As I sit here at my desk and look out my window, I see fresh buds coming out on my garden plants, the forsythia is blooming, and the crocuses are pushing their way up out of the ground. Nevertheless, it is still so cold outside! Other sure signs that spring is on the way for me are the return of the swallows swooping overhead and the trillium blooming along the forest floor. A few weeks ago, I was on an assistance site visit to a small forest landowner’s property on a beautiful piece of land near Shelton . Located along Cranberry Lake, a wooden boardwalk crosses over some beautiful wetland areas. As I was looking down at the water, I saw hundreds and hundreds of flies that had just hatched (yes, that seemed early for me too!). When I looked up in the sky I also saw hundreds of swallows circling over the wetland snatching up as many of those flies as they could! What a sight it was! Full spring is just around the corner!
As spring comes upon us, as forest landowners, we all know how good being in nature can make us feel. The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air — these things give us a sense of comfort. They ease our stress and worry, help us to relax and to think more clearly. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, and refresh and rejuvenate us. What exactly is this feeling that is so hard to put into words?
In Japan, they practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means, “forest,” and yoku means, “bath.” So, shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Forest bathing in nature allows the stressed portions of your brain to relax. Positive hormones are released in the body. You feel less sad, angry and anxious. It helps to avoid stress and burnout, and aids in fighting depression and anxiety. A forest bath is known to boost immunity and leads to fewer days of illness as well as faster recovery from injury or surgery. Nature has a positive effect on our mind as well as body. It improves heart and lung health, and increases focus, concentration, and memory.
Certain trees like conifers also emit oils and compounds to safeguard themselves from microbes and pathogens. These molecules known as phytoncides are good for our immunity too. Breathing in the forest air boosts the level of natural killer (NK) cells in our blood. NK cells are used in our body to fight infections, cancers and tumors. So spending time with these trees is a special form of tree bathing. Most important is the size of the forest. The larger the forest, the more phytoncides and the better the results . Much of the health benefits are described collectively in the book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing LI, chair of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine.
So how does forest bathing work? First, find a spot. Make sure you leave your phone and camera behind — you do not need any devices. Instead, you are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Take a deep breath. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy. Taste the freshness of the air as you take those deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. Now you have connected with nature, and as a small forest landowner has always known, you have crossed the bridge to happiness I know that small forest landowners value their forests similarly and personally experienced forest bathing, whether or not you call it that. I found reading about the research behind forest bathing affirming and inspiring to do it more myself, and I encourage you to take the time to relate with your forest in this way in addition to all the other ways you value your forestland.
In this newsletter, we continue a spring theme with articles on frogs, getting out into your woods with photopoint monitoring, and joining others at a variety of upcoming educational events statewide. Our forest entomologist and pathologist will discuss the results of Washington’s recent Forest Health Highlights report and communications staff will outline the Western Washington expansion of the, Wildfire Ready Neighbors program. We are also excited to feature Washington Farm Forestry Association (WFFA) and Executive Director Elaine Oneil’s article on the new Carbon Workgroup established by recent Climate Commitment Act legislation to pursue carbon-offset projects for small forestland owners.
As we move into springtime, DNR service program staff will be out and about assisting forest landowners. We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight one of those staff, Dan Pomerenk, who is retiring after more than four decades of public service with DNR, the past 21 years working directly with small forest landowners protecting natural resources as the Forestry Riparian Conservation Easement Program Manager. Please join me in wishing him the very best in his retirement years.