A “Forest Bath”

A beautiful Autumn reflection.

In a recent Facebook post, I joked about people buying Life and Longbows overseas and being “somewhat relevant in Japan”. A friend commented the popularity of outdoor activities, such as Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” in jest and peaked my curiosity. A quick search led me to a Time Magazine article titled “The Benefits of Forest Bathing” by Dr. Qing Li, who wrote the following about the activity and his book on the topic:

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. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. – Dr. Qing Li

I stopped there. There was no need to read any further. I knew exactly what Dr. Qing was referring to, having experienced something similar a few days prior.

It was a beautiful Autumn evening and I’d made it my mission to spend it at my favorite public land spot in search of the elusive Michigan Whitetail. The 2019 season had been a bust thus far. My work and family life were busy, which meant my hunting life was non-existent. I tend to get irritable when that happens and was looking forward to something more than snappy emails and tornado-stricken playrooms. I needed something green, red, yellow and eventually brown.

I arrived to find the dirt parking lot empty, which was a fantastic start. A Saturday evening in October was almost always a crowded affair here. The odds seemed to be shifting in my favor and I was sure that fate was on my side. I stepped out of the car, slipped my longbow from its sock, and climbed the familiar path into a sea of maples, oaks, and firs.

Opening the senses wouldn’t be a problem. The sight, sounds, and smells of the natural world were well known to every bowhunter and a bow in the hand always meant an adventure afoot. I expected nothing less that evening and would receive more than I bargained for.

The hike in was perfect. The birds began to chirp, the squirrels began to chatter, and the wet ground muffled my feet enough to hear it all the better. I slipped into a trance of sorts. My mind was light and my heart was full. I felt connected to everything and there was a “rightness” in the air that was difficult to explain. I prayed it would never end.

Was this Shinrin-yoku? Possibly. The gap to the natural world had indeed been bridged but I wasn’t ready for what awaited me on the other side.

My hunting spot sat atop a ridge of red oaks with pine barrens to the west and a marshy creek to the east. It was a well-used whitetail corridor and I believed a savvy bowhunter could do well with a little patience and the proper wind. I had plenty of both that night but would need to cross the creek to make it happen.

With a depth of 6-8″ and a width of 2-3′ feet it wasn’t the most formidable body of water in the state, but what it lacked in statistics it made up for with annoyance. We had a history – this creek and I. I’d crossed it dozens of times and always ended up dirtier on the other side, regardless of the approach. I was certain the result of this trip would be the same and I didn’t care. It kept other hunters away and that was fine with me. Besides, I was one with the forest – Shinrin-yoku – and not at all concerned with muddy boots. I confidently strolled to the bank, stepped to the edge and prepared to jump.

I’d never been a fan of jumping. I disliked it when I was a chunky ten-year-old and loathed it post-35 when everything started to hurt. It was an awkward skill and I always looked awkward doing it. I learned early on that some of us were born to soar and others to sink, which is exactly what my left foot did before leaving the bank – it sank – the instant I put pressure on it. I was on my backside, staring at a muddy stump with little hope of freeing the leg beneath it.

The soothing serenity of the evening vanished, as I shoveled through the mud and muck. Shinrin-yoku had become too literal for my taste. My senses were still open but the stimuli had changed for the worst. I’d traded leaves for mud, mosquitos for birds, and crisp Autumn air for the smell of my own sweat. I was angry, humiliated, and planned on leaving the moment I freed myself.

Then something peculiar happened. With a final yank, my boot popped free, and relief followed. My anxiety was gone and I felt terrific – even better than I had before the accident happened. The hunt would continue. I scraped my mud-caked boot against a tree, and proceeded up the ridge to finish the hunt. It was cold, my pants were wet, and the rest of the evening was uneventful, but none of it mattered. I sat there, grinning like a fool, until the sun sank behind the pines.

Taste the freshness of the air as you take 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. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness. – Dr. Qing Li

Now that I know more about Dr. Qing Li and forest bathing, I can’t help but wonder if he had considered scenarios like these when he wrote his book. Would he consider my forest bath a “forest bath” and add “sinking into a muddy hole” to his list of ways to connect to nature?

I doubt it. But he should.

If you like what you are reading, please consider buying my book, Life and Longbows. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. You can also purchase a personalized copy on this site. Visit my Bookshelf to do so. If you like outdoor related content in podcast form, check out the Traditional Outdoors podcast.

Unpunched Tags

UnpunchedTags

Every tag has a story. Even those that go unpunched.

Hobbies have always been a large part of my life. The Magic the Gathering card game is one of those hobbies. It is a game I’ve enjoyed with my younger brother for many years. No matter where I am or how stressed out I get, Magic makes it better. One of the benefits of playing Magic is the community. I have a local playgroup and enjoy traveling to regional gatherings. I met a fellow Michigander named Jay at such a gathering. We struck up a conversation and I ended up telling him about my life outdoors – bowhunting in particular.

That must have struck a chord with Jay, who messaged me a few months later, regarding the value of some hunting gear belonging to his late father, Joel. Photos followed and included an old Bear Whitetail compound, green bolt-on Bear quiver, some early carbon arrows, and other odds and ends.

It was an interesting assortment. What it lacked in monetary value, it oozed in character and nostalgia. I was drawn to the odds and ends in particular, which included shooting stalls, a hand drawn map to one of Joel’s hunting spots, and an unpunched Michigan bow tag from 1978.

JayBow2

These were both remnants of a bygone era and the life of a bowhunter rolled into one package. My imagination ran wild with visions of a Michigan autumn and Joel’s pursuit of the elusive whitetail buck. “Where did he hunt?” I wondered. “Was it on public or private land?” “What did his license cost?” “Did he prefer the thrill of a treestand or watching them breathe at eye level?”

I was able to fill some of those gaps by pestering Jay. I already knew the when, he helped me paint the scene with the where, which happened to be his grandfather’s cabin in Kalkaska County. I had recently visited that area on a fly fishing pilgrimage to Grayling and enjoyed the scenery immensely. Meanwhile, the DNR’s 1978 Preliminary Report (courtesy of my friend Jamey Burkhead) added a bit of spice to the mix and my imagination did the rest.

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According to the report, Joel paid $7.50 for one of the 63,536 resident licenses in 1978. I would like to think he did so at a local sporting goods store on his way to the cottage. Maybe a mom-and-pop like Jack’s Sport Shop on Cedar Street, where he could get a Coke, the license, and a few sticks of beef jerky to tide him over for the evening hunt.

He probably went to the cottage from there, the crisp Fall air blowing through his cracked driver side window, as he navigated side streets and gravel roads. Odds are he passed a cornfield or two and slowed to check the edges for feeding does – not for the prospect of hunting the property, but for the excitement.

The drive to the cottage would have been a short one, giving him enough time to unpack and send a few arrows into the old burlap target out back. I could imagine him unzipping the leather case and pulling the bow from the red plush interior, making sure the components are tight and in working order. I could envision the determination in his eyes, as he draws it and the smile on his face, as his arrows find their mark. He is ready. Even in 2019, I could see that he is ready. It is time.

He pulls a pack from the truck, zips his tag and jerky into the front pocket, and lays the map out on the hood. He runs his finger along the pen-scribbled lines until he finds the letter “D”. He taps it twice with his finger and looks towards the woods. D marks the spot on the ridge he hunted the year before. D is where he saw his deer. And D is where he is headed. He folds the map, slides it into his back pocket, grabs his bow, and strides off to meet his destiny.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. We know that Joel started with a plan and ended with an unpunched tag, but the middle is uncertain. Did his spot produce? Did he get a shot? Did he miss? There is a part of me that would like to know every detail of his 1978 season, but there is another part of me – a larger part – that would prefer it remain a mystery. I would like to think he had an adventure. One that filled his head with memories and his heart with satisfaction.

Success, after all, depends on the narrative. A tag, punched or unpunched, is just a memento kept to help us remember our story while we are here, and inspire others to make their own when we are gone.

Note: Jay was nice enough to gift me his father’s tag shortly before writing this. I’ll think of Joel whenever I see it and look to it for motivation when I need it the most.

Do you enjoy my writing? Have you bought my book? You should. It is called “Life and Longbows” and I think you’ll like it. Signed copies are available in my store while quantities last. You can get unsigned paperbacks or the Kindle version on Amazon. Whether you buy one or not, I appreciate the support and wish you the best!