Forest Bathing, Forest Healing
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
It’s not until we drive off the ferry that my jaw unclenches.
I didn’t even know my teeth had been clenched so hard. I wonder how long they had been that way. Was it hours? Days? Weeks? I feel the tension slowly drain from my face, then my shoulders, and my hands. I am driving a vintage VW van built in 1987, but the steering wheel seems somehow light and responsive.
The windows are down on this hot July morning and traffic is moving easily, the drivers finding their lanes without aggression. Much unlike the side that I just came from. There are only a few of those drivers here to be sure, there is one in every crowd they say, but here they really are fewer. The ones that push and speed are probably from the mainland, and haven’t felt the pace slow down yet. Maybe they are wound up so tight that they never will.
We are on island time now and I feel the tension melt away.
My life is good. I truly can’t complain, but at the moment it’s in turmoil; some of the people I love the most are hurting and I feel their pain. I’m taking this trip with my son who soon turns 20. He is now a man, but unlike previous generations in our family, he has much uncertainty about the future. In some ways I think he must be feeling much of the same emotion that so many before him have felt. The indigenous people, women, non-binary, people of colour and so many others before him that have been marginalized or oppressed have had these same existential fears. And in July 2021, I’m now feeling it too.
His state of mind soaks the atmosphere of the van and permeates my subconscious. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my kids, and so I do the only thing that I know soothes my own mind. I bring him to the forest.
I have come to the wilderness with my son in our old VW camper not just because he needs it. We both need it. It is the only thing that will for sure refill our souls with emotions that are pure and where I can find true serenity.
It works. It may take a day or so to unwind, but the forest rejuvenates with its quiet and peaceful existence. The day is hot; close to 30 degrees, but it’s cool in the forest. Sunlight filters through the massive old growth evergreen trees, warming small patches of the forest floor, bringing life to the understory. The light in this place is constantly changing, the sun briefly illuminating a patch of beauty in one place, then moving on to the next and the next as it continues its endless arc across the sky.
I sit quietly in camp, contemplating all that surrounds me, physically in this wondrous place, and that which surrounds and fills my mind. I am alone in this forest, listening to birds and small mammals move through the forest floor. My son has gone on a hike by himself and I do not know when he will return. I didn’t ask. He needs this more than I do. He needs the warm light, the green trees and the solitude without loneliness that can only be found out here.
There are things to fear in this forest. Things that can hurt or kill you. Predators, but not the kind that are in the city. With these ones, big cats mostly, we know where we stand. They can be dangerous, but not often if you are not a small prey animal. Their intentions are straightforward and pure; they just want to eat. They are here and aware of our presence, but we will likely never see them. So we are not afraid of these magnificent creatures that own and rule this land. We coexist.
My son needs this. We need this. We left the world of fake news and social media algorithms behind. Out here, life is real. I want to tell him that his fear of the future is unfounded, but I would be lying. I want to tell him that everything will be OK, but I do not know that for sure. I want to tell him that we will sort it all out and fix all the problems, but that would be disingenuous. He needs truth, not platitudes.
We walk on the sandy shores of a pristine lake, wading its warm waters. We swim with trout, water striders and sculpins in a deep pool of an icy snow melt stream. No internet or social media. No algorithm making suggestions of what we should read or watch. We stare, mesmerized by the flames of a campfire into the dark of a clear evening, deep in our own personal thoughts, only occasionally speaking. We eat simple food that seems to taste better out here. We wake early to sunny skies, strong black coffee and healthy breakfasts. Appetites driven by the physical exertion of the previous day, not boredom.
I’m doing my job as a father, trying to help my child. Trying to assuage his fears. But we both know that the fix is beyond one human.
Deep in my heart I feel the same fear. Being brave for yourself is difficult enough, and being brave for others seems even harder. Yet I persevere because even though I am just one insignificant man, I am brave. I will not allow the fear to consume me. I will be brave for my son, my daughter and my family.
I will be brave for all the people who read these words, maybe the the people who need a reason to keep fighting. We all need a hand sometimes, and while this fear is normal, it is insidious. It will consume your hope and paralyse you from taking action.
I cannot truthfully look anyone in the eye and say that we will avoid all the effects of climate change and pollution, but if you pay attention you will see that there are many good people doing good things all around you. I do believe that we will be alright in the end. It is just not yet the end.
So for now, this week, we are here in the forest healing and readying for whatever lies ahead.