Nature & Wildlife, Uncategorized

Shinrin-yoku: forest bathing

Tree-huggers and leaf lovers, come this way…

After a week of house arrest due to the snow, then frantic work days catching up after the snow, plus too much talking, eating, drinking, thinking and social-media-ing I decided that the best and quickest way to feed my soul and enter recovery mode was a good solid walk in the woods .

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The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, which means ‘forest bathing’ and I can’t think of a better way to describe the act of putting on a pair of boots and walking alone amongst trees, fields and birdsong.  It’s been a thing in Japan since the 80s and its aim is to encourage a healthier lifestyle by taking walks in specially designated forests.  Forest bathing is not just about relaxation, although that’s a big part of it; studies have been done by Japanese scientists which show it can improve your physical health by boosting immune systems, reducing stress hormones, enhancing mental wellness and brain health. It might even blood glucose levels among diabetes sufferers.

I can certainly report it’s good for my soul as well as my health.  I always find something  in the woods to make me smile – today it was a flock of geese which passed so low overhead I could hear their wings beating.  And I also spotted lots of little chewed cones and nut remnants lying on the path which made me look up and wonder if there had been a little squirrel feast overhead.

I’m now wishing I had taken a photo of these…but then part of the joy of forest bathing is sometimes stopping to take photos, and sometimes simply enjoying the moment and not viewing it through a lens.

So I walked, breathed, greeted a couple of friendly dog walkers, and felt the sun on my back – it was wonderful.  I am extremely fortunate to have a number of woods just a short distance from home – I can leave my doorstep and walk to one of three woods within 5 minutes and if I ever got bored of these I could jump in the car and drive north to Big Tree Country in Perthshire, where there are some fantastic forests and woods to walk in.

However I do have a growing desire to visit Japan for some authentic forest-bathing.  I’ve been fascinated by the country and its culture for a long time and the more I read about it, the more I want to experience it for myself.  The Japanese relax by gazing at trees, lying on logs and breathing in forest smells.  Not to mention their cherry blossom festivals, zen gardens and moss meditation… for a garden-loving introvert it sounds like heaven!

For now though I will grab any opportunity I can to gaze at a Scots pine or my own (not-so-zen) garden.  Now the snow is melting the signs of Spring are showing up again at last.

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Nature & Wildlife

Rooks & Reds

This morning when I walked up to the woods there was a gang waiting close to the entrance – about half a dozen, they were all in black, shouting loudly, calling to each other, generally messing about and putting others off coming nearby.

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Fortunately they were also about 50 feet above me – rooks really do seem like the hoodlums of the bird world.  Actually, this is probably deeply unfair to the rook (and to hoodlums).  They are very sociable birds and are almost always seen in flocks, particularly noticeable at dawn or dusk during the winter, when they will gather together to communicate the best feeding sites or to find their spot to roost for the night.  Each morning during the darker months, I am dimly aware of the insistent cawing of hundreds of birds above our house, and will look out of the window to see them swooping and flying, crossing the field from the woods nearby, to gather wing-to-wing on the pylon and wires a short distance away.  There’s a perfect view of this from the dining room window, so breakfasts in winter are often spent marvelling at how noisy these birds are, and wondering how many can squeeze onto an wire, until the whole structure takes on the look of a magnet which has been dipped into iron filings.  A few minutes pass and they are off – they’ve discussed, loudly, the best place to locate the day’s food and it’s time to go off and find it.  They will gather again at dusk for some more swooping and chattering, but by then I will probably be busy in the kitchen or on my way home from work and it will happen unnoticed by me.  The dawn rooks are the ones I see most often and I like them.  They are a reliable, daily reminder of nature during the darkest months, when nature is sometimes a little harder to find.

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Dawn rooks

My view of rooks, crows and other similar birds was transformed recently when I read the book ‘Corvus’ by Esther Woolfson.  The writer lives in Aberdeen and has inadvertently become the owner/mother/foster carer? (it’s hard to know what to call her!) to a series of wild birds, including a rook, a magpie and several doves.  Her tales of acquiring and looking after these birds is really absorbing; having them in her home gives her the opportunity to observe the most instinctive and distinctive of their behaviours and she details their habits, history and physiology with fascination and love.  Read it, and you will never look at crows by the side of the road the same way again.

Once I had run the gauntlet of the local gang, this morning’s walk in the woods was a pleasant one, with plenty of birdsong although no woodpeckers, and I indulged once again in my new favourite activity – squirrel spotting.  There’s a quiet little corner of the woods where I can stand quietly and wait for a little scuffle in the canopy, or my eyes will be drawn to a twitching branch.  Today I wasn’t disappointed – a small red appeared after a minute or two, and I watched him scamper through the treetops for several minutes.  The rooks were still hanging about overhead but he wasn’t bothered – unfazed by the gang of feathered teens, he zipped down a tree trunk and into the undergrowth, where I lost him for now.

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