Shinrin-yoku in Herrontown Woods

When Bhavna wanted to get out for a hike a few weeks ago, I suggested Herrontown Woods. It’s nearby, just a few kilometres from home, and we haven’t visited the trail in years. It had been so long she had forgotten’ she doubted she had ever hiked it.

While the Yellow Trail traces Harry’s Brook, we took the Red Trail, which took us all around the woods. She still didn’t remember when I mentioned the Orange Trail goes to the Veblen House, which we had visited. We found ourselves surrounded by trees with sunlight filtering through the leaves. It was a great feeling to experience Shinrin-yoku.

Shinrin-yoku (uncountable) in Japanese culture is a recreational trip to the forest for relaxation and well-being. The term Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. It is often defined as making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest; forest bathing.

A team of physiologists conducted a research study on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku. The results show that forest environments promote lower cortisol concentrations, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, pathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than city environments. Too much cortisol can lead to anxiety, depression, and headaches and affects memory and concentration.

This is just what we needed.


I don’t know how to reintegrate back into "before" habits and places and friends

Last night I mentioned to Bhavna that I was having some challenges getting back into my pre-pandemic habits. Hiking, Friday lunches with friends, and early morning photography walks were some of my activities before the pandemic. I was always quick to rise. I told her that I think I am still mourning the loss of "before". When I was a child, our family moved around the Caribbean quite a bit as Dad pursued his career goals with Barclays. It would take me a year or two to make friends and learn the local customs. Moving meant leaving behind the close friends I had made and the food and culture I had adapted to. It was painful, and I think I learned to just "let go" and adjust again to the new reality. I continued that practice as I pursued my studies in the USA, moving from university to university (Madison, New Jersey, Atlanta, Georgia, Ann Arbor. Michigan) and then back to New Jersey. I continued to say goodbye and move on.

I think I did the same during the two years of the pandemic. I had to let go of the "before". I let it ALL go. I adjusted to building a community around just a few places; my sister-in-law's garage and driveway, the outdoor space at the Brick Farm Tavern, and Flounder Brewing. But unlike my previous experiences, I didn’t move. Everyone and everything is still here. The pandemic ended, but all the places and people never left.

I think part of me is afraid. I don’t know how to reintegrate into "before" habits, places, and friends. I’m struggling.

Oswald Veblen's Abandoned House

My plans for the day included visiting the abandoned Oswald Veblen House in Herrontown Woods. I need subject matter for one of my photography challenges. Bhavna woke up, and after a quick breakfast, she agreed to accompany me. I was happy for the company.

Neither of us had visited Herrontown Woods before. We quickly scanned the map at the trailhead and then took the red trail. At a fork, we walked through an opening in the fence. We followed what appeared to be a new “green-white” path and found the abandoned property.

An active farm, deeded to Mercer County by Princeton University mathematician Oswald Veblen and his wife Elizabeth in 1957, occupied the southeastern part of the woods, including the cottage clearing with its now-abandoned house and barn. Wood-cutting for timber sale continued through the 1920s. The Levine tract, additional land on the eastern side of the woods acquired in the early 1970s, had seen traprock quarrying around the beginning of the 20th century.[New Jersey Trail Association]

Oswald Veblen's Abandoned House | Saturday 28 January 2017 | Nikon D5100 | Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8

We walked around, exploring the property. Bhavna was quite patient while I kneeled in the grass, composing one shot after another.

We walked the path over to the abandoned barn and barn house. While I tried compositions with the barn house, Bhavna explored the barn.

Saturday 28 January 2017 | Nikon D5100 | Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8