of the wood thrush—ee-oh-lay, ee-oh-lay—echoes through Rock Creek Park.
It is a morning in mid-May: high spring.
;e forest canopy is rain-soaked, which
seems to magnify every sound.
Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author
and naturalist, invites the nine women
and one man who have followed her into
the woods to close their eyes, listen and
“Really take the air in and let your
belly rise,” Choukas-Bradley, 66, says
softly. “Keep your eyes closed. Listen to
the creek. Listen to the birds. Just feel
how wonderful it is to be sitting here
together for a few silent moments.
“Now,” she says, “open your eyes and
pretend that you are seeing the world for
the very first time.”
One of the people gathered is
surprised to find that when she opens
her eyes they are wet with tears.
Choukas-Bradley, who lives in Chevy
Chase, has authored books on the flora
and fauna of Rock Creek Park, the
District’s tree-lined streets and Sugarloaf
Mountain. Organizations such as the
Audubon Naturalist Society and the
Smithsonian hire her to lead group walks
designed to help participants connect
with the natural world and identify local
plants and animals.
On this day, however, Choukas-Bradley is leading a different kind of
walk in the woods. She’s guiding a
diverse group of strangers through the
Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or
forest bathing, which happens to be
the subject of her latest book, The Joy
of Forest Bathing: Reconnect with Wild
Places & Rejuvenate Your Life. Forest
bathing, essentially, is trying to make
an encounter with the natural world a
consciously meditative experience. Since
the practice is still relatively unknown in
the United States, several participants on
this walk said they had no idea what to
expect—although they knew enough to
show up wearing hiking clothes and rain
gear, not bathing suits.
“I may identify a few things as we go,
The flute song
While forest bathing,
Sarah De Witt immerses
herself in contemplating
every aspect of a towering
tree—from the texture of
its bark to the sound of
the wind in its leaves.