I don’t know whether these are the best or worst of times, but they sure seem the strangest of times. Around the world, responses to the pandemic range from inspirational to depressing, from prudent to bizarre, as we watch the death toll rise and can only wonder where it will stop. It’s a confusing, frightening moment, and just when we need each other most our duty to each other is to keep our distance.
Amid the threat, uncertainty and isolation, it’s no surprise that I am drawn outside to the trees.
The breeze feels cleansing and the glow of a March sun warms my spirit, but it’s the company of trees that restores my balance. Among the trunks and branches—full or bare, I don’t care—the embrace of faithful friends is familiar. With my boots in the dirt and my eyes on the crowns, I sense a divine comfort as nowhere else. The forest was my playground when I was young, but is my refuge, my inspiration, and my sanctuary now.
The fact is, being out among the trees is just plain old good for you, even if nothing ails you. A swiftly growing body of evidence links what I like to call “breathing the green” with (among many other individual and communal benefits) lower stress levels, decreased blood pressure, reduced risks of asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, improved mental health, and a longer life expectancy. This isn’t the overwrought woo of wellness gurus run amok or even the poetic passions that often possess me; this is cold, hard science. Maybe this is a good thing of which to remind ourselves and each other–and to suggest out to others.
One of the nice things about this restorative respite from our malaise is that it’s free. No prescription required. No insurance. Not even a note from your mom. You don’t have to travel far or pay admission fees. Just open the door and step outside—then walk, jog, run, bike, or drive to a forest, an arboretum, a park, or just a street that’s blessed with trees.
Hike, stroll, or sit. Do yoga, tai chi, or isometrics. Channel your inner John Muir, Rachel Carson, or John Chapman and note, draw, or just observe the natural world around you. Meditate, pray, or just breathe. Maybe, just be.
There are days when my time among the trees is spent focusing, in turn, on what I smell, hear, see, and feel, gathering both data and spirit for some future poem. Other days, I just stop and sense myself as a part of the all.
Later, we can consider what more you and I can do, through TREE Fund, to protect, nurture, and enhance the gift of trees. For now, in this strangest of times, let’s stop to breathe the green. Be safe. Be well.