Nature has the power to heal. Ask anyone who has taken a quick walk by the ocean’s edge or a stroll through a local public garden and you will likely find that those experiences have the capacity to soothe an overanxious mind. Just five minutes spent in nature has the potential to redirect and refocus a stressed-out soul.
Back in the 1990s, a practice known as “forest bathing” began in Japan. The exercise, also known as Shinrin-yoku, was performed by immersing oneself in the sights, sounds and fragrances of nature. The practice, which puts a person front and center in the present moment, has been shown to boost immunity and mood. Power of nature, indeed.
Hubby and I often hike on Long Island’s beautiful trails. While we practice this exercise for health benefits, it is not difficult to immerse oneself in the rustling sound of leaves in the treetops or the echo of a blue jay as it calls to its mate. The chatter of chipmunks or the dusty aroma of decaying leaves can bring one’s mind into intense focus. I can personally attest to the fact that walking in the woods and enjoying the beauty that nature offers has often pulled me out of the sourest of moods.
When we bought our home in Hicksville almost 30 years ago, we were drawn to the backyard almost immediately. Hemlocks bordered the back of the property, while arborvitae and holly bushes outlined the sides of the yard. A neighbor’s large pines loomed over the yard like a giant green blanket, which offered a home to cardinals, jays and squirrels. It was one of the selling points that attracted us most. Hubby appreciated his privacy and our new yard offered quite a bit of seclusion. It also boasted a giant lilac bush, which blossomed every springtime with a heady floral scent that could be experienced throughout the yard. Bright yellow forsythias lined the entire driveway, which were at least eight feet high. The yard had aspects that were reminiscent of my childhood, from the violets and lilacs to the forsythias and lily-of-the-valley. It was glorious.
As a child, I often gathered lilacs and forsythias as a beautiful bouquet for Mom’s kitchen table. Beneath her bedroom window, a bed of lily-of-the-valley lay over the dirt like a soft white blanket. I plucked a few strands of bell-like flowers and added them to the bouquet. A strand of pussy willows tucked into the spray of blooms made it complete. I handed the nosegay to Mom, who placed it into one of her favorite vases. Those flowers gave me a true appreciation for nature and the joy it could bring to another person.
When my daughter was young, she performed the identical task of gathering flowers to “make a bouquet for Mommy.” My husband cut the lilacs gently off the bush, while our girl selected the longest bell-like lilies and the best sprigs from the forsythia bush. Whenever I glanced at the display in the vase, my heart felt light, much as I’m sure Mom’s did when I offered her my spray of flowers from our yard. If the bouquet began to wilt, Hubby or our child headed out to our private floral department for another bunch to replace it. Those bouquets were a gift for which I will always be grateful, because they taught our child the lesson of nature’s beauty and the joy of giving.
Last month, Hubby backed my new Jeep up the driveway to wash it. The creaky sound of branches scraped against the new paint, which prompted Hubby to trim back the forsythias. A little overzealously, he trimmed the branches so far back that the bushes were reduced to tan sticks. He mentioned that, although they would grow back in time, he’d wanted to get rid of them because of their rapid growth pattern. We decided to get rid of the entire length altogether, which was quite an undertaking. We worked for weeks to remove bush after bush, which had grown through the cyclone and had become gnarled. If you have never removed a row of forsythias, please note that the task is not for the faint of heart.
We finished the job a few weeks ago but noticed that the lilac bush now had some dead branches. Upon further inspection, we noticed that the bush was almost completely dead. Together, we removed the large lilac “tree” and all the lily-of-the-valley in the small bed against our garage. It was a sad day, for we both loved the lilacs and lilies and recalled childhood memories of our own and with our child. The upside is that the area is ripe for new growth, which will be wonderful for a new vegetable garden or another new bush that could offer beautiful blooms in the spring.
The splendor of nature is something that we can easily take for granted. The phrase, “stop and smell the roses” is not just a phrase to help us slow our pace. Smelling the roses or the glorious aromas of the ocean or a forest floor is a proven way to calm down and bring healing to the body. The next time you feel stressed, head to your backyard, your local nursery or just take a five-minute walk in your neighborhood. Believe me, nature really is the best medicine.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.