Can’t walk the forest for the trees

Published 1:14 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

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This is the time of year owing to its absence of mosquitoes and deer flies that Paul and I embark into the woods behind our house in order to clean up and bush hog the bridle path that meanders along a lovely half-mile loop.

It’s excellent for both riding and walking and while we negligently don’t ‘rake’ our forest floor, we do often haul a chainsaw back there to clear away any downed trees that have fallen across the trail.

As Paul pulled the chainsaw starter rope repeatedly with no result until he became quite red in the face, actually his whole head (he shaves it), I stood by uselessly, offering useless tips.

“Maybe it needs gas?”

“I filled it up before we came out here.”

“Oh. Maybe the engine’s flooded.”

Paul grunted. “No, it’s just old and on its last legs.”

“Want me to run back to the tool shed and get the bow saw?”

“No,” he retorted stubbornly. “I’ll get it going.”

With a final herculean effort, he got the chainsaw to whine to life and as he began to cut through the first loblolly pine blocking the trail it promptly quit.  A few more attempts, along with words of encouragement that sounded quite a bit like cussing, and the saw once again roared to life and managed to do the job on the pine before conking out again as he tried to clear away a massive poplar limb a bit further down the trail.

“Want me to go get that bow saw?”


Being mid afternoon beneath a bright sun, it wasn’t long before we were both feeling overly warm as we alternately carried and dragged away the remnants of each and every dead tree we came across. Now heavily sweating, I dragged the sweatshirt over my head, tying the arms around my waist and continued the work in a T-shirt. Copying me, Paul did the same, only to have his forearm scratched deeply by briars as he was walking backwards, lugging part of an oak trunk to the side of the trail.

He then picked up the chainsaw to attack the last downed tree before heading back to the barn to run the tractor and bush hog over the route as a finishing touch. It wouldn’t start. Sweating, exasperated and tired, Paul’s verbiage was drowned out as the saw offered a round of sputtering coughs instead of firing to life.

“Hey!” I said suddenly with a flash of recollection over something I’d read months ago. “Guess what we’re doing?”

Paul didn’t look up. “What?” he growled.

“Forest bathing!” I said. “It’s like this new approach to mental and physical health. In fact, there are doctors and therapists that actually write prescriptions for their patients to walk into the forest. I think it’s Japanese in origin?” I frowned, searching my brain. “Yeah, Japanese…Shinrin, something.”

“Yeah,” Paul scoffed, his back to me. “I think it’s also actually called ‘playing outside.’

“Well, yeah,” I agreed as he bent over to repeatedly pull at the saw start rope anew without success. “But all kinds of studies show that being out in the woods like we are gives one a sense of calm. A relaxing sense of well being, lowers blood pressure and—“

Paul threw down the chain saw and trudged back along the path to get the tractor. I watched him disappear around a bend.

“Want me to get that bow saw?”