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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Come bathe in the forest with me

man walking trip free photo

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

“Let’s go for a walk.” The activity of walking is often compulsive – it’s what our brains yearn for when the chaos of everyday life reaches maximum volume. Many people like to wear earphones when they walk so that they can listen to music or take in a favourite podcast. Keeping up with a dance beat might be good for your cardio fitness, but that isn’t why I walk. I walk to reap the benefits of nature.

Our 200-acre property includes rocky meadow, open field, and forest. My favourite place to walk is in the forest. The Farmer even cut a swath through the woods with his ATV, bush hog and chainsaw so that I can follow a trail in any season on foot, snowshoes or skis. It’s a bit mucky on that trail right now, but soon it will be dried up enough for me to resume my forest treks. At the moment, I stick to the perimeter of the forest.

Turns out there is a name for this blissful walk in the woods. It’s called “Forest Bathing.” You aren’t bathing in water, but rather the energy, scent and sound of the woods. The forest is abundant with life. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of wild things. A pile of droppings alongside the path, a scratch mark on the nearest tree trunk. And then there are the trees.

All around you, majestic trees reach for the sky. Their roots trip you up and their branches tickle your face as you invade their territory. In one remote corner of our property there is a stand of four massive trees, with trunks the circumference of a California Redwood. Someone has built a ladder into the side of one of the trunks, so I climb up. I step onto a platform and survey my kingdom.

According to, Forest Bathing has the following benefits:
·         The creation of virus-fighting cells (would be handy right about now)
·         Decreased risk of heart attack.
·         Protection against obesity and diabetes.
·         More energy and better sleep.
·         Mood-boosting effects.
·         Decreased inflammation.
·         Clearer, more comfortable skin.
·         Soothing relief for sore muscles.
So if you walk in the forest on a regular basis you should be slim, muscular, well-rested, happy, energetic and immune from the coronavirus! (Invalidated).

The practice of “forest bathing” was initiated by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the 1980s. It is not a workout. Forest bathing is an opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural surroundings of the forest. Soak up the energy of the trees. Listen to the sounds of scampering rodents, twittering birds and (possibly) bounding deer crashing through the underbrush. Allow your senses to awaken. Breathe in the damp, wild scents of moss, bark and ferns. Feel the difference in temperature as you step into the natural cool of the woods. Allow the dappled sunlight to filter refracted, through the trees onto your face.

Forest bathing is the opposite of meditation, because you are summoning all of the energy of the forest into your being, rather than emptying your mind of all thought besides your breath. Feel the energy of the forest transfer to your own cells. It’s better than an espresso or a Red Bull. For full effect, remove your shoes. Not for the full walk, because you might impale your tender instep on a twig. But stand tall, reach your arms up over your head, extend your fingers to the sky, wriggle your bare toes into the earth. Breathe.

This is the forest. This is life. It’s free, it’s eternal, it’s here for all of us. Why not try a forest walk this week? Bring the whole family. We used to do this as kids. We called it a nature walk. Bring something to collect your treasures: pine cones, coloured leaves, bird nests, acorns, ferns, pussy willow, red dogwood branches. You can make a spring arrangement for your front step when you get home.

During this time of self-isolation, we are all looking for ways to relieve stress and anxiety, work out the kinks, exercise the body and clear the mind. Forest bathing sounds like the perfect solution. The Ferguson Forest Centre is accessible to everyone, as is Limerick Forest. Just remember – if you round a bend in the path and encounter someone else standing there, barefoot, give them a smile and a wave, from a safe distance of 2 metres.

Be well.


Monday, March 23, 2020

This is our generation's shared experience

Your grandparents might remember World War II. That was the last time something took over the global consciousness this way. We are all affected by this viral pandemic. It’s surrounding us, reaching us at every level, on every media channel. And for good reason. But unlike WWII, we do have some control over how this goes. Each of us is a factor in how this plays out.

A year ago I was packing for a trip that would begin in Italy. How many people did I see in the streets of Rome last April who are no longer with us? Experts say the outbreak there completely overwhelmed their medical infrastructure. It gained speed and strength due to the fact that people were just doing what they always do: meeting in parks and coffee houses, kissing on both cheeks, greeting each other with a warm hug before spending the next few hours discussing the situation at great length over a bottle of Chianti. Italy is not Italy right now. It’s under lockdown measures, in a desperate attempt to stop the spread of this virus that is minor to many but deadly to others. As I write this, 793 people died in one day in Italy. Let’s hope and pray that was the peak. Now that everyone is practicing self-isolation, the virus will not be able to find a host. Spring will come. The warmer temperatures will stifle the virus, and life will slowly return to normal over the course of the summer.

In our part of the world it is more the self-isolation than the actual virus that seems to be affecting lives in a negative way. I know it’s hard, for those who are suffering financially during this time. Some are laid off, others are seeing their livelihood shrivel up as customers stay away, people stop spending, and everyone stays home. But we do live in a country where our interests are protected. It may take some time, but the government will bail us out. Every last one of us. Have faith.

This period of the unknown can be rather unsettling, even for those of us who don’t typically struggle with anxiety. I thought I was handling the situation quite well, until I realized I had cleaned every flat surface in my house until it shone. I am a stress cleaner. You can literally eat off my floor right now. When times get scary, I don’t freak out. I just turn around and say, “Where’s my mop?”

Yesterday I even found a recipe for gluten-free blueberry scones on my phone and took over the kitchen to whip up a batch. I guess I’m a stress baker too. Not a very good one, but it did take my mind off the news for an hour or so. My daughter (another stress cleaner) says we do it because it is something we can control. Well, that makes sense. Carrot muffins are next.

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