Among the trees
When I am among the trees
They give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
Mary Oliver, 2006
Mary Oliver (1935–2019) has long been one of my favourite poets. Her writing connects us to the physicality of our lives and the transcendence of the natural world around us. Her poem ‘When I am among the trees’ is her personal reflection on the transformative effect of her lifelong practice of ‘being amongst trees’. Today, March 21st, is International Day of Forests and this year’s theme is ‘Forest Restoration: A Path to Recovery and Well-being’. Undoubtedly, the path to recovery and well-being is two-fold.: our planet needs to recover, but so do we as humans. This past year, the toll of disease on both our physical and mental health has been brought sharply into focus. Trees can be restorative indeed; for some, including Oliver, they can be a lifeline.
This is at the heart of our vision at TreeStory; to reconnect people and land. We believe passionately in the power of woodlands to heal our planet and our aim is to inspire people to begin their journey of being more connected with the land, empowering them to make a genuine difference in the world. We aim to put this into practise ourselves, to get out into the forest as often as possible.
Forest bathing (or shinrin yoku in Japanese), a little-known term in the west only a decade ago, is rapidly gaining popular recognition. It is the practice of simply being amongst the trees, opening all your senses to the forest, bridging the gap between us and the natural world. Not surprisingly, shinrin yoku has been shown to have real health benefits, helping both adults and children de-stress and boost their wellbeing in a natural way. In our fast-paced society, you would think this is some modern antidote to our busy, technological lives. But this practise is as ancient as the pre-Christian druids or early monastic pilgrims, way before our need to get away from our phones! There is something enduring within us that longs to step aside from the hustle and connect on a deeper level.
John Muir’s now famous quote “for going out, I found, was really going in”, strikes so true. When we take a moment to disconnect, especially from technology, and get into nature, we immerse ourselves in larger rhythms and take our place in a bigger story. As foresters, we are so lucky to spend a portion of our week in landscapes either currently wooded, or about to become forests. I never take it for granted. These landscapes help me to breathe, they help me to see a bigger picture and put meaning and context to my life. Even a 10-minute walk from our office in Edinburgh, around the old buildings of Stockbridge, past gardens and urban trees, and further along the Water of Leith if time allows, restores me.
In celebration of International Day of Forests, perhaps take time this week to simply be “among the trees”. Wherever you are, whether you have 10 hours to romp through a forest, or 10 minutes to steal away, go out into nature and take a deep breath of fresh air. You will feel the difference.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Mary Oliver, 2006