Taking a Forest Bath - Literally
I hesitate at the edge of the wood and look back out of it towards Inverness. I’m pretty sure I’m about to take the forest bath thing rather literally. It is just after 6 o’clock. So, I goad myself, ‘come on, Sarah, get them off and bathe in the forest.’
So I discard my clothes – hoping against hope I am doing this early enough. The sun rose at least two hours ago. Others will be up.
Who knows the etiquette that covers meeting your neighbours while in the buff? Will we be very British and discuss the unseasonably wet weather, while we both completely ignore the fact that one of us is only wearing her walking boots?
I stand still, and shut my eyes, feel through my skin, nose, ears, and mouth. First thing I notice is that I’m not cold. I’m not very hardy, and it’s only 8C according to the forecast. I dreaded taking my dress off, sure I’d freeze.
I start to walk deeper into the wood, traipsing through clouds of little white wood anemones, buttercups, the last of the bluebells, wood sorrel.
A large goat willow catches my eye. Or, great willow, or ‘sallow’.
It looks a bit like the ‘whumping willow’ from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Except this one appears to have what I can only describe as a mossy throne on one side.
I learn later its Latin name is salix caprea, so I guess the ‘sallow’ name comes from that. Aspirin’s obtained from salicin. All sallows, including weeping willow, have salicin in their bark. Some people call goat willows ‘pussy willows’. Their silky grey flowers look like cat’s paws we called ‘catkins’.
Moths and butterflies love their leaves, as much as bees and other insects love their catkins. By one and plant it for them. Or plant two, because each one has either male or female reproductive organs, and needs to be near one bearing the other organs to reproduce. Except for one wonderful thing…
Most sallows can let their branches grow down to the earth, and sink in. The branch then pushes roots down, and it becomes another sallow. This explains why fallen sallows, that I thought were dead, appear to resurrect, with new trees growing up around the dead trunk.
I put my head against the trunk of this one, and rest a moment.
One of the dogs sits and looks at me. I think he’s wondering, why would anyone stand still when the air to his nose is a thickly interwoven fabric of delicious scents? He doesn’t understand I can only smell a fraction of them.
So we walk on. After about 20 minutes I realise I feel totally normal. If I do meet someone – and I’m taking steps to ensure I don’t by staying off paths – for one moment I’ll think they are the odd ones, all wrapped up.
On the way home, I choose a birch tree to lie under.
I thought the grass would feel like lying on cold, wet spinach. Not at all. I lie on thick grass padding, but with the scent of sweet, wet earth and grass together under my head. I instantly feel drowsy where – another wrong presumption – I assumed I’d be on high alert.
Old bracken stalks scratch a bit. I’m slightly anxious about tics. But the bird song is bliss, and the dogs are now happy to rest. The only problem is, that they lie as close to me as they can get, and breathe heavy and wet as a lust-choked lover in my ear.
I think they think we’re a pack. As a pack, we should all three of us want to lie there licking each other’s faces, listening, and looking about together. And suddenly, I do feel a bit pack-ish, and, though I look silly, I’m very happy to be here.