July 4, 2016
Join Ranger Gaelyn for a guided walk as we practice forest bathing on the Widforss Trail along the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Meet at the trail head at 8 am, allow up to two hours, and bring water.
I was working on a program for a guided hike on the Widforss trail named after watercolorist Gunnar Widforss who spent time during the 1920s painting at Grand Canyon. It would be about how artists brought the national parks to the people of the east back at the turn of the last century. Other famous, and not to famous, artists traveled with explorers and surveyors documenting landscapes we now protect as national parks, monuments, and more. Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen and F.W. von Egloffstein accompanied Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives’ scientific expedition traveling up the Colorado River via the steamship Explorer in 1857-58. After the Civil War photographer John K. Hillers and artist Frederick Dellenbaugh joined John Wesley Powell’s second trip by boat down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In 1873 painter Thomas Moran and photographer Jack Hillers accompanied Powell to the North Rim. Thomas Moran’s paintings of both the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon in Arizona were purchased by Congress and hung in the Capitol. Many more followed and people still practice their arts at Grand Canyon and other national parks. The research involved was fascinating.
Then, I saw a share on Facebook that looked interesting, clicked the link, and suddenly my research went in an entirely different direction. Shinrin-yoku, taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing, for the benefit of mental and physical health. I already know and experience how healthy connecting to nature is so I did more research. The Japanese Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982 to promote physiological and psychological health for the population. Scientific studies indicate a reduction in blood pressure and stress with an increase in happiness.
So my guided hike idea became “Taking in the forest atmosphere by soaking up the sights, sounds and smells.” A very slow walk, stopping often to experience the details of our surroundings. I figured to take at least an hour to walk a mile.
We live in such a fast pace society and even getting out into nature I see many people walking fast just to get to their destination. This hike is about the journey, although there is a destination in mind with an awesome view from the head of Transept Canyon, still in the forest. We’ll introduce ourselves and share a favorite park experience before strolling up the trail slowly, absorbing the natural atmosphere, simply being in the moment.
A couple hundred yards from the trail head/parking lot is a sweet tiny meadow, grasses, flowers and such surrounded by towering Ponderosa Pines and Quaking Aspen. A good place to stop with a group of don’t know how many visitors without blocking the trail. Ranger walks and talks don’t require pre-registration at the North Rim.
Remember, there’s no rush along this walk. Take your time. Along the way I saw all these wildflowers and more within the first 100 yards. Some I even know their names. This was slowly becoming a flower walk, but would change with time and season.
After walking slowly for about 10 minutes admiring the flowers, I’ll stop before the trail curves and climbs into the forest where I’ll introduce visitors to the idea of forest bathing. This is about being in the present moment. Take deep breaths. Notice the temperature and air on the skin. Listen carefully perhaps cupping hands behind ears to hear more, like a deer’s ears. Smell the air to identify scents. Stick out the tongue to taste the air. Look at the big and small. Notice your feet on the earth.
Little things along the way can offer a window to the forest world. Unexpected surprises appear. The morning air feels cool on skin. Bird song drifts through the trees. Early sun warms the forest giving off a slightly sweet smell. There is a tangy taste to the air.
Forest creatures have left their homes to scavenge for breakfast.
More flowers add bright spots of color against the pine needle covered forest floor.
The perfume of wild roses.
Trees tower overhead, the texture of the bark corky and rough. Ancient sentinels guarding the forest.
Sun warmed boulders beckon to be touched. The trail leads on past more wonderment.
Rock reveals life from the geologic past.
About an hour later the canyon comes into view. We will sit among the trees for a moment to marvel at what nature shared with us. Then join together and share experiences from this forest bathing experience.
From there the trail goes on another four miles through the forest to an overlook on Grand Canyon. Hopefully people who choose this route will continue to take in the forest atmosphere. I, unfortunately, must return to the reality of the visitor center. Yet will return to bath in this forest again and practice Shinrin-yoku, taking in the forest atmosphere.
Unfortunately, nobody showed up for my first shot at this idea. So I practiced and took a little over an hour to walk about a mile forest bathing on the Widforss trail. Of course I did chat with many visitors going both ways, and some even passed me returning.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” —John Muir
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