Slow Down and You’ll See More
“Nellie’s advance is always at a snail’s pace. I once timed her on a solitary circuit around the pond and found that, at that speed, it would take her eleven hours to travel a mile. Her motto, she says is: Go Slow and See More.”
– From “A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm” by Edwin Way Teale
The autumnal equinox is Sept. 22. Cooler weather will be here before we know it, making autumn enjoyable for outdoor activities. For me, that means more woods walks and forest rambles.
I will readily take to the woods in any season. Hot, cold, rain, snow or sunny, anytime spent in the forest is time well spent. A hike on a hot summer day can be an opportunity to listen for birds and other wildlife, however, the joy is quickly interrupted by swatting mosquitoes and deer flies. My summer hikes tend to be at a quick pace just to keep ahead of the flying insects.
But not in autumn. Get me to the woods after a couple of hard frosts and I’ll go slow and, as Nellie Teale noted, see more.
In high school I read Henry David Thoreau’s classic book “Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.” Like many who have read Thoreau, I was enlightened by his prescription for civilization and gained a new appreciation for the personal rewards gained by spending time in nature.
Today, my book shelf is full of books by renowned nature writers and naturalists such as Thoreau, John Muir, John Burroughs, Rachael Carson, Aldo Leopold, Hal Borland, and my favorite local author, Teale. More recent writers that I find inspiring include Bernard Heinrich and John Hanson Mitchell. I also subscribe to Northern Woodland magazine, which along with their other publications is full of informative articles written by the best naturalist writers in New England.
More recently, I have read essays and articles about a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, which literally means “forest bathing” in Japanese. Forest bathing, or simply being in the presence of trees, became a national public health program in Japan in 1982. Research has shown that forest bathing helps lower the heart rate, boost the immune system and improve overall feelings of well-being.
I looked into forest bathing more and found several articles about it, including information from the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. I have ordered their “Guide to Forest Therapy” and look forward to reading it and possibly sharing more about this in future columns.
The key elements in practicing forest bathing, whether alone or in a group, are silence, moving slowly, breathing deeply and mindfully moving through the landscape in ways to open all your senses.
If you’re interested in learning more about shinrin-yoku and forest bathing I suggest you view the association website at
http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org. There are several tabs to look through, including several research articles, to help you gain a better understanding of the practice.
I hope you’ll join me in the woods to experience what John Muir meant when he wrote “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” I think Nellie Teale’s motto of Go Slow and See More is good advice as well.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll use this column to share with you some of TLGV’s upcoming Walktober walks and hope you’ll be joining us as we experience the outdoors during the glorious fall season.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll do your part to care for it, enjoy it and help us pass it on.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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