March 12, 2020
“When you step outdoors and under a canopy of trees, when you give yourself time to breathe, time to get to know the trees and their world, you feel that pressure lift and dissipate.”
The full moon was Monday—appropriately the Worm Moon. The seeds are ordered. The sun shows itself once in a while. It’s time to get outside, ready or not.
March is liminal space. It’s both winter and spring. Here in Washington—COVID-19 U.S. ground zero—we’re increasingly on edge, trying to balance caution with fear. I have family in Seattle, two young children and one of the moms in a school every day (as of today, it’s cancelled for at least two weeks—it’s own challenge). I won’t lie, I’m not an alarmist, but I’m concerned about them, surviving isolation together if nothing else. Rebecca and I are grateful we aren’t having to deal with Mama and her elder care facility; and I got my first Airbnb cancellation when the annual Pickleball tournament in a couple of weeks was cancelled due to the Virus.
The antidote: turn off the news and go to the forest.
“When you feel heavy, in danger of being crushed, try to think of yourself as more flexible and less brittle.”
I’m hunkering in, both in the house and on the property—which to tell the truth is not at all difficult for me. There are still plenty of rainy indoor days to maybe do one of those winter projects that didn’t get done in true winter. But when the sun shines, there is just one thing that makes sense: get outside. I make a promise to myself to walk in the woods five days out of seven in the coming months. It’s not the first time I’ve made the vow, but this week I’m three days for three. I’m getting hooked.
Solivagant: wandering alone.
I pick up winter blow down in the woodlot and meadow. It’s more than it first seemed, but what a difference that I cleaned it last year. It’s done!
I clean out my access trail into the Seminary Hill Natural Area, rerouting it around an obstruction, and use it. The woods is foggy and cold on Monday—30º. I find hair ice! Just the second time I’ve seen it. It is both winter and spring in the forest.
“When we breathe the forest air, phytoncides stimulate our ‘natural killer cells,’ white blood cells that attack tumors and viruses. So, when you walk among the trees, your immune system gets a boost from the trees’ own medicine.”
More chores. I don’t know what the real name of this weed is; I call it horribilius and that’s good enough for me. I can’t get rid of it, so I dig the whole bed out and, after I put another layer of mole barrier down, I’ll fill it with clean soil.
I cut off last year’s dead stems in the flower beds and hurtle fir cones over the side of the hill, then go for another walk, this time in the sun. Is it my imagination, or did the toothwort (Cardamine pulcherrima) explode overnight? And the trillium is emerging! I hear my mother’s voice asking me if I’ve seen any yet in her beloved woods.
I startle a large bird from its perch in a nearby tree. It flies off depriving me of a good look. Maybe an owl, or a small hawk. Or a well-fed woodpecker. I hear the peckers in the dead tops of big leaf maples; now one close, now another farther away, pecking out their conversational duet.
As I work and walk and breathe on this property I grew up on (and read family letters, 75 years old), the memories hit me hard. I remember not with my head, but in my body and it doubles me over in, what? Is it grief? Longing? Not because those were better times, nor that I was happier. In fact, I think I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. Just because the past is gone, and it seems so very long ago. My parents and aunts and uncles are gone. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.
I rake the woodlot floor with the rake my mother used, putting the twigs and branches in my father’s heavy wheelbarrow, and imagine them doing these tasks. I walk under the canopy of firs and maples, and see my mother looking for what’s new in the unveiling spring and focusing her camera. I hear my father’s voice explaining the progression of the forest: life and death and rebirth. They whisper to me in the rustling of the leaves in the breeze.
Psithurism: the sound of wind in the trees and rustling of leaves.
This is history, my history. And it lives in me.
“I drink old-growth forest in like water. This is the homeland that built us. I walk shoulder to shoulder with history—my history. I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself, its unhurried passing marked by immensity and stolidity, each year purged by fire cinched by a ring. Here mortality’s roving hands grapple with air. I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional than I’ve ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened by it. Comforted.” Janisse Ray
Quotes from “Forest Bathing Retreat: Find Wholeness in the Company of Trees,” by Hannah Fries.