For me, the forest has always been a magical place. Not a scary locale of many fairy-tales and horror films, but rather a trove of endless wonders. As a child I spent many summer days wandering through the woods behind my grandparents’ house, listening to the trees whisper to each other, their branches touching tenderly up above, their roots in a tight embrace breaking through the ground under my feet. What thoughts ran through their trunks, I wondered. What dreams nestled in their canopies?
Turns out my childhood flights of imagination weren’t that far off. Trees do communicate with each other. They send warnings about insect attacks, can recognize members of their own family and support their young and old neighbours. Sure their conversations are more pragmatic than what I imagined as a child but the science behind the forest networks is no less fascinating because of that. Our minds are finally catching up with what we always felt in our hearts: that all living things in an ecosystem are connected and depend on each other.
We are also waking up to the realization that we depend on trees for more than just furniture and paper. Hence, the rise of various ecotherapy approaches. Shinrin-yoku is one of those methods. This well-established preventative healing practice from Japan is literally translated as “taking in the forest atmosphere” but is also known by another name – forest bathing. Poetic but also precise: being in the woods is a lot like being submerged into the deep green water. Forest bathing has nothing to do with hiking, sweating or counting steps. It is about slowing down, noticing small things, employing all our senses, and washing our spirits clean with leaves, flowers, sounds and smells.
On two separate Saturdays we headed to Hockley Valley Nature Reserve just north-west of Toronto to practice some much needed forest bathing. It would be hard to find a better place for it. With towering hardwoods up above and a thick green carpet underneath, it did feel like I was deep under water, green lushness of the forest pressing tight against my body. At times, I felt like I was dissolving into the green liquid, becoming one with the trees and could hear them whisper again. Occasionally, the trail carried us onto open meadows where we floated on top of daisies and buttercups for awhile before diving back into the leafy sea. We emerged out of it calmer, more centred and happier.
Here are some photos I took to capture that experience. But, of course, nothing beats the real thing so find a forest, a park or even a single tree and dive right into its soothing greenery.