Anne Horrigan Geary: Joys of 'forest bathing'

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DALTON — For some time now, I have been intrigued by the concept of "forest bathing" or "shinrin-yoku" in Japanese. From the original explanation in the 1980s, the term is now broadened to include all types of sensory interaction with nature. Many medical studies have proven the beneficial effects of spending time with trees and plants.

How lucky are we here in the Berkshires! We are immersed in nature from the time we step out the door in the morning until we head inside at the end of the day.

My first memories of walking to grammar school include observing the trees on my route. In the spring we were always collecting the maple spinners and pasting them on our noses, or flinging them up again into the air to see how long they could stay aloft.

There was a line of elm trees along Wahconah Street in Pittsfield, and I was always looking up into their tall branches. Sadly, I watched them all die of Dutch elm disease. One by one, they lost their leaves until they were finally cut down.

In the fall, I collected leaves and waxed them to preserve them, or stuck them into scrapbooks. The maple tree on Carmels' lawn had the most beautiful leaves, which turned a shade of burgundy, unlike the common oranges and yellows.

Picnicking at Pontoosuc Lake in the summer, I felt dwarfed by the tall pines. The layer of pine needles covering the ground made for slippery walking during a summer shower, especially if you were scrambling up the hill with your arms full of damp picnic supplies. I still return to the shade on the south side of the lake, if only to sit and sip a cup of coffee and watch the boats skim across the surface. These pines of my childhood may be older, and occasionally damaged by storms; but the sense of relaxation and enjoyment remains. This is my second favorite spot for "forest bathing".

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Hands-down, the place which brings the most joy and comfort is my own backyard. It has taken me 13 years to transform a grassy hillside into a nature preserve, but it was worth all the work. Sitting under the pergola, now covered with emerging grape leaves, we stare at the trees, shrubs, and native flowering plants. Many species of birds have joined us here, the latest being a pair of Baltimore orioles.

There is a constant show of blossoms. Now we are enjoying the scent of lilacs, along with the showy azaleas, and rhododendrons. The crabapple blooms are just about gone as are the forsythia. Some of the blueberry bushes are flowering too, bringing the promise of luscious fruits later this season. The low-growing strawberries are beginning to carpet their patch with bright white five-lobed blooms.

The leaves of the two maples are fully unfurled, but the lone ash tree has just started to leaf out. We are watching it closely for signs of the dreaded emerald ash borer. How I would hate to lose that tree!

Soon, we will be swinging in the hammock under the leafy canopy. This is "forest bathing" at its best, looking up at the leaves with only pinpricks of sunshine peeking through the foliage. The birds will be chirping an accompaniment to the gentle squeak of the hammock hooks as we rock gently. The scent of lilies will soon perfume the air, and the taste of lettuce, basil, and heirloom tomatoes will fill our mouths with succulent satisfaction.

I wish you all the joys of "shinrin-yoku."

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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