Peak season is a bit late, but come it has in all its splendor.
While some may debate about whether the trees are as pretty as last year or the year before, most of us are grateful for what is. We’re tying up our hiking shoes and heading for the hills or strolling around our neighborhoods.
The rain has pelted the leaves to the ground, creating a multicolored carpet on the forest floor. The moisture has brought out a musty, nostalgic scent in the leaves.
The trees — all around us here in the Shenandoah Valley — give us so much. While the “climate crisis” may or may not pose a threat to life as we know it, the trees may hold the key to keeping it in check.
We need to see trees not as obstacles to be removed in order to build subdivisions and shopping centers, but with great respect for the vital role they play in life on Earth.
“We need to see all that the sacred cathedral of the forest offers us, and understand that among those many offerings is a way to save the world,” writes Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of “To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest,” in the Sept. 27 Globe and Daily Mail.
“The forest is … our lungs,” she writes. “It cleans the atmosphere. It recycles water. It is our collective medicine cabinet. It is the regulatory system for our climate and feeds our oceans. It is the cooling mantle of the planet.”
Forest bathing has only recently become a “thing” here in the U.S., but we’ve been doing it for a long time without knowing why a walk in the woods makes us feel so good.
Now, science is revealing the ways that forests are good for our health, especially our mental health, Beresford-Kroeger explains. As we walk among the trees, we immerse ourselves in an air bath of natural forest biochemicals released as a fine aerosol mist.
Even the 20-minute walk I take in the woods across from my house has benefits. I’ve always intuitively known this, feeling the change when I step under the canopy.
When we slow down, take our time and breathe deeply, the volatile organic compounds carried by those aerosols can reach into the lower regions of our lungs, where the deep tissue absorbs nature’s medicines.
“For the full medicinal effect, take your walk in a mature forest, the older the better,” Beresford-Kroeger writes.
The ideal temperature for gaining these benefits is 60 F to 85 F. And humidity helps to carry the aerosols through the air and onto your skin and hair.
Tree aerosols act as anti-cancer shields, improve circulation and decrease high blood pressure. They have antibiotic, antifungal and anti-rheumatic effects.
Of course, we know that trees breathe in carbon and exhale oxygen.
Beresford-Kroeger offers some soothing and wise words to those who are concerned about climate change.
“With the Amazon burning, and the global temperature rising, stopping climate change in its tracks can seem an impossibility,” she writes. “But my life and work have taught me that nothing is ever as dire or insurmountable as it seems, and that the natural world’s powers of regeneration stretch far beyond our understanding.”
Beresford-Kroeger suggests that we each plant six different types of native trees per year.
Perhaps rather than raging against our fellow humans about climate change, we can all agree that forests bestow many benefits to humans. The most powerful and healing action we can take is to plant a tree.