The Hall of Mosses, Olympic National Park
This past summer, my childhood best friend and I decided to plan a different type of getaway. We were feeling burnt out: he with his round-the-clock startup management, and me with my health problems, which didn’t let up for the summer at all. My lovely lady was feeling pretty stressed as well with the ups and downs of retail. Living in the city, surrounded by the constant glow of digital media, we don’t even get a break from the stream of information at home. We decided to rent a cabin through AirBnB on the Olympic Peninsula, near Quilcene, to immerse ourselves in the wild; out of cell range, and out of touch.
A number of studies show that excessive screen time can impact quality of sleep as well as depression and stress levels. Perhaps you have woken up in the middle of the night and decided to check out your smart phone; you may know how hard it is to fall back asleep after looking at that bright little screen for five minutes. While technology has done wonderful things for us in so many ways, we must realize that we are soft human beings, and that we might need down time, to rebalance ourselves outside of the cyber sphere.
In Japan, walking in the forest and opening up one’s senses constitutes a practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This is not nude sunbathing under the trees, but a therapeutic practice to relax deeply, unwind from stress, and rejuvenate through seeking joy and wonder in the forest.
Numerous studies in Japan prove even fifteen minutes spent walking or sitting in a quiet, natural setting can reduce physiological signs of stress and anxiety in a pronounced way. They’ve even found that exposure to natural woodlands enhances the immune system’s production of cancer-killing cells.
Disability leaves people housebound, lagging behind the rest of society, and from this perspective the human world can be alienating. Delving into the natural world, whether it is a local park or vast protected backcountry, operates on its own plane as well, a wild plane. Alan Watts once said that the human world is very rigid, built with straight lines and boxes, while the natural world is fluid and squiggly. Living at the grace and will of one’s health feels like a primal struggle – going into the forest and exploring the wonders of the wild is not only relaxing but helps one learn valuable lessons to take back to the human world.
On our last day out on the Peninsula, we drove down to a campground called Hamma Hamma, and found beautiful old-growth forest. Even though walking is difficult for me, I just had to explore; curiosity compels you in such beauty. We followed the sound of babbling water and found the crystal clear mountain waters of the Hamma Hamma River, with Mount Skokomish towering in the distance. Putting our feet in the water, we made little dams and eddies, and picked out our favorite old trees in the surrounding glades. When we got back in the car to drive back to Seattle, and back to our working lives, we felt deeply refreshed, perhaps even on a spiritual level. My pain levels felt reset in a way, and feeling whole again, I was ready to take a crack at my writing projects once more.
The United States has a wonderful national park system, which preserves many different types of woodlands. From the Olympics and Denali to the Redwoods and the Everglades, anyone can go see them and revel and recharge in their beauty. Forest bathing opportunities are everywhere, and the rise of ecotourism also contributes to an alternative tourism which now trades glamor for nature.