A Walk in the Forest

      Even though I welcome winter as a respite from gardening, it doesn’t take long for me to begin looking at buds swelling or early bulbs poking through the ground. As I wander outside on mild days, I start to notice our trees and forests more intently. Tree trunks stand out against the winter sky. The differences in bark and circumference of tree trunks is illuminated when the leaves are gone. Do we notice what our tall sentinels do for us every day?

       There is concern that our state forests in Maryland need better protection. New housing and shopping centers are popping up everywhere. We have relied on satellite data for forest cover estimates. In Anne Arundel County alone, 1,400 acres of trees were estimated to be lost from 2013 to 2017. Forests help filter nutrients and sediment from rain runoff, preventing them from fouling the Chesapeake Bay.

      A great book for understanding forests better is Nature’s Temples, The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests, by Dr. Joan Maloof, Ph.D., a professor of biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University. She explains the science and alchemy of these ancient ecosystems and makes a compelling case for their preservation. She shows how science disproves popular myths, such as the claim that a forest must be managed to be healthy.

     Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In our eastern forests, trees absorb 20% of the carbon dioxide we are producing but we produce so much carbon dioxide, the trees can’t absorb it all. As we continue to lose more forest, atmospheric carbon dioxide rises. Plant more trees and cut fewer down.  Why is that so hard to do? 

      In Japan, “forest bathing” or “wood-air bathing” (shinrin-yoku) is done in old-growth forests where some of the cedar trees are a thousand years old. Researchers from Japan and elsewhere have shown that a walk in the forest can improve one’s mood, reduce stress hormones, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure and reduce blood sugar levels. 

     Pick a place from which to observe a tree (in, under or nearby) and try “forest bathing” in our own local woods.p

Maria Price-Nowakowski runs Beaver Creek Cottage Gardens, a small native plant nursery in Severn.