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 week's Lens Artist challenge topic is indeed a challenge. The keyword is hideaway. The nearby woodland and forests are my hideaway - a place to get away from home and work and hide among the trees. Leya enjoys the privilege of a new glasshouse where she can escape. I have no such place inside my home. I had to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Where can I find that quiet space when I need to escape? In New Jersey, one of the most populous states in the USA, it’s very challenging to find those spaces. When I am outside, my anxiety is constant with people everywhere despite social distancing. In a previous blog post, I have written about my practice of “Shinrinyoku” ("forest bathing") where I go deep into the woods where everything is silent (or as silent as one can get in New Jersey) for peaceful for relaxation and catharsis.
River guides might know that nature is transformative for the human body and psyche; but the mechanism behind such profound change is less universally agreed upon and understood. How nature heals had been little researched until 1982, when Tomohide Akiyama, who was then secretary of the Forest Agency in Japan, coined the term shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) to describe the practice of getting into the woods for body and mind renewal, to counter lifestyle-related health issues.
The tradition was already ages-old in Japan, but naming it went hand in hand with making recommendations for best practices: one should walk, sit, gaze and exercise among the trees; eat well-balanced meals of organic, locally sourced food; and, if available, immerse in hot springs. All five senses should be engaged, especially for certification as one of Japan’s official Forest Therapy Bases, which are well-maintained, embraced by the local community, and which are required to show, in practitioners, a decrease in physiological markers such as levels of the stress hormone cortisol after wandering in the woods.
When Akiyama recommended forest bathing all those years ago, he knew about the pioneering studies of phytoncides – basically, pungent essential oils – conducted by the Soviet scientist Boris P Tokin in the 1920s and ’30s. The oils, volatile compounds exuded by conifers and some other plants, reduce blood pressure and boost immune function, among other benefits.
Reviewing some of the responses to the challenge, I see that I had good company in Priscilla Galasso and Tina Schell find escapes in similar familiar spaces.
The weather was near perfect yesterday with late afternoon temperatures around 17ºC and a slight breeze. Bhavna wanted to go hiking. I chose the Dry Run Creek Trail in West Amwell Township in Hunterdon County, a trail that ends near the trailhead to the Rockhopper Trail in Lamberville in Mercer County. We hiked the Rockhopper Trailearlier in the year. The trails heads face are direct across on Route 518/Brunswick Avenue but are in different towns.
At the start of the hike, we encountered one other person, who was exciting the trail. We walked the meandering trail from end to end and back again without seeing another person.
The canopy was coloured faint yellow, orange, red, and green; a mixture of fall leaf colour in various stages of change.
Leaves rustled and crunched under our shoes. We could feel a gentle breeze. The scent of decaying leaves perfumed the air.
Dappled light lit the trail and fell on our faces.
At an accessible spot along Dry Run Creek, Bhavna sat on a rock in quiet contemplation.
We found a frog at our feet.
There were signs of earlier land usage are evident along this trail, including these old stone walls marking property lines, The wall travels down the slopes toward the creek.
After yesterday’s walk around Thompson Park with Bhavna, I was still feeling in a funk today. I wanted to get outside. After a late lunch, I drove to Zion Park section of the Rock Brook, near the border with Montgomery Township and Hillsborough Township.
I bought my Fuji X-T2 and XF16-55mmF.28 R LM WR and my Pentax P3 and SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2 lens. I wasn’t sure about the Pentax. Just as I was leaving home, the rubber band holding the film door shut, broke and the film was briefly exposed. I expect it’s a lost roll. But I brought it with me anyway.
My intention was photography, but after a few shots on both cameras, I walked down the middle of the Rock Brook and sat atop one of the large boulders. I felt the sun on my face and listened to the sounds of the wind. The birds sang from the trees and the water bubbled and gurgled around the rocks and boulders of the Rock Brook. No human sounds.
In 2018 I was dealing with the effects of hyperthyroidism that as so bad that one evening while returning home from work in New York City, I sat on the sidewalk near the World Trade Center. I was unable to move. I put my life on hold until I had surgery.
In 2019, I was dealing with Graves Eye disease. My father passed away while I was undergoing radiation therapy. Before two eye operations, one of which left me with double vision for several months, I put my life on hold again. The year 2020 was supposed to be the year I got my life back.
The anger didn’t last long. Bathing in the forest had transformed my feelings into something else. I felt an overwhelming sadness. Tears flowed. I cried. I sat under the forest canopy weeping. It was what I needed; a form of nature therapy.