Our mountain valley, in the shadow of the East Spanish Peak in southern Colorado

The Japanese have a concept called shinrin-yoku, roughly translated as forest bathing. It originated in 1982 when the country’s forest agency began to encourage wellbeing to combat the threat of suicide in Japan, which at that time was the highest in the world. The idea is to walk deliberately and slowly in the woods, observing, breathing, and appreciating. The result is a drop in blood pressure and in cortisol, a stress hormone.

Our walks in this land are pure shinrin-yoku. We bathe in the light, the air, the calm of nature.

The views are everything as we hike: vast stretches of mountain grass, thick forests, rock outcroppings. And, always, the mountain. We sometimes run into elk and bears along the way. They always dash off when they see us, elegant and silent.

The silence of the land is one of the things I treasure most here. It’s so quiet we can hear the grass rustle in the wind on the other side of the meadow. No cars, no cellphone conversations, no bass sounds from some kid’s stereo, no blasted leaf blowers. Conservationists are fighting to preserve America’s wild spaces to quiet the country’s jittery nerves. The quality of what they call our “soundscape” is a measure of our stress. Quiet places in nature, with their soothing background sounds of bird chirping and water trickling and wind rushing through the trees, are calming. Cities are perpetually tense. Our land, I believe, is one of the quietest places on earth.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from a book I am writing about the East Peak Fire, tentatively titled Burn Scars. Read more about it on my Books page.

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