Forest Bathing? I’d Rather be Wright

Look carefully at the bottom right corner of this 1890s impressionist painting. Even impressionists of this era featured forest bathing. Why not us?

By David Wright II

There has recently been community chatter, now referred to as “trending” behavior, for the common delight of walking in the forest as a way of “cleansing” one’s soul. In the very recent past, humans could indulge in simple bathing in water by taking a shower or possibly a bath in a tub. I suppose one could take a sand bath like chickens do where we would flop on the ground, usually in the sun, then literally thrash our wings in such a way as to throw sand all over our fully clothed bodies, but this has never proven successful to my knowledge and might lead to a loony-bin visitation.

Certainly, it is possible to bathe in one’s own self-importance much like some chest thumping, incessantly babbling politicians or a self-proclaimed big shot. That hasn’t always worked well for me, but every once in a while it can be ego boosting, that is until a few years ago when the grandkid pronounced I had an “inflated eagle.”

Recently, but unannounced to me, sociologists, anthropologists, behaviorists, maybe a bespectacled psychologist or two, and no doubt cosmic sky pilots have decided a walk in the woods can have huge therapeutic advantages. This is known as “forest bathing.”

Some years ago, a walk in the woods with your girlfriend was called a woodsy, and I don’t recall it ever involving bathing, even if it did include a skinny dip in the local pond. In Wisconsin, deer hunting might be an obvious form, but in my case there would be derogatory comments about my inattentive forest napping. With 80% of American citizens now living in urban and suburban settings, it would seem, from my clinical point of view, that this suggested activity might be aimed at that demographic—rural types forest bathe like this all the time.

So, as a botanist by training, it seems fitting I should be able to pontificate on this topic, possibly with great introspection. Forest bathing might consist of just a simple walk on a path for a starter session. Once accomplished, a person might move to having discussions with favorite trees—surely to be followed by tree hugging. While this may seem a left-handed poke at liberals, it doesn’t have to be the case.

Anyone can talk with a tree for advice. “Hey, Mr. Tree (locally, a Norwegian maple is preferred because they are not very intrusive, and a touch shy), I have been having trouble with my focus group—like I am out of focus.”

The tree could respond (hypothetically, but remember I am a botanist), “I don’t want to bark at you, but we can try to get to the root of the problem. If you listen carefully, possibly something can flower. Maybe from this tender encounter, you might take your hominid brain and branch out. You can’t be a sap, and certainly you will need a stout trunk. Buck up, you blithering idiot, and maybe we can plant a few seeds in your feeble mind so you don’t screw up the entire environment.” (I couldn’t resist that.)

Advanced sessions of forest bathing could include climbing trees, even living in one for a weekend. Then once a certain expertise is achieved, a person could go to nude bathing in, say, a pine forest, but this too probably should be confined to the young. While the inhabitants, other than human, might not mind folks in the youth category, the sight of an elder nudist forest bathing might cause alarm because the genetic package of most living things are not programed to deal with deteriorating human forms. As a reminder of this issue, this example might be given as a warning to the aging crowd—and it involves wild scavengers. In my later stages of riding my road bike (I was not nude cycling this time), I had the unpleasant experience of stopping to rest while on County T only to look up and realize some underfed vultures were following me—just longing for that one last face-plant of a fall and easy pickings for those stinking buzzards.

I can’t imagine the reaction of the wolves, coyotes, crows, and meat-eating shrews once I was spotted forest bathing in the nude. The saliva-drooling wolf on his smart-ass phone would be calling the pack, “Come on down. Lookin’ a lot like a party in a few hours. Kinda sinewy and maybe a bit into decomposition already, but still, a hot meal.”

All right, all right, so things can go off the rails. Forest bathing? I get it, and it sounds like a fantastic idea for a few of us, but come November, you might want to stay away from my deer stand, even if I am sleeping again. Still, with all things wrapped in a package, with no real cost in dollars, and no chance of doing any damage to the forest, it is possible to see why this is trending both for individual and group therapy. For once, here is a beautifully simplified human activity that may benefit all species involved and make us into tree huggers and nature lovers. And, we would be cleaner for it.

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