As I went into the woods today my eye was drawn to a small white pine tree covered with sparkles. It wasn’t anything that another human being had done but the low morning sun glinting off the frozen rain and snow that fell last night. There were neat piles of icy snow on each bunch of pine needles and frozen drops of rain on the tips of some of the long delicate needles.
They were suspended in time, glimmering in the warm morning light. I paused- caught up in nature’s display- and took it all in.
My dog, Juliet, tugged gently at her leash. She was giving me the sign it was time to move on. I am an obedient and well behaved dog owner so I did as she asked. As the two of us walked on, I was thinking of the sparkles and an invitation came to me: Notice the sparkles in the forest.
When I speak of an invitation, I am referring to a Forest Bathing invitation. Forest Bathing comes from the Japanese word Shinrin Yoku, which translates into “taking in the atmosphere of the forest”. This practice, also sometimes referred to as Forest Therapy, was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. I have trained here in the US to lead Shinrin Yoku walks and am a Certified Forest Therapy Guide trained by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.
Forest Bathing walks typically cover a short distance and are a series of invitations designed to allow participants to slow down, engage their senses and connect with nature, the living world. This is one of the best ways I know to reduce stress.
I’ve been leading Forest Bathing walks since 2015 in Massachusetts and this practice is my passion. I enjoy guiding others and being guided on these walks. I also enjoy practicing Shinrin Yoku on my own or- as in this case- with my dog. So, on this winter morning when there wasn’t another guide close at hand, I set about giving an invitation to myself.
As Juliet and I proceeded along the familiar trail we were both feeling the excitement of being out after a fresh snow.
I was focused on my invitation. Notice the sparkles in the forest.
The branches and rocks were slick with their shiny coatings of ice. The sparkles were indeed all over making the forest sing both visually and with the sound of the melting snow and ice as the morning sun warmed it. Free from its frozen bond to the trees, the melting ice fell to the earth – plink---plink, plink-plink.
The air, although cold, smelled wet and alive. I ate a frozen rain drop off the end of a white pine needle and then another. There was the slightest hint of pine flavor as the icy droplets melted on my tongue. I looked around, up, down, far away and up close, noticing the sparkles and smiling as I slowly walked.
I noticed a delicate branch at shoulder height with frozen drops at each tip catching the sun’s rays. Then I noticed the smooth trunk of a young maple covered with a thin sheen of melting ice sparkling and disappearing before my eyes. The newly released water found its way down the trunk in a shiny trail. Little piles of icy snow sparkled on top of dozens of small toadstools on another tree.
We wandered slowly- the dog and I each taking turns to stop and investigate things. She sniffed and scratched or chewed on a tasty looking stick. I looked, touched, listened and tasted some more rain drops, this time from an eastern hemlock tree. Mmm, the piney taste was different. I liked this one more. I smiled again feeling playful and joyous. We crossed a small stream using the stepping stones nature provided. I paused to watch and listen to the shimmering water flow and bend its way around the stepping stone I stood on. Waves of delicate, sun-lit ice fringed the stream’s banks like layers of lace ruffles on a wedding gown. There were sparkles everywhere…
As often happens when I Forest Bathe with my dog, she gives me many invitations: Or perhaps it just seems that way because I willingly comply with her commands. In any case, she “invited” me to step off the trail and toward an old eastern hemlock tree some ways into the woods. I followed and shortly we arrived under the tree. There was a hush in this space beneath the hemlock’s protective branches that had kept most of the snow away. The smell of pine needles and fresh, sweet earth greeted me. The dog was investigating a fascinating stick and my eye was drawn down to the forest floor.
There were islands of brilliant green moss with frosted edges that caught the light and evergreen ferns poking their fronds out from little piles of sparkling snow. I knelt, feeling the give of the piney ground with my knee and hand. Reaching out to the moss, it felt almost warm to the touch on this cold morning and spongey like a down pillow.
I looked closely at the sparkles, drawn into the beauty of these miniature worlds. I sat comfortably on a log under the tree and we stayed there for a time just noticing.
An invitation carries with it the intention to slow down and notice. To look not only with our sight but with all our senses; to notice what pleasure we may be noticing and let that in!
After a while the invitation seemed to come to its natural conclusion. It was time to finish the rest of our 2-mile hike. We had only gone about 100 yards in the past 30 minutes. I shared my gratitude with the forest before leaving my spot under the tree. Our slow wander concluded, for now, and we went on at a more deliberate pace to complete our hike. Smiling inwardly, I noticed the sparkles now in my soul. I felt like singing. So, I did.