In her eloquent foreword to Forest Bathing Retreat, Kimmerer sings the praises of time spent in nature, whether you know it as ”forest bathing” or not.
Whether or not you’ve heard the term “forest bathing” before, you’re certainly familiar with the growing body of scientific evidence that getting outside and spending time in nature is good for both body and mind. It’s possible that, if you’re anything like Forest Bathing Retreat author Hannah Fries, you didn’t need scientific studies to confirm the powerful stress- and anxiety-reducing benefits of fresh air and green spaces. But knowing there’s proof of what you already felt in your bones can be reassuring — inspiring, even. It’s also an excellent incentive to share the pleasures of taking a few deep, quiet breaths at the foot of your favorite tree with someone who might not have thought to seek refuge there.
Among the appreciators of spending time outdoors is Robin Wall Kimmerer, scientist and the author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She penned a beautiful foreword to Hannah Fries’s Forest Bathing Retreat, and it’s such an inviting introduction to the book and the concept of forest bathing, we couldn’t help but share it here. Perhaps, when you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself out of doors, with no other purpose than to soak in, and soak up, the quiet company that awaits you. — Emily Spiegelman, Digital Content Manager
My daily calendar is filled with appointments and classes; and, if I were so inclined, I could calculate the number of lifetime hours I have spent in meetings . . . or on a conference call or answering email. I most emphatically do not want to know that number, which would only make me cringe and send me wailing out the door. The tally I really care about is how many cumulative months I have spent in the company of trees. I believe the number would total years, hopefully decades, that I have spent botanizing, birding, hiking, camping, picking berries, digging medicines, gathering firewood, teaching, doing science, or working toward some other purposeful woodland pursuit. Often during these outdoor activities I am interrupted by the imperative of more important tasks — like sitting on a stone wall watching clouds or a balsamiferous afternoon spent lying on my stomach in deep pine needles listening for centipede footfalls on a moss carpet. As it turns out, I have spent a lifetime engaging in “forest therapy,” all the while thinking I was just playing in the woods. My mother, endlessly emptying my pockets of stones and seedpods, despairing of my muddy knees and elbows (which I still sport as a grandmother), would be relieved to know that what she called “daydreaming in the woods” is now called “forest bathing” — though I never came home clean!
What was once as natural as breathing, to be in the presence of trees and birds and that elegant walking stick insect masquerading as a twig, has vanished from many lives. Today, most of us live in cities and the hours in front of a screen vastly surpass the hours beneath leaves. How many miles do we walk without our feet ever touching the softness of the forest floor? What green spaces we do have are often manicured playgrounds, shaped to our will. We have constructed barriers around our lives, sealed in plastic wrap as if insulating ourselves from the living, breathing, gorgeously teeming world. Forest Bathing Retreat is an invitation from Hannah Fries to become “more permeable to the natural world around you.”
The name “forest bathing” arose from an understanding of the deep therapeutic benefits, both physical and spiritual, of being in the company of trees. It is a translation of the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, coined in the 1980s as a form of forest therapy to treat the many ailments which arise from urban life, calendars full of stress, and pavement beneath our feet.
I can attest to its soul filling qualities. There is a vibrant reciprocity between the leaves and birds and seemingly silent trunks and the warm-blooded human sitting on the log, an exchange of mutual knowing that we are made lonely without. Like the health-giving benefits of bathing in mineral springs that spawned an era of “taking the waters” in resorts and clinics, forest bathing is a sensory immersion in green light and birdsong that leaves the bather renewed and clean.
I am blessed to have spent a life in the woods, but if the woods are out of reach, you can saunter through the pages here. This handsome volume invites you to be fully intentional, not to walk through the woods in order to get somewhere, but with the sole purpose of being fully present to yourself and to the lives around you. In sections labeled Breathe, Connect, Heal, and Give Thanks, Fries invites a deeper connection to the natural world.
Like the skilled and graceful editor she is, Fries has curated a collection of literary prose and poetry and evocative forest images that invite you to slow down and connect deeply with each sense fully tuned to the tone of the forest. She takes your hand and guides you down a winding path of wonder that offers peace and companionship of the forest world. Like the dendrophile she is, she has chosen words and images that play together like sunflecks through the treetops. Like the gifted poet she is, she bestows delicious words that we didn’t know we needed, offering a prescription for our minimum daily requirement of psithurism, a rich draught of petrichor, and the soothing medicine of komorebi. You will feel lighter at the end of your walk with Hannah Fries. — Robin Wall Kimmerer