Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. When I first read about forest bathing the cynic in me scoffed, “Jeezus, how many gimmicky ideas can humanity come up with?” As curious as it may appear, I have reevaluated the matter. Why? Well, it was an accident really.
In reading the aforementioned book by Bill Bailey I learnt more. It was the Japanese Government that validated shinrin-yoku in the 1980s. After research confirmed the hypothesis that forest walkers experienced significantly less stress and anxiety than urban walkers, the idea became a public health policy. Hence the very real, legitimate and officially mandated practice of shinrin-yoku, forest bathing or put more simply absorbing the atmosphere of the forest.
I learnt this with a little embarrassment because I have clearly been a shinrin-yoku practitioner for years. Walking and cycling in the bush have long been favourite pastimes, as soothing to the mind and cleansing of the soul as anything I can imagine. I realise now I have practiced forest bathing and even refined the practice. My own specialised sub discipline will now be called forest basking. This is where I find myself paused, stationary, sometimes mid step, sometimes sitting, sometimes lying down looking either up, across or down, grinning, goggling or gasping or all three at once, in awe at nature’s beauty and evolutionary accomplishments.
I am no shirin-yoku guru or forest bathing shaman, but I am an advocate by default because I do my best to promote these wonderful activities publicly and widely. Why? Because if they are good for individual lifestyle and well-being they are good for societal wellbeing. If shinrin-yoku encourages people into positive low impact forest experiences those people become advocates for the forest and habitat gets improved as well. And who doesn’t want such a desirable set of outcomes from the simple act of taking some time out in the forest?
Wildflowers. Spring is a nice time of year for many reasons. A plain, field, forest or reserve full of Australian native species is hard to beat. Today I visited the smallish metro Bungalook Conservation Reserve looking for wildflowers. There was plenty happening. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy this natural world gallery of many good things only.
Oh happy day, coming out of lockdown to gather for the first time with three generations of our newly extended immediate family. Seeing the fatigued but over the moon parents adoring and learning every minute something new about their days old daughter. Witnessing the unbridled happiness of the new Grandma and Aunties as they emotionally engage with our immaculate new cherub.
We all hold her and smile at her and laugh at how fresh and sometimes awkward and beautiful we are with this tiny new presence amongst us as we make funny faces and soft cooing and baby talk noises and hold her out and hold her in looking her up looking her down oohing and aahing with blissful amazement.
And she takes it all on her own terms dozing, occasionally peering into our faces (we like to think), practicing various facial expressions for future reference, gracing us with something we like to call a smile, mouthing for the breast when she is ready and crying if delivery isn’t fast enough.
Seeing our children with a grandchild, their mother and their partners happily together after what feels like an age apart, talking, smiling, laughing, just loving each other all over again. I smile on the outside, smile on the inside, my very pores turn into micro smiles.
Nursing a days old baby in my arms as she practices for the perfect sleep to come. Her pastel skin small nose soft lashes and milk mouth filling my eyes with intermittent tears of joy and wonder. Her irregular breathing coming in short rapid shallow bursts followed by deep sighs of contentment as she snuffles and ruffles and stretches back and reaches out and flexes fingers and kicks legs and crinkles her nose and dreams baby dreams with eyelids aflutter while her eyes move this way and that underneath. Her lapping tongue unconsciously works at nipple traction in automatic rehearsal. The little lips open and shut pucker and pout refining the sucking technique in readiness for the next lactation latching that will draw milky nourishment and unqualified love from her besotted mother supported by her smitten father and adored by the rest of us in this small family bubble. Her smooth brow un-furrowed by concern or worry she is the very picture of innocence.
1 Carolling Magpies. I so adore this birdsong. The musical sound of a Magpie nearby is not to be taken for granted. They may be common, they may even be considered threatening at times. Regardless, nature provided them with a voice of beauty.
2 Weeding. Oh how satisfying it is to return a weedy patch to order. Sometimes to rediscover plants you had forgotten you had put there, still struggling along despite your neglect. Other times to prepare the ground for new plantings and the potential they represent. Then there is the satisfying effort of the exercise. Bent over pulling at stubborn and deep rooted infestations, kneeling on increasingly sore knees to optimise leverage, scouring the earth with garden tools to loosen impacted soul and break up clumps. Eventually tiring enough too slowly, very slowly, uh, just a bit slower, stand up straight again for the first time in some hours realising your back ain’t what it used to be. You survey the scene, grunt with satisfaction at the work and the regret your lack of flexibility will bring and go inside for a well earned cup of tea and a biscuit.
3 Putting the lids back on properly. Past experience tells me, when you pick up the jam jar by the lid only to have it go crashing to the floor, it is not a good thing. When you pick up the jam jar and have to unscrew the lid to access the jam instead of scraping it up off the floor it is a good thing. I am just saying.
1 Waiting for a baby, then hearing her cry for the first time, seeing her early at the breast, knowing everything is going to be OK.
2 Feeling grateful for the loving, informed, proactive and justifiably proud parents.
3 Learning that even though locked out you can still immediately bond with your newly emerged granddaughter on FaceTime as she sprawls across her mother’s chest in search of a second breast. Her purposeful efforts encouraging, her fresh ruddiness a healthy glow, her determined expression inspiring, her chubby robustness endearing, her tiny hands already reaching out to the world. She personifies a truth, where there is life there is hope.
1. A Nostalgic Knife. This knife still gives me the warm and fuzzies. We bought it at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in England in 1986 along with a chopping board and a plastic food container. As we travelled around various countries thereafter those three items provided for preparing many meals on the road.
The board and container are long gone, but the knife has survived and is still in service. It did disappear in the early 2000s for a few years. Then much to my delight I dug it up in the garden one day. How it got there is a mystery that has never been solved. Amazingly, it cleaned up good as new and continues to have a sharp edge.
Is there a case for sentimental attachment to such objects? Yes, I think there is because it isn’t the object itself you are attached to, it is the associations it conjures up. For better or worse many are emotionally potent and the good ones can be well worth reliving.
2. More on the Vegemite theme. I didn’t mention the optional addition of Avocado yesterday, but have been inspired to do so by comments made by other Vegemite fans. This combo is especially good on homemade rye or sourdough. Definitely a good thing!
3. The pleasure of choosing the next book to read. Reading can’t be beaten for transporting you to another place or learning things new or anew. As I approach the end of a book I experience a double shiver of anticipation. The climax of the story or the summary of the learning is experienced concurrent with the knowledge that I get to savour the next choosing. Even if a book turns out to be a disappointment, the enticement of its unknown content at the outset will always be something to look forward too. So, I am looking forward to Bill Bailey next. I will let you know what I think.
1. Many years ago – about 15? I bought a full brimmed hat at Salamanca Market in Hobart. I had been on the lookout for the right hat for some time. With the hair on the top of my head rapidly thinning, a hat became important in a way it had never been before. However, I just couldn’t find the right hat. All the hats I had tried either didn’t sit well, were to loose and blew off easily or had to be so tight to avoid this they created a feeling of stricture. Often the brims blew up flat against my forehead or flat over my eyes in a light breeze. Some made my head too hot, others simply made me look very uncool.
When I put on this particular hat I immediately knew its rightness. No, not quite. I thought it looked uncool, but then it felt so comfortable that uncool ceased to matter. With an Hibiscus motif on the stitched in band and also into the underside of the brim, it did look odd on me. On the other hand, the denim and cotton fabric meant it didn’t automatically make me sweat. The brim was reinforced without being rigid, it didn’t blow about. The seal the deal factor was the elasticised cotton band on the inside. The soft yet firm grip on my crown was secure without being tight, not cold to the skin to touch, temperate as a sweat band for a hot day as well.
I have appreciated this hat ever since. It has been my pleasure to wear it. Through all weather and work demands it has stood the test of time. It has faded, it has been patched, it has frayed or worn through at all the regular touch points, particularly the edges and peak. The Hibiscus band has shredded and the sweat stains embedded. Yet it endures as a perfect fit, with a perfectly functional cotton elasticised grip and the brim at the front has angled with use for the ideally acceptable level of eye shading and when I dips me lid.
2. Today I received a present of home baked biscuits. What a lovely and enjoyable surprise. I am grateful for such a good thing to come from such a thoughtful friend.
No day feels right without Vegemite.
It’s in my head until it’s eaten
That salty flavour that can’t be beaten
I love it on Vita Weet I love it on bread
A Vegemite roll, I’ve often said
Is the very best thing to ensure my day
Is going along in the very best way
1. Japanese Maples. Oh my! Flowers on red tipped new wood that buzz with bees in Spring. The cutest of leaves emerging, developing from a bright new growth light green through to a mature darker verdant green. Insect rich haven for small birds. A canopy in summer dense enough for complete shade and shelter. Massive parrot attracter when seeding. Flaming autumnal colours. Deep, vibrant carpets underneath when leaves fall. As noble a bare frame in winter as any deciduous tree can offer, sculpted of wizened green/grey trunks and wispy lichen laden branches.
2. The Happiness Lab and orange. I listen to this podcast quite often. It is about reporting on research into happiness. There are many anecdotal stories to illustrate the outcomes. To put it in context, the podcast originated a few years ago after Psychology Lecturer Dr Laurie Santos commenced Happiness research subjects at Yale University. Within two years these subjects had the highest enrolment demand in the United States. I usually find the podcast very interesting. Often it gives me cause to reflect. In the most recent edition, host Laurie Santos mentioned how she was delighted by orange in its many manifestations. I thought that was just great because I absolutely get it! After all, every day is an orange day: https://seanmathews.blog/2021/06/04/every-day-is-an-orange-day/
3. Bananas. I eat one banana every day there is one available. Nutritious, full of energy, delicious and so, so convenient to just pick up and eat anytime. They are such a great gap filler. A banana is my go to starter food when bushwalking or cycling. I even love the word banana.
Why only 3 GTOs? I can see I am going to start writing more than I expected about each GTO because I am really enjoying giving them the thought they deserve. 3 is looking like a more practical number from this perspective.
Sitting on the verandah in the late afternoon after the day’s work is done. Relaxing, drinking tea, reading books, watching and listening to birds.
Budding deciduous trees sprinkled with emergent new leaves of every shade of green.
The assertive confidence of a pair of Grey Shrike Thrushes as they stand next to me while I remove a stump. Alert, heads cocked to one side, closely monitoring what the next spade full of soil will turn over.
Bees by the dozen on the tall lilac coloured columns of flower laden Rosemary branches.
The quiet and gentle breeze creating a shimmering in the Swamp Gum canopy along the creek as sunlight reflects off ever tousled, shiny grey green eucalyptus leaves.
1. The Blues Brothers Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. If Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers can’t make you want to shake a tail feather – nothing can. Music makes my day, every day.
2. A fresh celery stick smeared with crunchy peanut butter along its middle. Groovy!
3. Watching seedlings grow in the greenhouse. I had forgotten how fascinating it is to plant a seed, check it regularly, see it emerge and leaf. Such an everyday occurrence and yet so incredible.
4. Taking the time to get informed and then complete a significant survey with objectivity. I am confident the Euroa underpass surpasses the overpass. The Euroa Connect volunteers have done a very professional job of campaigning accordingly.
5. Removing a scourge of our bushland – Blackberries. Here, and in many parts of Australia, there are no constraints on their growth. They can smother vast tracts of indigenous flora. This particular work has been four years in the making. It felt so good to finally start mulching these dead canes. Once this area along the Seven Creeks is revegetated it is going to look its natural self and amazing once again!
1. A Grey Shrike Thrush sang for us from the verandah as we ate breakfast while a Scrub Wren scoured the brickwork and window frames for its own breakfast.
2. Starting a new book and enjoying it from page 1. Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton.
3. Listening to a Late Night Live podcast while exercising.
4. Deciding not to walk amongst undulating hills of grazing land in the wind and rain.
5. Deciding to walk in the shelter of Strathbogie Forest instead. The rain stopped when we got there. It didn’t resume until we returned to the car. Adding to the pleasure of being in the forest, we observed many Greenhood Orchids.