By DON VOWELL

Forest Bathing is a thing. I heard about it on National Public Radio.  A guide—certified and trained—leads a group into a forest or similar natural environment and instructs them in ways to better immerse themselves in the beauty and peace of nature: touch the bark, sniff the leaves, hear the birds.  I was surprised to learn that drinking in nature’s serenity requires a sippy cup to start.   

In one of those studies that make you scratch your head at the methodology it was estimated that stress alone in 2015 added $190 billion to American health care costs. Some studies in Japan show that a significant time in a forest environment can lower blood pressure and reduce production of stress hormones. It is believed that compounds released from trees called phytoncides may be responsible for these good effects.

A possible problem is that while a walk in the forest is verifiably better for you than the same walk in the city, the duration of the compared walks was four hours. This is not a shower, it’s a long soak. One probable cause of stress is that very few Americans have four hours they can give up to walking in the forest.  Many Americans that can get away for a four-hour walk don’t have a forest convenient to them.

The NPR story featured a Forest Bathing class on Theodore Roosevelt Island on the Potomac River.  In the heart of Washington DC, this restored natural environment is a quiet retreat for stressed out locals. Except, of course, the quiet is sometimes interrupted by its location in the approach path of the Ronald Reagan National Airport. During the audio portion of this story the forest guide sometimes had to shout instructions for enjoying the pastoral quality over the thunder of passing jetliners.

I might be a pioneer in Refuge Bathing.  The reason we need regular bathing is that national discourse about current events in our country is highly toxic and totally dispiriting—stressful.  I am able to flush this sludge from my head and my heart by a slow and lonesome visit to any of several local wildlife refuges.  I am sometimes asked how I got a picture of this bird or that critter.  The single answer is time spent where they live instead of where I live.

Much could be learned by watching how everybody gets along at a refuge. There is little evidence of bigotry, avarice, pride, or arrogance. No liberal-conservative name-calling.  No religious animosity.  Herons and deer are not threatening one another with nuclear annihilation.  All parties mainly seem concerned with providing for their families, too busy to resent other families or other species.  When I stop and watch all this I realize they are smart and I am less so.

So if you are having health problems—high blood pressure and stress related complaints—go stroll around at one of the local refuges.  You won’t need a guide, just shut up and listen.  Watch.  Breathe.

I realize this is not a treatment easily available to all so I am developing one of those little green felt trees that hangs from your car mirror.  In this case it will be infused with actual phytoncides and will give you the benefits of a forest walk in the comfort of your climate controlled car.  The accompanying CD will play forest noises.  After years of failure I finally have an idea that can make me rich.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)