A “friend” on Facebook recently put up a photograph of woodland and added the caption, “Forest Bathing”. A quick “Google” lead to an article in The Irish Examiner where I read:
The Japanese have a word for it: “shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing. It’s the sensory experience of being among trees. It’s a rich form of physically active mindfulness. Forest bathers are encouraged to put away their mobiles and their headphones, and instead activate all their senses to interact with the forest environment.
It has immediate benefits. A study of Japanese office workers showed a 13% drop in their levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a walk in the woods, and the forest also improved the workers ability to focus and reduced their blood pressure.”
All very nice, you might think, but my odd mind lead me to a picture of this friend “forest bathing” and I imagined him wearing a hacking jacket, Dubarry “Galway” boots, the obligatory scarf wrapped casually, yet artistically, round the neck and the styrofoam cup of latte in his hand. I couldn’t quite decide if his mobile was hand-held or on a selfie-stick but he certainly couldn’t allow such an occasion to pass by without recording his bathing for social media. This apparently now widespread need to dress up the simple pleasure of a walk in a wood with lifestyle and health benefits tires me, annoys me and strikes me as loading a lot of baggage onto a simple experience. Much the same is the regular comment on gardening that it is “therapeutic”, almost implying that all gardeners have mental health issues. A woodland walk or time spent in the garden are best enjoyed without any consideration of therapeutic benefit, measurement of stress levels or blood pressure. My stress levels and blood pressure rise at the mention of these so called benefits. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Obviously, with such a dreadful and unreasonable view of this innocent man and such a negative attitude to those who spout such platitudes, something far more than forest bathing was needed –forest drowning might have been more appropriate – and, fortunately, a friend had invited me to come along for a walk in a woodland local to him where we could see Early Purple Orchids in flower. So, with three friends, I wandered about in a wood in south County Kilkenny yesterday afternoon. Our attire did not match that I had imagined of my friend but the benefits suggested by The Irish Examiner contributor were certainly there in abundance – though not measured!
Our location was a small woodland, maintained by Coillte (a state sponsored forestry company), with marked walks and little else done other than what is considered essential from a safety viewpoint – some small simple bridges over streams. I imagine this wood was a planted, rather than a natural, woodland given the predominance of beech trees though there was a small area where birch was the main tree. The ground was beautifully covered in bluebells which made the perfect woodland picture. When I encounter such scenes I often think of how poor our gardening efforts really are. We juggle with design and planting combinations, with maintenance and control, and never create such simple beauty. The enjoyment of our garden can be tempered by the work we have put into its creation while the enjoyment of such a woodland scene comes labour free, a pure gift to us.
Although the bluebells dominated there were also other wildflowers: two kinds of wild garlic – ramsons and the three-cornered leek – along with garlic mustard, wood sorrel and – the main reason for our visit – Early Purple Orchids. My friend had introduced me to a number of good local sites to see native orchids last year and this was the first of our outings this year. It is still early in the orchid season and both the range and number of orchids will increase as the weeks go by but it is always a treat to see the first of the season so early.
Other trips are planned as the season moves on and we look forward to enjoying the flowers, lowering our stress levels and blood pressure, gaining all the therapeutic benefits available but we will do so without the selfies and the styrofoam coffee and hope to remain steadfastly grumpy old men enjoying the very simple pleasures of life.