Taking in the trees

Forest bathing 

            It was a hard week, one in which I hadn’t slept much. I was feeling couped up, wishing our condo got more sun during the day. 

            Then, I spotted a friend’s Facebook post showing how she had fixed a similar slump by walking among the trees, in particular the redwoods at a certain Saratoga park. Neither my husband nor I had ever been to Sanborn County Park, which has 3,453 acres and 22 miles of trails sandwiched between Saratoga and Skyline Boulevard.

 Rich has been working remotely for the past year. Despite his deadlines, we dropped what we were doing to drive south from Los Altos. Rich appeared to humor my mood, but I knew he also loves to get outdoors.

            After a 20-minute drive, we entered the park, passing the gatehouse where the guard’s only question was “How many?” She noted there were two of us on a clipboard and there was no charge. I wondered what the Covid-19 restrictions were for the park, but the phrase, “25 percent capacity” flashed in my mind. Was that just for restaurants and stores? Maybe it also applied to county parks. I later found out the per vehicle charge will be $6 starting April 1.

            There were few cars; one was flanked by parents opening the car doors for their young children. Signs said the park closed at sunset. It was only 3:00 pm. 

I looked up and turned around like a slow-motion dervish, noting the 30-foot redwoods that made up Peterson Grove. We walked on a platform built inside the gigantic trees, and I remembered the book my daughter had given me last time she visited: “Forest bathing Retreat – find wholeness in the company of trees,” by Hannah Fries.

            In it, the author talks about the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature, breathing in the fresh air and trees. The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku refers to a kind of forest therapy started there in the 1980s as an antidote to the conditions that urban, cement-choked  life causes. I had always felt better after being out in the negative ions for a few hours, sure that trees had some magical mystical quality. The gnarled branches seemed to connect to each other without touching.

            The thing I felt most was my own fraility.  I had just had a shoulder arthroscopy, making me aware that I might fall on that side. I was like a broken tree. Still, the sound of leaves blowing, called psithurism, invigorated me and I felt I was receiving healing energy from the trees. The air smelled fresh, clean, and I tried to stand still while my husband moved forward.

            The book says, “sit as still as you can in one place for a while – 20 minutes or so, and see how the forest begins to slowly go about its business again all around you.” We found an amphitheatre, marked Outdoor Stage. I could imagine a play staged here, with chairs placed around in a semi-circle. It was cold but silent. Around us, a few broken-off branches lay scattered on the earth.

            We walked past a hike-in camp site, with sturdy plastic cabinets to keep out animals. Then we traveled through the RV camper hook-up sites and back to our car. After just an hour, I felt lifted up as high as the redwood trees, open as the sky. And that night, I slept eight hours straight, feeling refreshed in the morning. The forest bathing therapy had worked to rejuvenate me. It’s worth another trip. 

Redwoods at Sanborn County Park