As I step into the rustic old metal boat from the rickety wooden dock at the edge of the shore, the boat rocks gently while the outboard engine turns over again and again until it finally starts. Carefully I back out, trying not to scar the sides of the boat on the long dock.
As I cruise quietly across the lake, the dark sky is lit by the full moon, I see distant mountains silhouetted against the greenish-blue sky and nearby islands with ragged pines standing proud. Sprinkling the sky like distant sequins, the stars brightly twinkle between moonlit clouds.
The night is the most perfect I can remember. The lake is like glass, the temperature is perfect, there is not a bug in sight, and it makes me want to sleep under the stars — or at least sleep on the porch and hope the bears don’t pay a surprise visit.
Showered in Stars
My favorite times on the lake are nights like the one I experienced earlier this week. Stopping the boat, turning the engine off, and drifting in the middle of the lake while lying back watching meteor showers. It brings me closer to my Creator and closer to myself. It’s soul-enriching.
When I was a child I would visit Camp Potawotami or Camp Big Island. That was my only exposure to the woods and lakes, and those were the places where I discovered the rich feel of bathing my eyes in the greens of the deep forest. But it was not until I arrived here in the Adirondacks in 1989 that I instantly felt the forest’s value.
I honestly can’t explain the feeling of well-being I have when I’m here. I’ve traveled the world to some of its most beautiful spots, yet I’m drawn to deep forests, and here on our property, a few steps behind the old house, is a forest as deep as Middle Earth in The Hobbit. A daily walk through that forest, or a float on the water focusing on the stars or the trees, is my therapy. Visiting friends tell me my look of stress is gone, though I’m working the same hours behind my desk from here.
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” and have proven it enriches your health. Spending time with trees, without working out or jogging, but just in contemplation. Though you’re being flooded with massive amounts of oxygen, trees also emit oils to ward off insects and bacteria. These phytoncides have been found to boost our immune systems, lowering blood pressure and stress hormones, reducing depression, and increasing energy.
Most of us live in cities, so instead of rich greens, we’re being bathed in high noise levels, concrete, and fumes. And when you’re surviving in that environment, it almost seems silly to think time in the woods is something we all need. In fact, when I first came here, I resisted. “It’s too quiet,” I would say. “There is nothing to do, you can’t get a TV signal, you can’t get what you need at the store, and there is no Internet.” I did not want to be here — until the signals of my noise and energy addiction were drowned out by walks in the woods. Now, within 24 hours, deep relaxation sets in.
A Cure for Insomnia
Last week I mentioned a visit from my friend Stu, who lives in a city and who watches TV to fall asleep. He was startled when I mentioned there was no Internet and no TV in his cabin, and he feared being unable to sleep. Yet when he left, he told me he’d had the best sleep of his life — and it was the quiet that made him sleep so well. I don’t think he had realized that his body was never resting because it was exposed to constant media stimulation, both sound and light. It’s why I refuse to watch so much as a movie here at the lake, it’s why I’m on a media hiatus, and it’s why last year I went two weeks without my phone. My goal is to maximize the effect of my surroundings so I can reset my brain and body for the rest of my year.
What about you? Are you taking time to bathe in a forest?
I admit as I write those words that it sounds a little “woo woo,” and if you had said this to me years ago, I’d have thought you should be institutionalized.
I don’t know what’s near you, but find some woods and spend some time there, away from the city sights and sounds. Don’t check your phone or e-mail. Don’t have an agenda or a project. Just contemplate and breathe.
If you’re resistant to the idea, that’s all the more reason to do it.
“Keep close to nature’s heart … and break clear away once in a while, or climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” — John Muir
“I went to the woods to see if I could live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau
“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods, and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.” — George Washington Carver
“Seek out the woods and you’ll find yourself.” — Eric Rhoads
I encourage you to find a way, especially if you’re you’re too busy, too stressed, and find it totally inconvenient. You’ll find a gift you did not know you needed.
PS: Though escaping the woods and going into “town” isn’t high on my list, the reason I was on the boat under the stars is because I went to a reception to meet the artists at the Adirondack Plein Air event, which had brought about 50 painters into town. There are few greater joys for me than spending time meeting artists I don’t yet know or seeing old friends who have become dear. A shout-out to all the painters … you are bringing nature to the rest of the world, to those who maybe can’t take the time to walk in the woods or visit a place with a stunning landscape. Your work is meaningful.
At this event I met an amazing 30-year-old artist by the name of Mitchell Saler, who deserves a personal shout-out for all the fine work he has accomplished at such an early stage of life. He told me he has been painting for 10 years. He and his mom, who was with him, mentioned that they hope to go to Denver to the Plein Air Convention. They weren’t aware that we’ve already met last year’s attendance numbers and we will be out of seats soon. We’ve already sold out two hotels, and soon we’ll be out of seats. If you want to see what this plein air painting world is all about, the convention is a great place to experience it, and if you’re a beginner, there is a pre-convention workshop just for you.