UpFront 07/19

Although developed by the Japanese in the 1980s’ Forest Bathing’ has been in the news again recently. Known as ‘shinrin-yoku’ which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ it is said that the practice of spending quiet time tramping through forest or woodland reduces stress and brings a sense of wellbeing. It is also said to help lower blood pressure and even help concentration and memory. I spent a lot of time with publisher and poet, the late Felix Dennis, while he was developing his plan to grow the largest broadleaf forest in England. When the weather was good, we occasionally walked across his garden to one of his writing dens. We would stop at different trees, and he would gently check the state of branches, leaves or buds, and in his signature gruff and loud voice, he would ask the tree how it was doing. In the end, despite his obsession with writing as much poetry as he could before he died, he left his business and his money to a charity devoted to growing native broadleaf trees. He firmly believed in the social and health benefits of trees for both the planet and its inhabitants and hoped to eventually plant a contiguous forest on land near his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. He dreamed of creating a place of tranquillity and natural beauty. I was with him when he planted his millionth tree, and to date, the organisation that inherited his money has created over 3,000 acres of new woodland. I have little doubt that a walk in the woods has health benefits, even the National Trust offers a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Forest Bathing’ on its website and promotes the belief that ‘improving a person’s connection with nature’ can lead to ‘significant increases in their wellbeing’. While trees have often been used to symbolise strength, wisdom and eternal life, the idea of a community of them offering peace and tranquillity is warming. So when much was made recently about the fact that the tree which President Emmanuel Macron gifted to the current US President died after a spell in a US quarantine facility, I was as amused as the many others who saw it as a sign of the deep chasm between symbols and reality. But it didn’t stop me from seeing the value of the mental health benefits of a walk in the woods. President Macron is reported to be sending a replacement for the dead oak. Perhaps instead of sending just a replacement, I wonder if the world could benefit if he sent over a small forest for the White House lawn so the current resident could take in the forest atmosphere and chill out now and then.