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Shinrin-yoku

It’s a Japanese word, loosely translated into the English as “forest bathing.”

It’s a concept I was introduced to a couple of weeks back by my hiking partner.

We were out on a gorgeous Saturday—our sunniest, warmest day of the year so far. I’d suggested we hike Sumas Mountain, at least to Chadsey Lake and, legs permitting, all the way to the summit.

Readers of this blog already know that I like nature, that I like hiking, and that I have no intention of slowing down as the years race by—until my body actively rebels against it.

So hiking up Sumas Mountain would be perfect for this lovely day.

Arriving at the trailhead, I was stunned to find twenty or more cars parked along the roadside. Never before have I witnessed more than a couple when doing that hike. (I should add that I haven’t done it that many times, and never before past the lake. The one time I’d intended to go beyond the lake to the summit, giant cat tracks—or so I assessed them to be—just beyond the lake had me instantly retreating.)

Never before have I seen the trail itself so beaten down from activity, or passed so many people out for a Sumas Mountain stroll. It reminded me of the Elk Mountain or Lindeman Lake hikes that attract the Fraser Valley masses on almost every beautiful day year-round.

The exercise and the ultimate views are worth it. But so is the setting. The forest surroundings were magnificent on this day: some scenes featuring tranquil hillsides completely covered with verdant ferns; others exhibiting massive trees that have survived the lumberjack’s saws, others that had not survived lightening strikes; some places one had to admire the mosses heavily dangling from dead trees, or their cousins matting the surrounding first floor; and then there were the fungi growing out of the sides of the both dead and alive trees, verdant new spring leaves and colourful spring flowers.

“Forest bathing,” my partner declared, as we stopped to take in a scene.

“Forest bathing?” I questioned, never before having heard that term, but instantly drawn to its obvious descriptiveness.

That’s what, I think, a lot of the people on the mountain were doing this Saturday.

Sure, some were just getting their exercise (or perhaps training for an iron-man, given the speed at which the raced past us); some were attracted to the beauty of the lake, where they spread out their picnic lunch with their family, or inflated the rafts they’d packed in for an afternoon on the water, or sun-bathed on its shores. Some needed to conquer this summit, add it to their list of accomplishments. Some, perhaps, were most drawn by the expansive views of Sumas Prairie from the Summit, or the Fraser River along the trail, or the gorgeous waterfalls just below the lake.

All of us got our exercise, though, my pedometer showing 28,000 steps this day. (It didn’t log the 715 metres of elevation gain, though.)

But, I’m confident the majority of those on the trail this day, like the two of us, were also drawn by bathing in the forest or “taking in the forest atmosphere,” as National Geographic alternatively described it.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese art, developed in the 1980’s with a two-fold purpose: “to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.” There followed scientific studies of the practice, confirming that connecting with nature is good for the human soul!

That’s what the crowds were experiencing on this Saturday in April, I think. I suspect it was more of a refreshment for pandemic fatigue and stay-at-home orders than from the hi-tech burnout that birthed the practice. But it’s what we all needed at this time.

It’s one of the unforeseen benefits, I think, that has emerged from this fourteen-month hiatus from reality: people getting out of their cocoons and appreciating nature, rejuvenating their souls with some forest bathing.

I hope this eco-therapy lingers long beyond the pandemic because it’s good for both our bodies and our souls.

At least, that’s how I see it . . .