Walking into any woods I clear my mind, refresh my soul and emerge more focused. In Japan they call this forest bathing. I reflected on this concept while watching a new film, An Above Average Day, about two local men who’ve climbed 400 mountains. Ray O’Conor is thirty years older than Joe Murphy. They inspire us to take any level hike, in mountains, nature preserves, state parks, across farms and fields. They believe in forest bathing.
I invite us to honor them and our experiences with nature. I’ll start and you can share your thoughts. As a child I played in neighboring woods, fields, dammed up streams and walked through swamps. Then the bulldozers came and as Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot… took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged us a dollar and a half just to see them.” It hurt.
I later had a unique experience while in seminary. I spent a year in the woods in silent meditation. I left and went to war. That was a shock. Coming home I sought readjustment and peace through nature. I married Lin, a woman who shares my sense of spirituality in nature. We’ve hiked together for fifty years and raised children who share our love for the outdoors. When I went to work at NYS State Parks there were limited opportunities for inner city kids, the developmentally disabled and blind skiers in parks. I set up programs for nontraditional patrons. Today there are greater opportunities for all including bird watchers who use wheelchairs and for less agile elders to enjoy nature.
I am proud of Ray and Joe’s accomplishments, their Forest Bathing, intergenerational friendship and persistence. I’m also proud that Lin and I walk and hike at our own level wherever and whenever we can.
I trust you have your own stories. Let’s celebrate forest bathing and encourage each other. Please tell me your experiences with nature and share them with your family and friends.