Forest Bathing in Wellesley

Glowing foliage surrounded us at Elmbank in Wellesley

We had a perfect outdoor fall day to try forest bathing at Elmbank in Wellesley, MA. The bright blue sky offered a perfect backdrop for the glowing fall foliage. The breeze provided a varying shower of leaves as the wind increased then died back down.

Michelle Ryan introduced us to the concepts of Forest bathing before we set out

Bonnie contacted me and asked if I would shift plans from our original thought to head to Hopedale Parklands. Had I ever heard of forest bathing? Did I want to try it? Well, sure. We signed up through Sacred Threads, where our group leader arranged the sign up for the program.

Soaking in sun and shade under the trees at Elmbank

Once we arrived at Elmbank, we headed to an outdoor patio where the small group, all wearing masks, gathered at safe distances from each other to start what turned out to be a sort of Zen meditation on the outdoors. Michelle Ryan, Certified Forest Therapy Guide in Training and the leader of the group, shared with us some of the history of forest bathing, noting that the idea originated in Japan, which in the 1980s was concerned about a population that had left the countryside in large numbers to move to the city. This shift in population exhibited high levels of unhappiness, anxiety and ill health. The government wondered if offering time in the outdoors, reconnecting to the natural world might be of benefit to its citizens. Turns out their guess was correct.

Pine cones fallen on the ground
After a squirrel had had its meal, the remains of the pine cone return to the earth

And thus, forest bathing. Not a hike, instead, this was time spent under the trees of Elmbank, near the Charles River. Some sat in shade, others chose sunshine.

Tiny purple flowers reach for the light among fallen leaves in the grass

We listened to the wind, studied closely the ground underneath our feet, walked slowly, and took time to use all our senses to pay attention to the natural world.

A bumble bee hard at work among the flowers of Elmbank on this sunny fall day

In between times when we ventured out, we were offered “invitations” to focus on specific concepts (color, sound, smells, the ground). When we returned we shared (or not) something we had observed or experienced.

Trees on fire– impossible to ignore

All the while, the foliage glowed in the sunshine. Elmbank is known for its gardens, and is the headquarters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The gardens will soon be closed for the winter, but for now, they remain open as flowers not touched by frost continue to blossom.

Michelle poured out some pine needle tea, made of eastern white pine needles, steeped for 20 minutes in boiling water, the allowed to cool. She added a sprig of mint to balance the pine flavor.

We ended the time with a Japanese tea ceremony. Michelle explained that at other times, not during a pandemic, she would share tea she had made with us. For now, being careful to reduce contact with others, she alone drank a small cup of her pine needle tea, and poured another small cup on the ground in thanks to the earth.

Intriguing evergreen quite close to the trailhead leading to the Charles River

We learned while there of other trails across from the parking area at the entrance to the gardens, which will bring visitors down to the Charles River. I look forward to visiting again soon so we can explore these trails and take in views of the river. Happy Trails!


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

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