Written by: Laura Frank | Photography by: Dustin Scarpitti
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” -Albert Einstein
September is already here. The start of autumn brings new beginnings. There are opportunities for new friendships, experiences. and challenges. Back to school excitement inevitably returns to days filled with homework, hours attending children’s sporting events, and school activities. Vacations are over and work schedules stabilize. Around us, nature is also beginning a new transition. Days are becoming shorter and animal life prepares for winter as the green of summer begins the slow transformation into the spectacular world of yellow, reds, and the browns of autumn.
The decline in outside temperatures provides the perfect opportunity to begin a new practice that benefits the mind, body, and spirit, called forest bathing. In 1982, the Forest Agency of the Japanese government premiered its shinrin-yoku plan. In Japanese “shinrin” means forest, and “yoku”, although it has several meanings, refers in this context “to a bathing, showering or basking in”. More broadly, it is defined as “taking in, through all of our senses, the forest atmosphere.” The aim of forest bathing is to slow down, clear the mind and become immersed in the natural environment around us.
The practice requires a slow, meditative walk to allow the focus of your eyes to penetrate the trees, the plants growing under foot, the fungi and moss. Look up, down, and all around for animals hiding under rocks, in burrows, and on tree branches, notice the colors, shapes, and textures of everything around you. Hear the rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, and the buzzing of the cicadas. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the strength of the tree trunks, the softness of the leaves, and the prickliness of pine cones. Smell the fresh air and the evergreens and taste pine needles and other edible plants (Be sure to accurately identify any plant you are going to taste).
The many health benefits of this practice include a boosted immune system, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, and an improved mood. A regular practice can give one a deeper and clearer intuition, an increased flow of energy, and a deeper connection to the Divine or Life Force responsible for the magnificent creation around you.
We are fortunate to have wonderful walking trails in the Cape Fear region. One of my favorites is the walking trail at the Abbey Foy-Moore Nature Preserve located next to Poplar Grove Plantation. The trail winds through an old forest of oaks, longleaf pines, dogwoods, magnolia, cedar, tupelo, sweetgum and red maple, American and yaupon holly, numerous bays, Hawthorns and wax myrtles, circling around Mill pond. There is a bridge on the main loop over the pond where you can view turtles and other wildlife. On the trail you feel far from the hustle and bustle of the main roads. Walking through the canopies of trees hovering over the trail, only the sounds of nature fill your ears – except on Sunday mornings – the music of church bells ringing in the distance sets the perfect stage for a refocus on gratitude and thanksgiving.
I urge you to take time to reconnect with nature and bask in the rejuvenating effects of forest bathing right here in our own backyard.
See you on the trail –