More than thirty years ago the Japanese coined a poignant phrase to explain the sense of well- being one experiences when spending time in the heart of a forest. It’s called shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. Based on ancient Buddhist practises, the philosophy is quite simple: go to a forest, walk slowly, breathe and open all your senses. There is mounting scientific data on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. It is the best medicine for the mind, body and the soul.
It is more important now than ever to take the time to disconnect from this fast paced, techno-crazy world of ours, and to reconnect, with the natural world. With this in mind, and feeling the need for some serious 'forest bathing', I loaded the kids and the camping gear into the car and headed to Diepwalle, one of most magnificent forest realms in South Africa.
We arrived at the Diepwalle Forest Station as the last drops of a much needed, heaven-sent rain had fallen, and the combination of rain, decaying leaf litter, plant perfumes and ozone made for a powerful and heady scent which made us all stop and take a deep and mindful breath.
We had booked the weekend at one of the Diepwalle Forest Tented Decks, which are discreetly tucked within the forest, a short distance from the Forest Station. After unpacking all our gear, the kids immediately set off to explore and I sat on the deck and took in the sights, sounds and smells of the enchanted forest which surrounded me.
For many hours after the rain had ceased, I could hear the sound of raindrops sliding off the verdant leaves of the forest canopy. That and the chatter of children, cicadas and frogs. The therapy session had commenced. Later that afternoon we headed to the Forest Legends Museum, which houses fascinating stories of yesteryear; of woodcutters, timber merchants, botanists, settlers and the elusive Knysna elephant. The children marvelled at the museum's famous elephant skeleton and the stuffed honey badger.
That night around the fire, we played charades, sipped on hot chocolate and chatted into the night while a pair of owls hooted in the trees above us. We slept soundly, and awoke early, just when we could see the sun’s amber rays pierce through the boughs of a thousand trees. It was a perfect summer's day. We laced up our takkies and headed out on the Red Elephant Forest Trail, one of three walks in the Diepwalle Forest. It is marked along the route with a yellow plaque with a red elephant on it.
The kids raced off ahead of me, full of energy and enthusiasm. These forest trails have been blazed through a tightly-knit maze of diverse tree species, some so old that they rise up way beyond the canopy. I often had to remind the kids to stop and take a closer look at the intricate web of life thriving in this ancient forest sanctuary and to take the time to observe the little things along the way. Much of the beauty of the forest lies in the details, such as the velvety, bright green moss which clings to the bark of trees and rocks, which on close inspection are remarkable in their complexity; the multicoloured forest fungi that grows on fallen trunks of decaying timber; the various shades of pretty leaf litter; the wispy, pale green lichen which hangs like chandeliers from the limbs of the trees and the thick, dark green ferns which edge the pathway. Fascinating life forms wherever you cast your eye.
We spent several hours in the forest, stopping often to sit and linger and when we finally exited the comforting cloak of the forest, we felt both rejuvenated and elated. And that's pretty much how the weekend unfolded: long, languid alfresco meals at our tented deck and long, leisurely walks in the forest, time spent connecting with the natural world and with each other. I could have stayed there for a week, but the weekend had to suffice. When we left Diepwalle, our moods were elevated, energy levels increased and any stress we had arrived with was entirely dissipated. All from being one with this ancient forest. It was just what the doctor ordered.
For more info visit: www.sanparks.org