipitously came to be a volunteer guide at Seattle Japanese Garden.

Initially, she had turned to the Japanese art of flower arranging, Ikebana, which restored in her a sense of focus and quiet purpose.  Seeing this, a close friend suggested that she consider joining the Seattle Japanese Garden volunteer guide training class, which was scheduled for early 2013.  Victoria signed up without hesitation, or expectation--just hopeful curiosity.

“Touring let me be with people again,” Victoria said, recalling her first year as a garden guide after her 30-hour training was complete.  To her delight, giving tours turned out to share many of the same elements as teaching dance and alpine meadow hiking, activities she’d considered both “my passion and my Zen”.

“I had a reason to learn something new.  After so much isolation,  I could be in a beautiful and serene place and interact with people.  I could move through this space,  sharing Japanese cultural stories. I find those stories so fascinating, so different from what I grew up hearing, and so I love telling them.”

Victoria also decided early on to have a focus with all of her tours, for both public and for private groups.

“I want people to come back,” she says.  To help people imagine the garden beyond the time and space that they’re in at the moment, she carries around a series of garden photographs from all four seasons.  “’This maple tree here’, I’ll say and pull out a picture, ‘you’re seeing it green in the spring, but this is how bright orange it’ll turn in the fall,’ and people’s faces just light up.  I know I’ve got them excited to come back again, and that’s really rewarding.”

As the saying goes, we often teach what we most need to learn.  For Victoria, her early love of dance, teaching and moving in nature couldn’t be sustained in the form she initially chose.  But she’s found an expression of her “passion and Zen” in a new form: giving guided tours as a volunteer for Seattle Japanese Garden.

Victoria’s “keep coming back” focus not only informs her tours and makes them more entertaining, but it likely also serves as an invisible memento, a nugget of wisdom that the visitors take home and recall as they think back to their time at the Japanese garden.

And the garden very much welcomes visitors and volunteers alike who return, again and again, to appreciate its healing beauty.

At three years of service, Victoria Bestock is one of the “newbie” volunteers.  Seattle Japanese Garden is blessed with a corps of long-term, dedicated volunteers, without whom the garden simply could not operate.  Their range of service is broad: from quietly weeding the moss beds, to setting up activity booths for special events, to giving pro-bono technical consultations, to serving on steering committees. 

Victoria belongs to a particular group of volunteers that stands out for the rigor of their training and depth of their commitment: the garden guides.  A new training class is being organized for spring 2017.  If you’re interested in guiding or any other volunteer opportunities, please email Rumi Tsuchihashi at

Rumi Tsuchihashi is the Support Manager for Seattle Japanese Garden and the editor the garden's blog.