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.