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Tired? Stressed? Too much work, shopping, and time spent tethered to a screen? Perhaps a break is needed in which to do some quiet forest bathing.

Forest bathing first originated in Japan where it is known as shinrin-yoku. There are no fluffy towels, soy candles, or scented soaps involved because shinrin-yoku is a slow and tranquil walk through a pristine wilderness. It can become an uplifting experience – one with many well documented health benefits.

Alone or in a small group, select a forest with shrubs, ferns and a good density of old established trees. Stand among them for several moments, breathing slowly to release your mental chatter. When you feel a sense of inner quiet, place your attention on the natural world and begin a deliberately slow walk.

Try to engage all your senses by touching the textures of plants and tree trunks, listening to the quiet murmur of the forest environment and the occasional ring of birdsong. Focus your eyes on the surrounding scenery as you inhale and taste the aromas of the foliage. Essential oils are emitted from plants and trees to protect them from insects and predators, and this phenomenon has been described as, ‘natural aromatherapy.’ Through the stillness and your sense of immersion in nature, an experience of inner peace will grow within you.

The Japanese have a word, karoshi, which means death by overwork. There is so much stress among ordinary Japanese people, they were the first to recognize this problem and develop a way to deal with it. Studies have been conducted in Japan by Dr Quing Li, an Associate Professor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School. His scientific data has proven that forest bathing can lead to a boost in one’s immune function and mood. A forest walk has also been hailed as a legitimate therapy for preventing hyper tension, depression and stress.

Here in Australia another initiative that aims to connect people with nature is found in the organization, Healthy Parks – Healthy People. Check out its website, one that is both interesting and information rich, at www.hphpcentral.com

To gain maximum benefit from a forest walk, rest when you feel tired and drink water if you are thirsty. Take plenty of time to sit and engage with the scenery, or read a book. Forest bathing is freely available for everyone to enjoy. Shinrin-Yoku’s central idea is to allow nature the quiet time and space in which to work its magic on you.

 

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Surprises can arrive out of the blue at any time. Several days ago a letter arrived in my inbox with a message that my blog has been awarded a place in the top 100 Nature Writing blogs on the web. I was amazed and delighted, particularly as I share this list with National Geographic, BBC Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy. What an honour!

I began writing my blog in 2012 by publishing a weekly post. I selected this particular theme as I wanted to explore descriptive prose writing in the essay form, while combining it with my photography. To date I have published 193 posts and will continue to contribute monthly. This blog has become my joy and a labour of love.

 

Back Roads and Byways

A wide strip of winding road disappears into the hinterland behind us. Like some primordial serpent, it glides over hills and slips down embankments, all the while grasping every contour of the land in its close embrace.

Nearby a towering tallowwood captures our attention. Its strong trunk, covered in rough shards of orange and brown coloured bark, gives way to multitudes of smaller branches. These continue their climb toward the light, diminishing in size until each bough ends in a branchlet, then in a twig.

The roadways also mirror this pattern. Side roads branch away from the centre, morphing from bitumen into gravel and onward into sand. Many of these roadways end in a narrow dirt track overgrown with grasses and scrub.

The hinterland: all those places back, beyond, and further out, calls to the traveller.
“Come follow me as we explore the back roads and byways. My scenery—remote, beautiful, and untouched—will heal and inspire you. In these wondrous places you will learn to appreciate my stillness, nature’s intense colours, and the open sky ringing with birdsong. Enjoy your discovery of secret highlights and beauty spots along these ways.  You will be forever enriched by them.”

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less travelled by.”

Robert Frost

 

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as spring arrives
our hearts expand
like peach blossoms

spring sings
as daisies awaken
to a warm sun

flaming tree –
nature’s spring paintbox
a red dazzler

 

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A small rural village in Queensland’s Samford Valley marks the site of our home. Here on Australia’s east coast, surrounded by two state forests and four rugged mountains, we enjoy exploring ways to engage with the beauty of our natural surroundings.

One favourite destination is a large mountain, Mount Glorious.  It rises to a height of 600 metres above sea level. In the oppressive heat of our high summer we often head to its crest and cooler temperature, where we spend a comfortable day.  Driving through the mountain’s splendid scenery we are always amazed at its abundance of native rain forest cover—mighty trees, tall palms, and numerous ferns. Flocks of tropical birds, white cockatoos, and brilliant parrots often fill the skies.

On a recent visit, a sign post entitled, The Westridge Outlook, caught our eye. Exiting onto a dirt road we followed this to a car park. Here a wide board walk, enclosed by a fence of metal railings stretched ahead. This walkway was built to encircle an immense rocky outcrop.

Strolling along we admired a mixed forest of grey gums, spotted gums and tall tallowwoods.  Long ago these original timber forests were harvested by timber cutters using only axes and cross-cut saws. The fallen trees were loaded onto wooden carts and pulled by a team of oxen to the nearest sawmill. Thankfully this deforestation was discontinued, and today its remains are protected as a reserve for public enjoyment.

Reaching the half-way mark, the boardwalk expanded into a large viewing area, to expose an open outlook. The rims of distant mountain ranges, shrouded in a blue haze, framed the horizon. We stood in awe at the view of Lake Wivenhoe, our main dam and water catchment area. The upper reaches of the Brisbane River snaked through the landscape, as the D’Aguilar State Forest spread its abundant natural beauty beneath us. It was a breathtaking sight.

   We finished our walk around the ancient rocky escarpment, to end at the point of our beginning. Hopefully other visitors will also discover this hidden treasure, and the magnificent views on offer at the Westridge Outlook.

 

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Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to be off again on a road trip. By choosing to explore an unfamiliar back road or byway, delightful and unexpected surprises often result.

The Queensland road between Warwick and Toowoomba is always a busy highway. While searching for an alternate route, we discovered a 50 kilometre stretch taking us from Warwick to Allora. Since this lovely little town is only a stone’s throw away from Toowoomba, our newly found road, the Sunflower Way, beckoned.  At Warwick we entered it via Victoria Street, turned right into Rosehill Road, and followed the signs to Allora. This proved to be a perfect choice!

A patchwork countryside of ploughed black soil, green lucerne, and brick-red sorghum delighted us. But it was the fields of sunflowers in full bloom that provided a magnificent sight, even in late March at the end of the sunflower cycle. Drifts of golden fields stretched as far as we could see.

Sunflowers are majestic, towering over most people’s heads, and they grow best in full sunshine. The seeds are sold as a snack food or as a component of a bird seed package. Sunflower oil, extracted directly from the seeds, creates inexpensive cooking oil and is also an additive to biodiesel fuel. After the seeds have been processed, the remaining cake becomes healthy livestock feed.

The name, Sunflower (helianthus annuus), possesses only one large flower head, sitting atop a tall unbranched stem. It may have derived its name from the blooming yellow head, which resembles the sun.  A number of fields had already been harvested with their brilliant flower heads gone and the stalks standing alone–now solitary sentinels. They will finally whither and fall, waiting to be ploughed back into the soil as green manure. Thankfully enough fields remained in all their blazing glory to make our drive along the Sunflower Way a memorable one.

When we reached the township of Allora we explored its historic streets. Buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s featured, together with lovingly tended gardens and parks. The area also offers an opportunity to visit the heritage listed, ‘Glengallan Homestead.’ Our drive was a delightful way to finally reach our destination of Toowoomba. If you find yourself here in high summer, its radiant fields of gold will take your breath away. Yet in any season this back road is a beauty, so be sure to put it on your bucket list and make time to enjoy the Sunflower Way.

 

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Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to pack a picnic lunch and be off for the day. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. Instead we head for the back roads and byways, where many surprises are found.

Our own slice of heaven lies in the small semi-rural village of Samford. Situated in Queensland’s beautiful Samford Valley, its surrounding lush green meadows, rolling hills, two state forests and the majestic North Pine River, are offset by a counterpoint of four mountains, part of the D’Aguilar Range. High in the hills of remote Upper Wight’s Mountain Road rests an early treasure, Queensland’s last remaining Aboriginal bora ring. Thankfully this has been gazetted as a reserve, and the Queensland University’s Anthropology Section has accepted nomination as its trustee. The ring is maintained by the local Rotary Club.

Prior to European settlement, the Samford Valley and Pine Rivers area was home to a number of Aboriginal clans. These all belonged to the Turrbul, Kabi and Wakka language groups. The basic unit of Aboriginal society was a self governing clan of about 70 persons.  All were responsible for their own homeland. Their ties to the land were unique as they believed that each one belonged to their land—not the land to them. A tribe included several clans, all sharing a distinctive ceremonial and a common dialect.

The Samford Bora Grounds comprise a large man made ring 26m in diameter, enclosed by a raised earthen mound. From this central ring a sunken path, 700m long and known as the Sacred Way, is linked to a second smaller ring. The rings were dug out by hand with sharp sticks and stone tomahawks and the earth was carried on sheets of bark to the outer mound. Women took part in the ceremonies at the large ring but were forbidden to walk beyond it. If this law was disobeyed, the woman’s penalty was death.

In the ceremonial bora rings, neighbouring tribes gathered regularly to celebrate and perform important tribal rituals. At the Samford Bora Ground the boys, age 12 to 15 were transformed into young men—Kippas. Their noses were pierced with a small sharp spear and then plugged. The boys received tribal body paint markings and were given new names. This ceremony lasted for several weeks and marked their official graduation into manhood.

The Samford Bora Grounds were last used by the Aboriginal clans in the 1870s when the Wight family, living on the next ridge, heard their corroborees. Occasionally we still visit the large central ring as this is the only section now being cared for. Here a deep quiet always lingers, and I experience an eerie feeling when I stop to reflect here. Thankfully this archaeological site still exists to remind and surprise us of our rich, Aboriginal cultural heritage.

 

 

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wreath-for-the-blog

This is my final blog post for 2016.
Have a fantastic Christmas and
here’s to a big and beautiful new year ahead.

Cheers,
Mary

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