Tuesday, 14 July 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I walk in the woods

Committing to take a walk every day in June was a good way of marking off the days. 30 days in June = 30 walks completed, a lot more than I probably would have taken without that commitment.

In July, I decided that I would mark off the days by working on at least one UFO (unfinished objects) every day, either art or writing, or cleaning out clutter. But since we’ve just had a week of camping, there will be interruptions. Here’s a UFO I’m working on –

I started this 12 block crazy quilt in May 2011. I was documenting every month, and also adding significant dates like birthdays, plus birth stone and flower of the month. I have 7 blocks done. This is November. It's good for working on when watching TV.
Today I found another UFO, a blog about June's walking, so that’s what I am working on today:

About all that walking:  I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t get much stronger or develop a lot of stamina. I didn’t add up how many steps I took, so I didn’t set any personal records. If you are an exercise junkie, that’s disappointing news. If you are a run-of-the-mill ordinary person on the lumpy, rather than svelte, side of the scale (like I am), this is reassuring because I won’t lay a guilt trip on you with gushing superlatives.

Instead, I entered the woods, and found a measure of peace in the middle of this pandemic. The first post I wrote about walking, on June 2, was pretty deep. I was depressed about the state of the world, and also depressed about my own anger and even hatred that was burbling up inside. The walk I took that morning, however, helped me see things from a different perspective. The following day, I found a painted stone on the same trail, with a message that affirmed my insights:

 I wrote that I thought maybe walking would be good for the soul. And it has been. Several times, I have entered the woods brooding on one tangled situation, and exited with some new insights that helped me see things from the other side. I’m not sure how that happens, but it does. Perhaps “left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat!” sets other gears in motion, as well.

Then again, perhaps it’s something in the air. “Forest bathing—basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982 when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku,” says an article on the website Quartz. Scientific studies on the health of people who practice forest-bathing regularly showed amazing results: lower heart rate and blood pressure, less stress- hormone production, a boosted immune system, and overall feelings of well-being, The magic of this simple practice was found to be the presence of various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Breathing in these phytoncides seems to actually improve immune system function.

It sounds too good and too easy to be true. This is a routine that has no expectations of physical exertion.Your only imperative is to immerse yourself in the environment with an open heart, open eyes, and open ears. “Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world,” says Qing Li, a scientist who has studied this practice. You might also say that it's only a short step from there to bridging the gap between us and the Creator of it all. When you emerge from the forest, you have shed a lot of your anxieties. You feel better, stronger, more peaceful. You can read more about this at these sites:

I wasn’t totally aware of all of these benefits until the month was over and I looked back and found it to be true. Now, in July, without the daily commitment, I still walk, but not as often. And I miss it.

There were other benefits to walking, as well. More than half of my walks took place in the woods across the street, walking the same paths over and over. I became aware of the subtle changes that happen there over time. I watched as plants budded, then flowered; as mushrooms sprung up and disappeared; as the river’s voice was sometimes loud, sometimes soft. I watched as the light changed in the dappled shade: sharp and bright earlier in the month, when leaves were smaller and brilliantly green, gradually changing when the light is more diffused because the leaves are bigger and darker.

 I saw an owl, not once, but three times, and learned that if robins see an owl close to their nest, they get frantic.

And then, there are the people you meet – the moms and kids getting exercise, the dog-walkers, the joggers who breathlessly wave, the snorkellers in wet-suits entering the river to check out what’s visible underwater (salmon, crayfish, – and lots of beer cans.) One day, a man caught up with me as I was leaving the woods and started chatting as we walked up the street together. After we’d agreed that this was a beautiful place to live, he started telling me about some of his favourite spots to hike. Then suddenly, he changed gears and said, “My brother committed suicide last night.” I didn’t have to say much for the rest of our walk, just let him talk, trying to figure things out, trying to answer some unanswerable questions. As we parted ways, he said, “I’ve been talking people’s ears off all day. They must be sick of this story, but thanks for listening anyway.”

A walk in the woods: I recommend it. It’s good for the soul, yours, mine and the people you meet.


  1. So glad you've 'discovered' walking ... I couldn't live without it and have walked just about daily for the past 15 years. It is meditation in motion for me since complete stillness is something I've never mastered. I've worked out many personal and global problems on my walks ... the rhythm of steps massages the soul. Keep walking :)

  2. Thanks, Kate. I used to walk regularly for years, but then other things got in the way so I am trying to reinstate that practice. I am with you in the "stillness" department; I need to be moving to keep still, if that makes sense! I am fortunate to live across the street from the Puntledge, with its abundance of trails. What is your favourite place to walk?

  3. I am trying to walk every day . It is not so easy to regain a routine after too many years of sitting around