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Forest bathing: Day 4

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Forest Road outside Stratford to Lisbon Cemetery: 22k

This is my last hike likely this year. I have done 72k of the 113k of the Avon Trail. I'll pick it up in the spring, when the experiences will likely be more about the mud and the bugs . . .

If you’d asked me a few months ago to do a 22k hike, I would have laughed. Are you kidding? That’s a long way, almost a marathon. But I did it. Three days later, my legs are still complaining about it if I walk any distance. I’m trying to imagine walking 20-22k every day on the Camino. I think I need to up my training game!

My predictive skills have picked the most awesome autumn days to do these hikes. Except for the beginning of the first hike when it rained for a half hour, the days for each of the four hikes I’ve done on the Avon Trail have been gloriously sunny, warm but not too warm, and glowing with brilliant colours in the trees.

No bugs, no sunburn, no sweating – could it get any better? I’m gonna go with “no.”

My hiking companions this time were Liana, who joined the board of my storytelling festival for a couple years, and Jen, who was a year ahead of me in high school; we shared a house in post-university, and a job at the now-defunct Cookie Connection in Waterloo. Although Liana and Jen were strangers at the beginning of the walk, they got on “like a house on fire” during.

Not only were these two great conversationalists, determined hikers and easygoing trail partners, they were master marker spotters! We did not get lost once. Jen had a gift for spotting hidden markers, and although we strayed once or twice by a few steps, her intuition about losing the trail was infallible.

Not like mine. It takes my intuition a good 200 metres to catch up to my feet.

Liana, a sometime forager, pointed out the gifts of food along the trail: amaranth, mushrooms, wild grapes, mulberries, crabapples. And she kept us on pace.

After getting our feet wet through a bit of swamp and damp grass (let me tell you, Smartwool socks are the way to go!), we discovered this trail was relatively flat, but wound its way through beautiful sugar bushes, along fields and through tree tunnels. There was a bit of road walking in a couple of places, including outside Amulree, but for the most part, we were lucky to be shaded for most of the journey.

There’s something about walking on a bed of fallen leaves or browned needles through a forest that just does wonders for your wellbeing. There’s an aroma, a faint earthy smell of decomposing organic material, that permeates a forest. I love that smell.

There’s a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Dr. Qing Li, the author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, writes, “This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”

I admit that our being in the forest was pretty purposeful – we hiked, no question, sometimes at a pretty good pace – but we did often stop to look up into the tree canopy, feel the sunshine on our faces or absorb the beauty of the sun shimmering through the leaves silhouetted against the blue sky. We noticed the birds, and the bugs, and the bursting tiny mushrooms that spread their spores across the forest floor like miniature fungal cities. We saw deer tracks, raccoon tracks. We listed to birdsong. We admired the unique beauty of fallen golden maple leaves, and listened to the creek gurgle cheerily. We watched at least three cumbersome great herons rise slowly into the sky.

And, just about a kilometre from the end of the hike, we lay down on the bed of leaves that unfolded on the path we’d been walking on. I took off my boots. We took 15 minutes and just closed our eyes, rested our legs and breathed in the earth, the aroma of autumn.

Right there, on a bed of maple leaves, we lay on the trail.

Breathe. Be. In. The. Moment. And give thanks.

On our feet again, it was another short hike through a beautiful forest that brought us to the road where we’d left our car at Lisbon Cemetery. There isn’t much online about this little cemetery, but suffice it to say that it is neat as a pin, well-kept, and it looks like 1871 was a very bad year for deaths locally.

As the autumn days are dying, sighing out their last breaths of sunshine and beauty, we, too, prepare for the cold days ahead, another winter of discontent. But for one last moment, among headstones set inside a chain fence, we breathe in the sunshine, the glow, the earthy aroma.

And give thanks.

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