many of the benefits of forest bathing
in the walks she guides. “People are
hungry for it,” she says. “Disconnected
from nature, people tend to get into
ruminative thought patterns. They turn
to-do lists over and over in their heads.
Out in nature you feel whole, you feel
confident, you feel happy, you feel alive
in ways you don’t when you interact with
a screen. You feel like you are part of the
whole world, living life.”
THE MID-MAY forest bathers walk
deeper into the woods, concentrating as
Choukas-Bradley has asked them to on
observing what moves and what is still.
When they stop, they sit in a loose circle
to talk about what they have observed
She asks one of the forest bathers,
Sarah De Witt, 40, of the District, to read
a poem that’s one of Choukas-Bradley’s
favorites: When I Am Among the Trees,
by Mary Oliver.
and visits Rock Creek Park often, recalls
the makeshift tea ceremony. In Japan,
forest bathing often includes drinking
tea brewed from aromatic leaves
gathered in the woods. Rather than
pour tea, Choukas-Bradley served maple
water and maple sugar candy—gifts
from trees. Strangers around a picnic
table spoke; some in words as brief as
a haiku expressed deep joys, sorrows,
yearnings. Taylor, who has a background
in commercial real estate, was reminded
that everyone is seeking something, not
just him. He found that reassuring.
Since the visit, Taylor rarely passes a
sweet gum tree without stopping to smell
its fragrant leaves. Often he plucks a single
leaf from a mature tree, tears it and holds
the fragments to his nose to better relish
its lemony freshness.
DeWitt, who read the poem to the
group, remembers the rain that day. “It
was purifying,” she recalls. DeWitt is
an experienced outdoorswoman who
has degrees in geology and science
documentary filmmaking. She works
at NASA as a coach, helping employees
plot their path through the agency and
life. She regularly hikes Rock Creek
Park. A few weeks after she went forest
bathing, De Witt enjoyed a three-day bike
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile. ”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple, ” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be
filled with light, and to shine. ”
Weeks later, the hikers who followed
Choukas-Bradley into the woods that
day say the experience stayed with them
in ways they didn’t expect. It has changed
how they experience daily life.
Erik Taylor, 38, who lives in the
District’s Woodley Park neighborhood
expedition with friends.
“They were long days riding, and you
could get exhausted if you let yourself,” she
recalls. “I would spend a chunk of the time
listening only to birds. What do I hear?
What birds do I hear? It was astonishing
how much I heard with focusing on just
that one thing. For another chunk of time
I just focused on all the green. It was
almost overwhelming. It was shades and
textures—so much green that I wouldn’t
have noticed if I hadn’t focused on it. It
was almost like taking the forest bathing
experience with me. It elevated the
experience of being on a bike.”
Claire Ward, 60, who lives in D.C.’s
Glover Park neighborhood, says of
her first foray into forest bathing: “It
was profound. I had a profound gentle
spiritual experience with a bunch of
people who I’d never met before.” In her
youth, Ward was a white-water rafting
guide. Now she’s a federal worker who
spends weekdays bound to her office,
phone and computer. It’s hard to be fully
conscious in our daily lives, Ward says.
There are so many things we don’t want
to be fully conscious of: the rushing, the
press of responsibilities or the drumbeat
of disturbing news.
Every day now, Ward tries to recapture
her experience and see the world in a
whole new light. “Now when I’m walking
I will look at what’s moving and what’s
not,” she says. “I will look at the shape of
that leaf and just not rush past. I try to
notice those small things. Going out and
being fully conscious in nature is what
connects us to this planet and to each
other. It’s like we were all starving for it.”
Choukas-Bradley has grown
accustomed to reactions like this.
“People often sound surprised that a
walk affected them as deeply as it did,”
she says. It affects her, too, every time, she
says. To try to explain how profoundly,
she quotes the great naturalist John Muir:
“I only went out for a walk and finally
concluded to stay out till sundown, for
going out, I found, was really going in.” n
April Witt ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
into the woods
former Washington Post writer.
Choukas-Bradley often stops to enjoy
the fragrance of the native spicebush;
she invites those who follow her into
the woods to do the same.