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Bathing

Tina Hartell

I'm finally back in the woods for the first time since May.

Bobbie Jean and I are cruising the sugarbush replacing drop lines and old tubing. It's a good place for me to be right now - a necessary place to be to soothe election/world-frayed nerves and restore hope. The Japanese have a term for this recognized form of relaxation called shinrin-yoko or "forest bathing." 

Long ago when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Burt Barnes was my beloved forest ecology professor. He was small, brilliant, elven, and could move through the woods faster than I thought anyone was able. 

We students stumbled along after him, never quite keeping up but always enjoying the chase.

Years later when I became a high-school forest ecology teacher of sorts, I too started moving through the woods with more ease. Or perhaps it was just more in comparison to my students who scrambled behind me. Now I was the one who had to wait, who wasn't out of breath, who knew how to walk in the woods. 

It takes some time to learn how to bushwack over uneven ground, over rocks, and through face-slapping vegetation. 

You constantly have to change your pace, look ahead, skibble here and there, and pay attention to the ground. The fall leaf cover is especially tricky. The leaves cover up ankle-biting holes between rocks and hide slippery logs. The first day I wiped out several times and was slow and unsteady. I even came home with a bloody shin after falling through a hidden hole in the rocks. Eventually though I got my footing - literally - and started moving with confidence through the crunch. 

I have renewed encouragement for my former students chasing my through the woods and am grateful for Burt's patience with me long ago. For it's a gift to be able to smell the deep musk of these mushrooms or see a chilly garter snake before she heads to her winter den. If you don't see me on Wednesday, I'll be bathing.