Lines, forms, colors and textures surround you as you gently experience the woods. Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, allows the observer the time to walk slowly and take in all of the sights, sounds, feels, smells and sometimes tastes of the forest.
As we take time to appreciate the natural art in nature, we experience the calm feeling that it brings.
This is truly forest therapy. As we enter the woods, we see beautiful patterns and colors. Trees gently dance in the breeze. Moss looks like paint drops on the jagged rocks. A palette of greens and browns dapple the ground. The most gifted artist could never compare with the beauty of nature.
Patterns and shapes are everywhere, but not as prevalent as they are in nature. We can identify different trees by the pattern of their bark. The curled bark on the Shagbark Hickory looks like a fur coat, and the bark of an ancient Beech looks like eyes following you as you tiptoe silently through the brown, crisp leaves. The gorgeous scale-like pattern on a mushroom is reminiscent of a peacock’s tail.
There are shapes from simple circles to the complicated cascade of a fern leaf.
The pure, white petals of the first spring blooms brighten up the dark winter landscape with gentle precision. The Bloodroot, named for its red root that appears to bleed, is one of the first greeters in the forest. Native Americans used the roots of this plant to paint their faces, but they can also be used in dyes for material. In this way, the organic material can become art. This gorgeous, ephemeral plant blooms early in the spring and displays its crown-shaped leaves the rest of the season.
When you look closely, you can see the palate of wonderful colors that create the art of the forest.
The bark of a decaying tree truck reveals a variation of browns and blacks to create a piece of art. Throughout the season, splashes of color dot the forest. Bluebells brighten up the forest edge. The soft, white plumes of Black Cohosh pop through the bushes of green to make themselves known. If you are very lucky, you might come upon a tiny, purple Hepatica nestled among the forest floor.
The forest creatures add to the palate.
Bright blue streaks paint the area around you as the bluebird darts into a hole in a stump to feed her babies. You hear a fast tapping noise, and see the scarlet red head of a Pileated Woodpecker. There is no better time to appreciate the forest colors than in fall. Even if you live in southern climates where fall is limited, there are changes to the colors of nature. In the northern climates, however, the art of fall is spectacular! The reds and yellows replace the sea of green to enhance the canvas. Be careful of some fall colors. Poison ivy turns a beautiful bright red, but it is a color you’ll want to appreciate from afar! Color is all around in the woods if you look for it.
Unlike the static texture in a painting or sculpture, forest texture is organic and changing with the seasons and weather.
There are stable elements, like rocks, trees and boulders that act as the background of the forest artwork. Each tree has a different bark: some rough, some smooth, and some loose and chipped. Touching the bark of a tree and plants can calm you; but some, like conifers, actually emit chemicals called phytoncide. The purpose of this substance is to protect the plants from harmful insects and germs, but it has also been reported to benefit human health. In this way, the forest is not only a work of art; it is a part of your natural healthcare.
When you create an art gift out of materials you collect on your nature walks, you leave a piece of yourself as well as a spiritual gift to all who allowed you to enter their home.
This does not mean disturbing your surroundings with things that are not natural or destroying plants to offer a gift. Simply gather interesting rocks, plants, bark, moss, pinecones, or other organic matter that strikes your fancy, and put them together in a spot that you found special on your walk. Your gift can also be a gentle reminder to other forest bathers to leave a respectful gift before they go. This is an organic language that will help you become a part of the art that is nature.
Next time you take a forest bath, look around you for the art that the forest creates and find ways to communicate and thank those unseen spirits who have accompanied you on your journeys. In doing so, you will exit the forest feeling a sense of connectedness, comfort and creativity.