At my grandmother’s Haiku home, at the end of Chickenet Farm Road, my cousin Mark and I spent most of our preschool days outdoors, rain or shine. We gathered fallen fruit, half-eaten by birds, from beneath starfruit and tangerine trees and dropped the leftovers into the pigsty, squealing with delight when the lonely sow grunted her thanks. A tall hedge and a couple of large trees dominated the backyard, which we deemed our enchanted forest. Being a year older, I was the self-appointed fairy queen of the forest and Mark was my willing sidekick. He never doubted my stories about friendly menehune hiding in the bushes and giant toads living inside the trees. Once, when he wondered aloud why I was the only one who had ever seen these creatures, I shouted, “There! Behind you! Toad!” and he took off running.
Yeah, I was a bossy little brat. Most of our time, though, was spent peacefully together at ground level, getting to know our forest; looking for four-leaf clovers, studying ant parades, digging for earthworms. Whenever a butterfly would appear, we’d hold out our hands and sit as still as statues, hoping to entice it to land on one of us. At some point, for some long-forgotten reason, I declared the biggest tree to be our special friend, and thereafter, we never left it without saying goodbye. We were tree huggers long before the phrase was coined.
I bid a final farewell to that old tree nearly 60 years ago. In my teens and young adulthood, I did a fair share of nature walks and mountain hikes, but it’s been a long time since I’ve visited a forest. Occasionally, when I’m driving through East Maui, the scent of rain and fresh foliage remind me of the enchantment we felt in Obaban’s backyard, and I long to recapture those idyllic days.
Recently, an intriguing Facebook post led me to learn about “forest bathing,” a Japanese wellness practice which has gained worldwide attention and acceptance over the past few decades. It doesn’t necessarily involve water; the term actually implies immersing oneself in a forest to enjoy the healing, peace-bringing effects of nature. Ecotherapy, you could call it.
Phyllis Look is Hawaii’s first certified forest therapy guide and the founder of Forest Bathing Hawaii. Next month, through the Green Walks project, she will lead two two-hour sessions on Maui, free of charge. Participants will walk less than a mile of easy trail as they find opportunities to sit in quiet contemplation, share their observations and learn how to incorporate these self-care practices into daily life.
The Green Walks project is funded by a federal grant from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife through its Kaulunani Urban & Community Forestry Program. Its objective is to shape public perception for the need for trees and green spaces in urban settings, by showing how interaction with nature can support healing, happiness and overall well-being. Green Walks is supported by the Blue Zones Project, which includes the promotion of green spaces as one of its priorities.
The Maui walks are scheduled for Monday at Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao and Tuesday at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens in Kahului. Both walks start at 10 a.m. and end at noon. Reservations are required for the admission-free events: go to bit.ly/GreenWalks to reserve your space.
One of the attractions of forest bathing is that it is a practice that almost anyone can incorporate into their regular routine, after receiving guidance from a forest therapist like Phyllis. As she points out, “Hawaii’s natural beauty creates the perfect setting to form relationships between people and the natural world.”
Little did I know, at four years of age, that my special tree was actually good for my health. I’m looking forward to rekindling those relationships of my childhood, invisible toads and all.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.