I talked in my last entry of how I came to the Loblolly stand feeling beaten down by my work and school. I felt like I was missing parts of myself that I wished I wasn’t. When I left, after I noticed the energetic sway of the Loblolly, I felt better. My Zoom-induced headache was gone, my lungs felt clearer, and legs had spring to them that wasn’t there before. I know that this is not a unique experience–plenty of people go to the woods because it makes them feel good–but I have been unsure why.
In my research for this journal I learned that in 1982 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries sought to encapsulate the energizing quality of a walk in the woods. They decided to call it shinrin-yoku, which roughly means “forest bathing.” Beyond just their aesthetic quality, spending time in forests has literal health benefits.
According to research done by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, rees produce a set of chemicals called Phytoncides that they use as a natural pesticide. Phytoncides benefit humans by causing humans’ white blood cell counts to increase. Simply spending time amongst trees makes our bodies more resilient to disease. Other studies and research have shown connections between spending time in forests and decreased blood pressure and lowered levels of stress induced chemicals in the body like cortisol.
There are also benefits of walking barefoot outside. Barefoot walks also increase white blood cell counts and can have a positive effect on joints.
On a recent afternoon when my cortisol level was feeling especially high, I decided to decamp to the Loblolly stand to see if I could glean some of the benefits of forest bathing. I was feeling frustrated with school and bored with work and I needed to give my brain a break. I left for the stand at 3:00, after an especially tedious macroeconomics class.
I didn’t even bring any shoes, which ended up being painful in some spots. The Loblolly were, of course, kinder to the soles of my feet. The cushion of their needles is perfect for walking barefoot outside. I abandoned the trail and found one of the more remote spots in the stand, where I could soak in the senses of the forest without much interruption.
The way the fallen Loblolly needles move is like snow or sand; the surface of the forest floor is never quite the same, and always seems to be shifting one way or another. I found a needle-drift and laid down.
Sometimes the needles would poke through my clothes, but it wasn’t an unwelcome interruption. I was glad to be reminded of what was beneath and around me. I stayed in the stand until the sun set over the woods’ mild hills and past my apartment. When I got home, I semi-consciously decided to skip my homework for the evening. I got out some Salmon I had been saving and made a nice dinner for my girlfriend and myself. I felt better.