Forest bathing takes a cold plunge: A winter walk at Canoe Meadows

We finally had a day of sun on new snow. I’ve been waiting all winter as every snowstorm slid into rain and froze solid. This time snow fell at night and we woke up to fresh powder and a gleam in the evergreens, and I went for a walk at Canoe Meadows.

The fields rise bright and bare along the Housatonic River. The wetlands are frozen over, and dry grasses bristle golden in the snow. Cross country skiers here long before me and broke trail, and I followed their tracks across the footbridge and along the edge of the marsh.

It takes time to get far enough in to lose the sound of traffic on Holmes Road. This wildlife sanctuary is less than two miles from downtown, but it can absorb you for a long quiet time on a sunny afternoon. The crossover trail turns into a belt of trees along the river, and the day settles gently into quiet.

The air is still and cold, and soft snow over icy ground resists slightly underfoot, like walking in sand. The late afternoon light streams through silver birch.

Taking a cold dip in the trees

Last weekend, a friend leant me a book on Forest Bathing. It’s a potent pair of words, as though you’re swimming through woodland, floating through tree limbs like coral. The idea is Japanese, and it has become a movement.

The book comes from one of the men who has conceived it, Dr. Qing Li. In Japan a doctor can prescribe a walk in the woods. He explains why, peacefully and ardently. You can read the book for the studies he has done on sleep and heart rate and mood, or you can read it for his love of the scent of earth and the feel of walking barefoot.

I am thinking of it as I stand in the snow looking up at the leaves of a young beech tree. He said Japanese has a word, komorebi, for ‘the sunlight filtering through the leaves in the trees.’ These leaves have not fallen. They curl on the light branches, dried to a fine golden parchment, like paper lanterns.

The beech sapling stands in the shelter of a white pine, and a breeze lifts just enough to tap the leaves lightly against evergreen needles.

I can hear the river here. The path holds close along its bank until it opens into the meadows again. As I climb the last stretch, the air stirs and snow sifts down from the trees, and I think we should have a word for the light on snowflakes falling in the sun.

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