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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.