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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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Native floral image 1

Although our late winter landscape may appear barren, the first new buds are beginning to appear. Trees, shrubs and flower stems are slowly shrugging off their winter blues, just waiting for the life-giving spring rain and warmer days to carry us all into a new season. But what can we do when neither a flower nor a bloom has awakened to spread its scent and colour throughout our homes?

Search no further than the magnificent spread of foliage that is always available and can look stunning when arranged artistically in a container. The early new leaf colour of the eucalypt, arrayed in bright red will eventually darken to become its olive green leaf , yet a single branch, displaying all its colours, creates a beautiful table decoration.

Native floral image 4

Stones, timber pieces, gum nuts and pine cones combine well with native plants to create a pot-pourri of textures and colours. Even something as simple as a collection of leaves and branches from the same tree, arranged in a striking vase, can lift the decor of a room. Many of my nature-loving friends carry garden secatures in their cars, to harvest the interesting greenery growing near the roadside. There is often great beauty in these plants that generally remain unnoticed, bypassed or unloved.

While we wait patiently for spring flowers to appear, nature still provides the materials with which to create an attractively decorated home. Branches and leaves displayed together in unusual containers also ‘do the trick,’ so head outside and become a creative foliage collector.

Natural foliage cropped

Next blog post entered on 2nd September.

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Bark and leaves

This tree may have been planted as early as 1917 when the first settlers arrived in Samford Village. A beautiful, very old eucalyptus tree, Eucalyptus mellidora, stood in the bottom corner of our land, bordering the street near our mailbox. It had a large trunk and many branches, always covered with shards of hanging, paper-like bark. Its dark green leaves were long and slender—typical of all eucalyptus foliage.

Eucalyptus mellidora

When our tree blossomed, short bristles of white stamens erupted from its green seed bulbs. It was an amazing sight when white garlands festooned the entire tree. In its prime the magnificent canopy must have been very large,  but when the overhead power lines were installed along the street its crown was deemed to be, ‘too high.’ Off went its entire canopy, leaving this mighty tree wearing what appeared to be a crew cut. With the passing of time more and more branches were trimmed away until the original form of the tree had been completely altered. By the time we purchased the property, our tree resembled a  wounded and shapeless warrior – one still clinging tenaciously to life.

Marked for death

During this past year a neighbour informed us that he had reported our tree to the local council. “Could be dangerous, as when I back my car out onto the street someone might hit me because they couldn’t see me. It won’t be long now until the thing is gone.” Several days later my heart sank at the discovery of a large, blood red circle painted on its trunk. Our proud, wounded warrior had been officially marked for execution.

It didn’t take long for the council trucks to arrive, to hear the the chain saws gnaw into its main trunk, and to watch the branches being sheared away as all was fed into the hungry maw of a wood-chipping machine. Whenever we collect the mail or leave home, passing the space where a once-proud eucalyptus tree had grown, all that remains is its stump. It still leaves a pang of loneliness.

Tree stump for the blog

I miss my tree.

From now on I will be publishing one blog post every two weeks. The next post will appear on August 19th.

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Down the Stream for Blog

Love beauty – it is the shadow of God
over the universe.

Gabriela Mistral

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