Maybe you are, like me, a “tree hugger”. One of my earliest memories as a child is of a huge tulip tree in my yard. My friends and I played in our big side yard with the tulip tree as base for all games of Tag, Mother-May-I and Red Light, Green Light. My other favorite tree was a tall white spruce in the front yard that held the bird feeder my mother placed just outside my bedroom window. In this way, my mother insured that I would love both trees and birds, and set the course for the rest of my life. You probably have similar memories of trees and forests you loved as a child. Walking in the woods is my favorite exercise, and maybe yours too.
Recently, I have been reading a book titled Forest Bathing published in 2018 by Amos Clifford. It is a guide to a mindful method of walking in the woods; a way of relaxing and putting oneself in the moment. We have all probably experienced a walk in which we were not in the moment. We were thinking over problems while walking, suddenly waking up to notice where we are. Thoreau experienced this. He describes it in his essay “Walking”: “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit….The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is–I am out of my senses….What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
Amos Clifford is the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. He describes Forest Bathing as a self-care strategy and “a powerful path of activism for those who are called to help heal the broken relationships between people and the more-than-human world.” Our species evolved within the natural environment and is deeply comforted by returning there. The Japanese call this practice of immersing oneself in the forest, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. The practice has been scientifically studied in Japan and has been shown to lower stress hormones in adults and children and improve concentration in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Allison Aubrey of NPR reported in July of 2017: “One factor that might help explain the decline in blood pressure: Trees release compounds into the forest air that some researchers think could be beneficial for people. Some of the compounds are very distinctive, such as the scent of cedar. Back in 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells.”
Clifford explains that forest bathing is not the same as hiking. In forest bathing, we travel slowly through the forest, or sit in one special place, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells, feeling a sense of connection to the feel of the wind, the sound of the water, the smell of the trees. This connection helps us to disconnect from our inner thoughts, planning and worry. I find that walking slowly through the woods, or sauntering as Thoreau called it, allows me to slowly give up my inner thoughts, pay attention, and relax into the beauty around me. This works as well in snow or rain as in sun. Its also possible to get a great deal of benefit by sitting outside on your porch or deck, watching and listening to the trees and birds. Clifford states, “I learned to slow down and to pay attention sufficiently to begin a process that has for me been one of remembering. I began to remember that I am not separate from nature….I don’t just view its power and beauty from outside, I am of it.” If you would like to learn more about this practice, read Clifford’s short book or look online where there is much information about forest bathing. Or just take a walk by yourself in the woods near you and pay attention to the sensations you receive. You will return home much more relaxed.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of May. Please send reports by June 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can call me at 692-3907, write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Late March and April Reports:
Shirley and William McGrath, Crusade Rd. March 28, 11 p.m., a bear at our feeder. Looked to be about 300 pounds.
Emily Teller, Texas Rd. March 30, “big night” tonight, wood frogs are at the vernal pool in full chorus.
Peggy Bennett, at Russell’s Way. March 15, pileated woodpecker and red-winged blackbird. At Nabnasset St., two red-tailed hawks perched side by side on a branch of a maple tree. Five cedar waxwings in a maple right near the house. They hung out for four days in the same tree. March 18, at Nabnasset St., two red-bellied woodpeckers, a cooper’s hawk, and a turkey vulture soaring overhead. March 26, a pair of goldfinches, a house finch, a house wren, four nuthatches, six tufted titmice, juncos, a pair of chickadees, song and chipping sparrows, male and female cardinal. March 29, three turkeys in yard. March 30, heard peepers for the first time from the brook, making spring official. March 31, at Hidden valley Rd., male wood frogs “quacking” away from a vernal pool in the woods. At Oak Hill Rd, a cotton-tailed rabbit. April 3 at Hidden Valley Rd., mourning cloak butterfly, downy woodpecker. April 9 at Depot St., a black squirrel. April 10 at Hidden Valley Rd., a red squirrel. At Nutting Rd., a white-tailed deer. April 21 at Nabnasset St., two bats flying overhead just after dusk. April 24, at Mill Pond, a kingfisher perched on a dead branch sticking out of the water. Later in afternoon, four to six painted turtles on same branch. At Nabnasset St., sharp-shinned hawk sitting on top of a utility pole. Cooper’s hawk seen later perched on a fence. An Eastern bluebird poking his head inside the birdhouse. April 25, at Groton Rd., a great blue heron. On Tyngsboro Rd., a tom turkey standing in the road with feathers displayed. He finally strutted his way back to the woods. At North Hill Rd., a red-tailed hawk.
April 26 at Nabnasset St., three crows on the peak of the barn, then three more, then three more till there were nine. Looked a little “Hitchcock” for a minute. Then they finally flew off to a nearby tree in the woods. Two mallards on the front lawn. Two flycatchers come each year to nest in the rafters of our barn. The door is open for them to fly in and out. At Hidden Valley Rd., a hairy woodpecker.
Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. April 5, red fox in our yard. Looks like his lunch was a squirrel. [Sue sent a good photo-MH]
Jim Kay, Flagg Rd. April 5, the security cameras picked up a bear last night around 10:30 [Jim sent a good photo-MH].
Andrew Renna, at Nashoba Farm, Concord Rd. Barred owl in a tree [Nice photo-MH]. Baby bear in a holly bush with mother.
Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. April 30, a walk by the pond: 45 degrees and misty–what Dot Mooney would call “A Watercolor Day”. Two ravens, then two crows overhead. Everybody singing–chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, red-bellied woodpecker, goldfinches, lovely fiddleheads unfurling, brilliant emerald skunk cabbage leaves.
Gerry DiBello, Court Rd. May 1, first hummingbird of season, a male, just showed up at the feeder we put out two days ago.
Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. May 3, last day we saw our female turkey. May 7, male rose-breasted grosbeak at our safflower feeder. May 9, first day to see a pair of Baltimore orioles at the suet. Since then we see either one or both at various times during the day every day.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. May 5, hummingbirds seen. “Sure hope it stops raining and have some warmer days. Thinking of the little ones in bird nests.” Male turkeys in our yard all morning with one lone female who is totally ignoring them. We chased them away which they didn’t like. Now the males just came back showing off their stuff and looking at me. Baltimore oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak. May 22, first woodchuck seen in our yard this year.
Bob Price, Stratton Hill Rd. May 9, first hummingbirds at the feeder, a male and a female. May 24, juvenile bobcat on deck.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. May 7, the barn swallows showed up yesterday. May 9, muddy track across the driveway this morning. [Marilyn sent a photo and we determined that it was probably a fisher-MH]
Roberta McGuire, Chamberlain Rd. May 9, In the late afternoon, we saw a male ruby-throated hummingbird for the first time this season. He stayed there almost as if was guarding his turf. Other hummingbirds did try to approach, but quickly flitted away. May 10, hummingbird is back, staying about 15 minutes.
Lenny Palmer and Marian Harman, WCT bird walk at Emmet Land, May 11, phoebe, four ovenbirds, flicker, downy woodpecker, flicker, wood thrush, chipping sparrow, seven orioles, black-throated green warbler, turkey vulture, catbirds, tree swallows, common yellowthroat, tree swallows, titmouse, great blue heron, blue jay, chickadee, robin, tree swallow, pair of mallards, grackles, cardinal, red-winged blackbirds, three warbling vireos in one tree, black and white warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, common yellowthroat, towhee, song sparrow, mourning dove, yellow warbler, goldfinches. Also, two garter snakes, white-tailed deer, painted turtle. Blooming: wild oats, pine pollen, high bush blueberry, marsh marigold, violets, starflower, wood anemone, variegated pippsissewa.
Richard Bowes at Long Sought For Pond, May 12, mated pair of cormorants, then a third cormorant arrived. Also, great blue heron [Richard sent photos-MH]
Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. May 4- first hummingbird at feeder. May 7, at Blake’s Hill, oriole, Eastern towhee, ovenbird. May 8, pair of humming birds, catbird, osprey over Keyes pond. May 11, sunny, 60’s-beautiful. Male hummingbird doing loop de loops courting flight in front of the deck. May 15, cloudy 50’s. Sat on the deck 7-7:30 p.m. Chipping sparrow came to feeder several times and stayed, hummingbird pair took turns at feeder, just sitting and drinking for a long time. A second male showed up and flew right over to check me out in my purple jacket! Then he went to the feeder, nervously feeding while hovering on the wing. The resident male came and chased him away. May 16, female rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder, bluets blooming, ladies slippers up, red oak, white pine, red maple low bush blueberry Canada mayflower, maple-leaved viburnum, starflower, partridge berry, ferns, sarsaparilla, white birch, yellow birch, pine warbler, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, titmouse, white-tailed deer, cardinal, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat black-throated green warbler. May 18, sunny and beautiful, 50’s, two orioles singing around the beaver dam swamp area and Keyes pond, yellow warbler in swamp, common yellowthroat. Starflower, blueberries, wild oats, blooming. Scarlet tanager singing by the mailbox in the evening. May 19, pileated woodpecker hammering at a stump behind our garage. May 20, catbird singing in woods, pileated woodpecker flew over, phoebe singing. May 21- catbird singing by pond, single cormorant on the pond, in swamp by beaver dam: pair of alarmed wood ducks, oriole singing, great crested flycatcher, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers. Blooming: starflowers, polygala, Canada mayflower, rattlesnake plantain, ladies slippers up but not blooming yet. 8:32 p.m., a walk to the meadow to see the space station fly over–saw it well, and also heard a wood cock and saw a nighthawk flying.
Doug Pederson, at Beaver Brook Rd., May 24, osprey with fish, grackle, female Baltimore Oriole [Doug got great photos-MH]
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. May report, Canada geese, mallards, white-throated sparrows, hummingbirds, chipping sparrows, house finches, Baltimore orioles, flickers, bluebirds, raccoon missing a leg, skunks.
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org or find us on Facebook.