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A forest walk

One step after the other. My hiking shoes are playing with the rusty leaves, shuffling them around, and I’m stepping on acorns to hear the satisfying crack. It’s quiet — the birds are not singing as much as they used to do in the spring, and there’s no wind to make the trees talk. A layer of mist is covering the forest floor, making it look like a fairy tale image. From time to time, I hear a child yelling or a dog barking. My thoughts, spinning around in my head all morning, are now peacefully sitting there, almost asleep. I feel at peace with everything and everyone.

This is the effect a long forest walk has on me. In 2020, the year of reduced human contact, the forest was my saviour. It brought me comfort and serenity; I observed it from the spring to autumn and I noticed all the transformations, big and small, all the colours, shapes, smells and moods. It became my best friend. Many of my sad days were transformed by a walk in the forest, and many of my anxieties disappeared somewhere in between the tall trees and the dense ferns. At least for a while. The forest was also a source of energy and provided the perfect venue for lovely meetings with friends.

Bergerbos in Autumn

Nature therapy

The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, or ” forest bathing”, and it’s a common therapy recommended by doctors in Japan. Forest therapy, also known as nature therapy, is doing wonders for our mental and physical health. Studies conducted in Japan showed that forest bathing creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system. There’s something about aimlessly walking among the trees that calms down our brain and makes us happier. Most of us live disconnected from nature, in cities where maybe is not easy to get even to a park, and I’m convinced that this is one reasons why depression and anxiety are so prevalent in today’s society. An immersion into the nature can do wonders for us. Breathing fresh air, paying attention to the rustling of leaves and the sunrays (or mist) dancing between the trees, listening to the birds’ song, looking for mushrooms or wild plants – it will make us forget about offices, meetings and deadlines.

There are many forests in the Netherlands and, luckily for me, since I moved to Alkmaar I am close to a few of them. There’s the Heilooërbos, which I can even reach by walking, and which is more like a big park, but still has the forest look and feel and is big enough to make you tired after a round. Then there’s the Bergerbos, where I can go by bus or by biking.

This forest, next to the pretty village of Bergen, is older and looks wilder. There are old oaks and a small river bed, ferns and holly; you can walk from it straight into the dunes of Noordhollands Duinreservaat, which is a great place for hiking since it’s one of the few places in the Netherlands that have something resembling hills. There are also forests in Egmond aan Zee and Schoorl (another great place for hiking and mountain biking), but I don’t go there that often. No matter where you live in this country, there will always be a forest where you can easily go to. Even Amsterdam has its own forest — the Amsterdamse Bos.

The best thing that 2020 brought

When I go to the forest I don’t have the idea of forest bathing in mind, although that’s what I am doing, intuitively. I can’t imagine how this year would have looked like without my forest walks. If a week passed and I didn’t see the forest, I feel restless. This is a good thing that 2020 brought, because if it wouldn’t have been for the forced isolation, I don’t know if I would have discovered so many of the green spaces around my new city. I would have probably spent more time in Amsterdam, with my friends and with my projects (which I miss quite often), but I would have been deprived of so many wonderful moments in nature. How about you? Did you escape in nature this year?

Here are a few photos from my latest walk in Bergerbos, on a beautiful autumn day:

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The healing power of the forest



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