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.

At Long Last

The cover of Nick's book "Life and Longbows".

My love of literature began at infancy.

My mother would dispute anyone who dared challenge the statement. According to her, all three of us Viau boys latched on to specific objects around the house without any prompting or explanation. My brother Matt loved hammers and hitting things with them. My brother Isaac loved whatever he could find on the floor and fit into his mouth. And I loved books.

“My Nick always loved his books.” She’d say. “You shook whenever you’d see one and pretended to read them to me the moment you learned to babble.”

That love for reading grew with me. I looked forward to Book Order time and always had a pile on my desk the day they’d arrive. Mom never said “no” to books. She put a premium on them and it stuck with me.

The third grade was my first literary epiphany. I enjoyed everything I read, including youth classics like Charlotte’s Web and Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac MacGee, which is still my favorite youth novel of all time. It was during this time, I discovered outdoor authors Gary Paulson and Jean Craighead George. Their novels Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain, spoke to me in ways no other books had. I grew up in the woods and spent hours exploring, making forts, crafting weapons, and knocking over decaying birch tree stumps. The idea of kids surviving on their own in the wild was everything I’d ever wanted in a story. I was so infatuated with Hatchet, in factthat I saved up the $50 and bought a leather-wrapped Estwing. It hardly left my side for several years.

The seed had been planted and was cultivated in middle/high school through Richard Adam’s Watership Down and Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. While not “outdoorsy” per se, the animals were the main characters, and the storytelling was top notch. I had little issue relating to the characters or the world, in which they lived.

While my appetite was always there, my tastes changed in college. Giants such as Crane, London, Twain, and Hemingway changed the way I looked at literature. Reading it was no longer enough. I needed to participate and believed I could. The next few years were spent on songs and poetry with the occasional short story sprinkled over the top. But I was lacking a consistent topic and an outlet to share my work.

I found the topic when I discovered archery in 2009. The outlet arrived in 2010, when I discovered blogging and created Life and Longbows. Still, the education was far from over. The journey had just begun. My archery immersion led to my re-acquaintance with the outdoors, which led to further writing discoveries. Authors such as MacQuarrie, Ruark, Voelker, and Colonel Tom Kelly changed the way I saw the page. Gordon MacQuarrie, in particular, had a profound effect on me. He showed me the power of relationships, humor, and dialogue and how they could make a good hunting/fishing story a great one.

This changed the game completely. I no longer felt that my outdoor experiences were inadequate in comparison to other hunters. In fact, I realized comparing was silly to begin with. The value of an experience is subjective to the hunter. Some search for solitude chasing moose in Alaska. Others long for the romance of the Dark Continent. And some find satisfaction hunting whitetails in their backyard with a buddy or two. This is where the idea for Life and Longbows manifested.

I wanted to introduce you to a younger me, walk you through my experiences (good and bad) and show you how I got to this point — with as much transparency as possible. I am no expert. I wouldn’t even call myself a “good” bowhunter. But I do love bowhunting and the people I’ve hunted with.

All that being said, I hope you will consider purchasing Life and Longbows and will recommend it to your friends when you are finished. I hope you will enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

You can purchase a signed copy of Life and Longbows here